How times change … serving time in the Outer Hebrides

Brian C. Kay of North Lakes was amazed to see Back Track Adventures and Wild Earth’s small ship cruises visiting St Kilda on our Scotland in Depth cruise aboard the MS Serenissima … he shares his memories of time spent there during his army service.

Remote, battered by the Atlantic seas, St Kilda, is a near mystical island with dual World Heritage site status for its natural and cultural significance. Deemed Europe’s most important seabird colony – with abundant puffins, fulmars and the largest colony of gannets in Britain, plus grazing the island are Soay sheep, unique survivors of primitive breeds dating back to the Bronze Age.

But in 1959-1960, Brian Kay, from North Lakes, Brisbane,  served in the British Army in the Outer Hebrides and remembers the chilly winters and remoteness of the island.

“Then, St Kilda was the radar tracking station for guided missiles being set off from South Uist and test fired into the Atlantic Ocean,” Brian says. (South Uist is the second-largest island of the Outer Hebrides in Scotland, with a population of just under 2000 residents).

“In winter, when I was there, it was home to 30 odd soldiers, lots of birds and countless black sheep,” Brian recalls, “and a wind that never stopped blowing!”

“How it would have been greeted with disbelief to think that St Kilda would become a tourist destination one day; most of the soldiers were National Servicemen and being ‘stranded’ for three months at a time on St Kilda in the Scottish winter was considered to be the kind of diabolical twist of fate that only the Army could do to you,” Brian recalls with good humour.

Brian C. Kay marching in this year’s ANZAC Parade (2017)

Today, St. Kilda’s 19th century village layout remains allowing us to envisage life on this island where the bird life provided sustenance for the villagers who last resided there in the 1930s.

Brian reminds us that our adventure seekers are now following in the footsteps of our allies, but without the two year compulsory military service. Instead, you get to experience nature in its purest form, with no sit-ups required!

Brian eventually came to Australia where he served another 20 years in the Australian Army, and today, is an active member of the Returned and Services League of Australia in Queensland.

We might just get him back to St Kilda yet!

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