Oban War Efforts during World War 1
Throughout the First World War, the people of Oban worked tirelessly, like many other people around the world, to help the war effort in any way they could. Though there are likely countless examples of local heroism, the Dunollie archive holds evidence of collection drives for two unlikely materials which made a big impact through these years: eggs, and sphagnum moss.
On April 14th, 1917, Madeline R. MacLeod of Oban wrote a letter to the editor of Oban Times on behalf of the Director of the War Dressings Supply, requesting parcels of sphagnum moss. Sphagnum moss, which tends to grow in wet places like peat bogs and moorlands, was unsurprisingly in plentiful supply in the Scottish highlands. It had also been found to absorb liquids at three times the speed of cotton gauze, retained fluids better, was cooler and softer, and could be produced more rapidly and at less of a cost. This made it an incredibly valuable resource in a war which seen ever increasing numbers of wounded. MacLeod indicated that the winter had been difficult, and their supply was “exhausted,” offering to receive whatever quantity of moss - large or small - at a Depot in Oban, where she would then send the it on to depleted hospitals. This cutting from the Oban Times was found in the archive boxes belonging to the Hope MacDougall Collection at Dunollie.
Admirably, it seems that plenty of moss was collected from the local areas, and sent onwards. MacLeod and her band of moss collectors, however, were not the only Oban residents caring for the wounded at a distance: Colina MacDougall, Lady of Dunollie and wife to the Clan Chief of the time, campaigned tirelessly to gather eggs to send to local and international hospitals. Like Mrs. MacLeod gathering and sending moss, Colina wrote in the Oban Times that eggs dispatched to Dunollie would be sent on to Scottish hospitals and those abroad in France. In her sentiment in the paper, she emphasized that “Every egg is of value to the wounded” as it “often the only food possible.” At the time of her writing in May of 1917, 7,156 eggs had already been dispatched since January 1st of that same year.
While Mrs. MacDougall’s efforts were vast, the Dunollie archives reveal how her generosity inspired others to act. This is evident in correspondence with a fellow MacDougall, Mrs. John MacDougall Reid. In her letter, Mrs. Reid expressed her desire to contribute to the egg depot, and that she has ample time to collect “several dozen eggs each week.” She also writes that she is happy to cover the cost of shipping, which proved to be another way for Oban residents to contribute to the cause. In her report in the Oban Times, Colina MacDougall included that due to the generosity of Messrs MacCallum, Messrs MacIntyre, and Messrs MacGregor all eggs were sent free of charge by boats and coaches, while the Dunollie Depot would pay for eggs sent by freight. Reid, MacCallum, MacIntyre, and MacGregor are representative of the many Oban residents who motivated to contribute to the effort.
Like those who collected moss, the people of Oban responded to Mrs. MacDougall’s call to action and every week, eggs were buttered and wrapped in newspaper, and sent to hospitals. By the end of World War 1, over 100,000 eggs were received and dispatched at the Old Lodge, Dunollie.
Despite being hundreds of miles away from the front and those wounded, the people of Oban were able – through their time and effort spent collecting moss and eggs - to nurse the sick and wounded back to health from their coastal hometown.
This blog post was written by Helen Anderson who did some great work in our archive this summer, thanks to the MacDougall McCallum Heritage Foundation, and with a few additions by Shannen Provan-Sloan our curatorial apprentice.