War Memorials, Part 2: Uists & Barra

MV Loch Portain, berneray, leverburgh, ferry


The second part of the War Memorials project saw me depart from Leverburgh aboard the MV Loch Portain, across the Sound of Harris to Berneray. Continuing south through North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist and Eriskay, followed by another ferry crossing to Barra.

Landing on Berneray, the first war memorial of the day was about a mile from the ferry terminal. I had to ask someone where it was. Although I’ve visited Berneray several times before, I had no recollection of seeing a war memorial. Turns out it’s right beside the road, next to the doctor’s surgery. It’s not a grand affair – a modest pillar surrounded by a nondescript metal railing. Kind of tricky to find an angle that allowed me to separate the monument from its surroundings but with some extra light thrown on the subject, I was happy with the result:


Next stop, the North Uist war memorial sited above the A865 near Clachan na Luib on North Uist.

North Uist War Memorial     NORTH UIST WAR MEMORIAL

With it’s elevated position, the memorial offers good views to the north, east and south. This next shot looks north towards Lochmaddy:

North Uist war memorial close-upNORTH UIST

Continuing south again and across the causeway to Benbecula. After a brief diversion into Balivanich for supplies, I headed back to main road and stopped off at the memorial commemorating the men of Benbecula who lost their lives in WW1 and WW2.

Benbecula War Memorial               BENBECULA WAR MEMORIAL

The men of Benbecula who didn't returnBENBECULA

Three memorials in a row, the contents of the inscriptions have an effect. As if to compliment my frame of mind, the wind picked up. Moody looking skies replaced fluffy clouds as I headed for the South Uist memorial. In addition to the men of South Uist, the engraved plaques also list the names of men from Eriskay.

South Uist War Memorial                  SOUTH UIST & ERISKAY WAR MEMORIAL

When I first visited the Outer Hebrides in the early 1990s, Eriskay was only accessible by boat. In 2000 it was connected by causeway to its nearest neighbour, South Uist. There were concerns the local shop may be forced to close due to residents driving north to the larger Co-op store on South Uist. If anything, the opposite is true, with people from South Uist crossing the causeway to visit Eriskay’s community shop. Result!

As mentioned above, the men of Eriskay who died in WW1 are included on the South Uist memorial. Eriskay doesn’t have its own dedicated memorial. I had some spare time before boarding the last ferry of the day to Barra. I headed for St Michael’s church. Under normal circumstances a ship’s bell sits outside the church. When I arrived on the scene it was missing. I’ll explain in more detail in my next post but to summarise, the bell from German warship SMS Derfflinger was on loan to a council in England as part of their own WW1 commemorations. Here’s an iPhone pic of the bell as supplied to me by St Michael’s parish priest, Father Donald MacKay:

SMS Derfflinger               THE BELL FROM SMS DERFFLINGER (photo kindly provided by Fr Donald Mackay)

Next, a 40 minute ferry crossing to Barra. The Barra war memorial is on the road to Vatersay – itself a small island, which like Eriskay was connected to its nearest neighbour by a causeway in 1991. My initial plan was to photograph the Barra war memorial at dawn but I decided to pay it a visit prior to bedding down for the night in the back of the van. Although the evening light was fading, I decided to break out the strobes and give it a shot (or ten).

Barra War Memorial         BARRA WAR MEMORIAL

You’ll have to look really close but I managed to capture Kismul Castle in the background. The angle of the shot was also influenced by the position of a recently built house i.e. I positioned the camera to hide it behind the monument.

Next stop was  Borve camp site, a couple of miles outside Castlebay – overlooking Seal Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. I didn’t need electrical hook-up and would be heading off early in the morning for the 7am ferry to Eriskay. “That’ll be £7”, the owner said. “Bargain” I replied, handing him a tenner. Heated up a tin of soup on the one ring camping stove. Fired up the Kindle and read a couple of pages of John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley before falling asleep to the sound of waves crashing on the beach below.

Read the first part of this story: War Memorials, Part 1: Lewis & Harris


3 thoughts on “War Memorials, Part 2: Uists & Barra”

  1. It looks like you had a proper road trip on this project John. Me and the family did a similar journey the other year, starting off at Stornoway and working our way right down to Barra. We didn’t book anything other than the ferries to and from the mainland, and just camped wherever we could pitch up. It was a magical trip, made all the better for the absence of virtually any forward planning.

    I particularly liked the strobe lit shot of the war memorial on Barra (I’m sure that wasn’t there when we went). One thing I’ve been meaning to ask you John is what flash kit do you use to get the fill lighting? I loved your portraits from the Lifeboat day at Leverburgh but when I tried a similar thing the fill lighting was virtually unnoticeable. Admittedly, I’m only using a cheap Yongnuo 560 III speedlight so it might just be that it doesn’t kick out enough light. I have a sneaky feeling though that it’s me that’s doing something wrong. Any tips?

    • Hi Mike, I used a YN 560 for all the war memorial shots and the lifeboat portraits. Best advice I can offer is to make sure your shutter speed is set to the camera’s max shutter sync speed – usually around 1/200 sec. Then deliberately underexpose approx 1 stop by adjusting aperture. On a bright sunny day at ISO 100, I can generally under expose by 2/3 to a full stop somewhere between f11 and f16. Firing the YN 560 at full power into a 60cm softbox is enough to overpower the sun, but only if it’s held up close to the subject. You’ll notice most of the lifeboat portraits were head and shoulders i.e. the softbox was barely outside the frame and within a couple of feet of the subject. If you’re getting into off camera lighting, checkout the ‘inverse square law’.

      Most of the memorial shots were taken in overcast conditions so achieving the correct lighting ratio (ambient vs flash) was a little easier. Same principle: underexpose by ~1 stop and adjust flash power to taste. I used bare flash (no softbox) on the Barra memorial. The final image is a blend of three or four exposures with the flash held in a different position for each shot. I used the same technique on the Berneray memorial.

      I hope at least some of that makes sense!

  2. Thanks for that John. I can see where I’ve been going wrong now, I haven’t been underexposing the shot. I’ll definitely give that a try next time. Cheers.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *