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Folio Essay – The day my house burnt down

In August of the year 1966 our house went on fire it was a truly terrible time for the whole family. My husband Norman, myself and my five children all lived there at the time. I can remember it all very well. The day started off like any normal day. It was a Thursday and the four eldest children were at school Donald, 14 and Gordon, 15 went to Portree High School, Gordon was finishing his last year then he was going to the army.

Kathryn, 8 and Hamish, 9 went to the local primary school within walking distance from the house. Our youngest daughter Aileen, 4 was sitting in the window sill practising how to tie her shoe-laces and playing outside in the fresh hay. Norman was on his rounds delivering the post around Skeabost and Bernisdale on his bike.

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In the afternoon all the children arrived home from school and they did their homework while I prepared the dinner, Norman arrived home at about 5 in the evening and we had our tea. Afterwards, the kids went to play outside on the croft. Norman myself and our neighbour, Kenny, who had come over for his newspaper, sat in the sitting room watching television.

It was a beautiful evening and still really bright at about 8 pm. I was sitting on the armchair by the window and saw smoke being blown in gusts past the house, I thought it was Deena (my sister-in-law) who lived next door with a big fire on and thought it funny since it was such a lovely evening. We never realized that the smoke was actually coming from the other side of our house.

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About half an hour later I left the living room to go and make a pot of tea and check on the children, as I went through I saw that the house was well ablaze, I was unsure of what to do it was such a shock. I yelled for Norman and Kenny. Then I left the house to gather up the children my voice shaking as I called for them. Kenny, Norman and the two older boys Gordon and Donald made a few trips up the stairs to try and save some of the furniture as I sat on the grass just watching the smoke and flames eating up the house. The younger children were running around screeching and getting in the way, I wanted to bash their heads together to get them to be quiet.

Mary Anne MacFarlane drove past and saw the house on fire and went to the post office down the road, to phone the fire brigade. They arrived quickly but soon realized there were no fire hydrants in the community so they had to travel a quarter of a mile down the road to collect water from the river. The neighbours began to gather and helped try to gather furniture but not much was salvaged. As the fire went out people began to go back home the neighbours took the children for the night, Aileen, Kathryn and Hamish went to Morag’s, Donald and Gordon went to Bella’s and Norman and I went to Deena’s. We sat up all night as we couldn’t sleep what were we to do? We had five children to look after and we didn’t have a home anymore. We came to agree that we should renovate the shed that sat beside the burnt house into our new home. We were going from a three-bedroomed house to a one-bedroomed house. It was going to be hard!

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The next day Aileen, Kathryn and Hamish, the younger children who couldn’t help went to stay at Auntie’s house in Mill Park. Norman, myself and the two older boys stayed at home to clean out the shed which was full of peat, hay and corn. It was such a hard task and we had no idea where to start. Norman partitioned it off as well so we had a very small kitchen, a living room with a bed for ourselves and another small bedroom for all five children. It had to be nearly fully refurbished as most things had either been totally burned or damaged by the water and smoke.

Family and friends helped us out a lot, generously giving spare chairs and tables and helping to build furniture. It took over three and a half years to build a new house by which time I was expecting my sixth child and Gordon and Donald had both left home, Gordon joined the army and Donald joined the RAF. The burnt house and the shed sat beside our newly built house until 1999 when my youngest son, Ian knocked them down and built a new house on the land. That was a sad moment as we had lived many years there, we moved there shortly after we had married and had many memories.

One thing we were very grateful for was that it was a nice evening and that the kids were playing outside as it would have been more of a concern if we were all in the house. It’s a lot easier to replace furniture than people, we lost all our photos and things though – things of sentimental value that can’t be replaced but at least no lives were lost. People were so good to us family and friends who supported us, looked after the children and were there to help us through the hard times we had.

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Folio Essay - The day my house burnt down. (2021, Sep 28). Retrieved March 24, 2023, from