38117: Balallan Man’s Bravery in Battle

Extract from the memoirs of Donald Kennedy, 9 Balallan

Donald Kennedy, or Doilidh as he preferred to be known, was born in the village of Balallan in 1918. Little did his mother and father, Ishbel and Duncan, know that their third-born child would go on to become a hero of the Second World War.

Before war broke out in 1939, Dolly worked for the Harris Tweed industry and was employed in the Mill at Stornoway. It was during this period of employment that war broke out and he was obliged to register for National Service as a consequence of his age.

His initial training was held in Dingwall and his line of work in later years, as the District Clerk for Lewis would take him back to the town on several occasions.

He was enlisted with the 5th battalion of the Seaforth Highlanders and a high standard of training ensued. A short time after this period of training, news came through that the majority of the old 51st Highland Division had been taken captive at St. Valery, France, and a new 51st had to be re-constituted immediately

In early 1942, the battalion left Scotland bound for the South Coast of England for some final training at Aldershot before returning north to Gourock to board a ship bound for the Middle East. In August 1942, they arrived in Suez and were intrigued by the scenery. From there, they were transported deep into the desert and training continued throughout September 1942. Towards the end of the month they were told to relieve the Australians at the front line.

When Doilidh’s division arrived at the scene, the enemy were entrenched a few hundred yards away and greeted them with shelling and machine gun fire. At night groups went out on the deadly task of gathering intelligence on minefields and German positions. Little did the troops know at the time, that they were preparing for the decisive battle of El-Alamein.

The following is taken from Doilidhs memoirs:

The battle began on October 23rd 1942 with the German Afrika Korps under Field Marshall Rommel almost at the gates of Alexandria. It ended on November 3rd with the Afrika Corps in headlong retreat that was to end in annihilation two thousand miles to the west. As zero hour drew nearer the adrenaline was no doubt working overtime. The guns of the 8th Army Artillery had opened up. It must have been one of the most concentrated barrages of the war. The ground was literally shaking. The sky was as if ablaze. It was just a sold wall of noise. Through the din one could hear other noises like the whine of shells overhead, the clatter of machine guns, and of course the pipers stirring us on.

The last battle in the desert campaign was the Battle of Roumana, better known as Wadi Akarit. It was here that this brave young man from Balallan led his platoon into battle against the enemy in a rocky outcrop called ‘Roumana Ridge’. With mortar and machine gun fire ricocheting of the rocks, many men lost their lives there and 91 lay injured amongst the rocks. Despite the ferocious onslaught the young Scots refused to give up and by early next morning the enemy had fled. His bravery was recognised later on and Doilidh was awarded the Military Medal.

After a short respite at Djidjelli it was back to training and onto Europe. The Sicilian Campaign was very different to those in Africa. The camp was based near the fruit growing region and the soldiers ‘stocked up’ on as much fruit as they could – quite a change from the dry barren expanses of the desert!

Amongst the beautiful scenery a ferocious battle ensued which was to cost Doilidh his leg and his comrade beside him, his life. As the division made their approach, over a hundred men from the enemy trooped towards them. As the dust settled, realisation dawned that 6 of their men had perished and many more lay injured, one of whom was Doilidh. It was above the Mediterranean Sea on an American Air Ambulance that doctors took the decision to amputate his leg in order to save his life.

Losing his leg never held Doilidh back – indeed quite the reverse. Shortly after returning home from hospital after being fitted for prosthesis, he cycled from Balallan to Stornoway and back home to visit a friend in hospital!

In 1947 he married Martha Strang of Glasgow and together they raised their family of three in Stornoway. He inspired many during his lifetime and in particular his grandson Duncan who is now serving Queen and country as an Officer with the Highlanders.

Doilidh passed away on 26th September 1999 but his memory and what he achieved will remain with us.

Kinloch Historical Society

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