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John was born in 1895, the son of Angus MacDonald and Mary MacAskill.
It is believed that the family lived in Lochmaddy. However, John and his two siblings started school on Berneray in 1902, having previously been at Achmore, Lochs, and their mother is shown as living in Borve, presumably with her parents at 23 Borve, in the school admissions register. It is likely that they stayed in Borve until at least 1909, when John’s eldest sister left Berneray School.