67537: John Archie MacAskill

John Archie, otherwise Iain Archie, was born in 1898, the son of Donald MacAskill and Ann Morrison of Ferry. He was a pupil at Berneray School between 1903 and 1912, a contemporary of Neil Turner, with whom he later maintained a steady correspondence. In 1911 John Archie and his younger sister Effie were living with their maternal grandparents Malcolm and Effie Morrison at 3 Borve. On leaving school he became a shepherd. He spent a year working for Malcolm MacLeod of Sandhill before enlisting in the 5th Battalion of the Cameron Highlanders. As one of 21 pipers, he led soldiers into action at Loos in September 1915. He emerged physically unscathed but with the tassels torn off his pipes.

A lady from Berneray remembered:

‘He was every inch a soldier, tall, straight, handsome and a notable figure always in Highland dress. I often stood outside the door of the house and listened to the sweet music of his bagpipes when he played at the fold.’

By the end of the war he was serving in the 3rd Battalion and, following his discharge, was appointed constable in the City of Glasgow Police, and was a member of its prize-winning band. During this time he lodged with Finlay MacInnes and his wife in Berkeley Street. John Archie was later to write:

‘Many a wild and jolly night I spent in the dear old city. If it was all written down in a book it would be worth reading. The happiest moments of my life were spent there.’

John Archie resigned from the police in 1923 and returned to Berneray, working as a farm labourer for Reverend Norman Morrison. In winter 1924, he decided to emigrate to Western Australia. On 1st January 1925 he embarked on the SS Themistocles for Australia. 

Taking advantage of a Government scheme, he received a heavily-mortgaged wheat farm of 1500 acres at Lake Varley, near Fremantle. The farm he named Borvedale. All went well until 1928, a drought year. With the failure of the wheat harvest and low prices paid for wheat on the world market, John Archie’s homesickness grew. This was the time that most of his Gaelic songs were composed, and he wrote often to his friends on Berneray, including Neil Turner.

John Archie died of pneumonia in June 1934, and was buried in Karra Katta cemetery. Thirty years later, his poems were published by his cousin Alick Morrison in the book An Ribheid Chiuil.

In 2010 his body was exhumed and returned to his homeland, where it was interred at Siabaidh.

Record Type:
Also Known As:
Iain Archie MacAskill
Date Of Birth:
19 Feb 1898
Date of Death:
4 Jun 1934
Brothers Keeper Reference:
CEBH 1035
Soldier; Farmer; Shepherd; Farm labourer; Policeman
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