Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant discovered a family hero today when she visited a World War 1 exhibition in the former Knock School, in Point.
Born in Stornoway and currently visiting her aunt in Portvoller, Rhoda’s connections to the Western Isles have always been strong.
And thanks to the Comunn Eachdraidh an Rubha’s excellent and informative exhibition, Rhoda has found out more about her family history – including the fact her Great Grandfather was awarded Russia’s highest civilian medal!
“Family history has always fascinated me, and I think we really are dependent on listening to the older generations to learn more,” she said.
“To find out about Murchadh Ruisia today has been really something else!”
Murdo Macleod – or Murchadh Ruisia as he was known – left from 17 Portnaguran to join the First World War fight in the Merchant Naval Reserve Salvage Section.
He later died on 8th August 1918, aged 48, aboard the HMS Sunhill when he and a number of fellow Reservists were overcome by toxic fumes on the ship they were salvaging.
However, it was his deeds out with the war effort which led to Murdo being honoured by Russia; and it is well remembered around Point due to the medal which he wore around his neck.
As with many Merchant Reservists sent to Russia, when the White Sea froze during the winter months, Murdo stayed in Russia and got a job working in a glass factory in the Archangel area while waiting for the spring thaw.
It was during that time that a fire broke out in the factory and, despite dangers to his own safety, Murchadh Ruisia returned into the blazing building to rescue a number of children inside.
For his heroic effort, the Lewisman was awarded a Cross of St Andrew of the First Given medal – the highest honour to be bestowed upon a civilian in Russia, awarded for his courage and selflessness.
It’s believed that the medal was put around his neck by the Tsar of Russia!
For MSP Rhonda Grant, it’s been a fantastic surprise to find out more about her island family. And the Comunn Eachdraidh an Rubha WWI exhibition – including info boards used in An Lanntair – is well worth a visit for anyone interested in history, the war, or simply the people of Point.
With information boards, painstakingly researched displays and a number of memorabilia and artefacts on display, the permanent exhibition offers something for all.