Shinty teams’ WWI sacrifices made into stage show

THEY were the Highland sporting heroes who went to war, many of whom never returned.

Dr Johnnie Cattanach as seen in a Newtownmore team photo. Picture: Cattanach family
Dr Johnnie Cattanach as seen in a Newtownmore team photo. Picture: Cattanach family

Now for the first time the story of the sacrifice made by Scotland’s shinty teams during the First World War is to be told in a new musical show.

Shinty’s Heroes will recount the story of the teams of Skye Camanachd and Kyles, who lost the equivalent of two teams of menfolk each in the Great War.

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The show will also highlight the”missing five” of Kingussie – players who never received their commemorative Camanachd Cup winning caps from 1914 because they were killed in battle in France.

Lieutenant Cattanach during his wartime service. Picture: Cattanach family

It also focuses on the loss to Scottish sport of Dr Johnnie Cattanach of Newtonmore Camanachd, who became a lieutenant in the Royal Army Medical Corps and died at Gallipoli.

The best shinty player of his era and the only player from the sport to be inducted into Scottish Sport’s Hall of Fame, Dr Cattanach enlisted shortly after the outbreak of the Great War. He died aged 30 in the Dardannelles in July 1915 of wounds he received in battle.

A great all-round sportsman, he was also capped for Scotland in hockey and sprinting, and remains the only shinty player ever to score eight goals in a Camanachd Cup final.

The Shinty’s Heroes organisers have said the show will be an emotional historic tale. As well as music, it will also have a backdrop of photography.

It will form part of the famous cultural Blas festival 2013 in Fort William in September.

Speaking at the draw for the quarter final of the Scottish Hydro Camanachd Cup at The Commando Memorial, in Spean Bridge, show director Hugh Dan MacLennan said such a tribute was overdue.

He said: “The impact shinty players had in the Great War, and vice versa, is a fascinating tale that deserves to be told. Many shinty-playing communities lost generations of men – soldiers who took their sport with them proudly to the front line.”

He added: “I have a letter from the 5th Cameron Highlanders from the Earl of Seafield, a commander of one of the companies, to stick supplier John MacPherson in Inverness requesting three dozen camans [shinty sticks] and balls to be sent to France.

“And they made it all the way there, because there is a letter of thanks from the ‘French Camanachd Club’, made up of soldiers from Highland Shinty teams.

“One of the Beauly team members that won the Camanachd Cup in 1913, Donald Paterson, became corporal piper in the 4th Cameron Highlanders and died at Festubert in 1915.

“His blood-stained pipes were returned home to his family. They found a pipe tune written by Donald called The Beauly Shinty Club and that song will be played as part of the show, which will be fitting.”

The British Army’s first sniper unit, The Lovat Scouts, was comprised of many Highland Shinty players who took their camans with them to the conflict zones. Lord Lovat later became a chief of the sport’s governing body, The Camanachd Association.

The show’s musical director, current Fort William player and professional musician Gary Innes, said: “I think it will be a special evening, a great way to explore what these men did.”

• The show will take place at the Nevis Centre in Fort William at 7:30pm on 13 September.