On the night of 16th September 1914 a man wove his way towards Cromarty’s harbour in search for the ferry which would take him back to his barracks at Nigg. Due to the immediate restrictions on lights which had been enforced around important sites, such as harbours, he managed to plunge right into the depths of the Cromarty Firth. The man was probably a stranger to the area, sent up for military training before being sent to the front. Fortunately for him the Nigg ferryman was on hand to save him from succumbing to war prematurely. The Ross-shire Journal reported on the evening’s happenings:
“Mr John Watson, lessee of the Nigg Ferry, gallantly recued two men belonging to Lord Kitchener’s army from drowning at Cromarty Harbour on Saturday night. The men, who are quartered at Nigg, had been paying a visit to Cromarty. The night was dark, and, as no lights are allowed on the harbour, the men on their return had some difficulty in finding their way to where the ferryboat was lying. The first to arrive at the harbour fell into the water, and in falling his head struck a protruding object, which must have rendered him insensible. Mr Watson was in his boat at the time, and, hearing the splash, immediately plunged in after him. When swimming about he happened, by good luck, to touch the drowning man with his foot which enabled him to discover his whereabouts. Mr Watson dived and brought the man ashore, where means were used to resuscitate him. Soon after that, another man arrived at the harbour, missed his footing, and fell in, in a like manner. Mr Watson again dived, and was successful in effecting his rescue. Mr Watson, who is a Cromarty man, deserves great praise for his heroic acts. He already holds a medal and clasp for life-saving from drowning.”
The harbour at Cromarty. Photo from colelction of Elizabeth Ritchie.
Despite all the rhetoric in the paper in those first few months of war about the gallantry of the young volunteers, Lord Kitchener’s army had managed to recruit, not only some young men fond of an evening tipple, but some whose commitment to the cause could be questioned. The folk of Nigg must have wondered what had descended on them when not only the story of the (presumably) drunken soldiers was published in the journal that week, but so was the following tale. “Two soldiers who were stationed in the training camp at Nigg (Ross-shire) were confined in the guard tent, but escaped and deserted.” Not only did they do something worthy of military punishment, and not only did they abscond, but on “the main north road some miles from Nigg they saw at night a motor car standing at the door of a house, and they stole from it some articles and money.” One of the men was apprehended and hauled up before the Sheriff Court at Tain on the Monday where he pleaded guilty of the theft, and was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment. The other was described as being “still at large.” The first few months of war brought exciting times to the folks of Nigg and Cromarty.
The Ross-shire Journal, Friday October 2, 1914 [microfilm copies available at Dingwall Public Library]