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North Conservancy Staff Outing 1955
Forestry Memories
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No: 3372   Contributor: Norman Davidson   Year: 1955
North Conservancy Staff Outing 1955

Newspaper cutting from the Inverness Courier was provided by Ernie Michie of Inverness and features and article by Tom Fraser written in 1998 as quoted below:

‘‘It was July 1955 and a "boss" took a party of his staff out to see some of their handiwork. My guess is that it was somewhere in the Smithton/Culloden area. The boss was, in fact, James Fraser OBE, Conservator of Forests, North Conservancy, Scotland, and his merry men were officers and engineers plus one civil servant — of the field staff.

I cannot say why they were there, but no doubt, like the head of most large organizations, James Fraser found a staff conference combined with an outing to somewhere involved in their activities was useful for the exchange of knowledge and experiences and created a togetherness among them that added to their efficiency. Nowadays it is called "bonding" I believe, but in my young it was a welcome break in the daily routine that did not come often enough.

That rather impish look about James Fraser – he’s the one with his hands in his pocket and the neat handkerchief in his top pocket – gives me the feeling that he was the kind of boss who would have ensured that the lads had their bit of a break, but that he also got the impetus to work that he was looking for.
James Fraser was in at the very beginning of the Forestry Commission. The organization was founded as a result of an Act of Parliament passed in the summer of 1919. The war that had ended had denuded the countryside of and appalling number of trees. It was obvious that urgent measures must be taken if industry in Britain was not to be seriously threatened by a shortage of timber, not only in the immediate future but in the years to come.

In February 1919, the Courier printed an article outlining the difficulties that lay ahead if a programme of afforestation was not carried out. The writer stated: "The necessity for a central authority for forestry and for Government action is now obvious." He also added that Inverness would be the ideal centre for such a body. The Government was in agreement and a Forestry Bill was passed in the following August. The Commission was to have eight members of whom only three would be paid. Their salary was to be £4500 per annum.

Because it was estimated that more than half of the land suitable for forests lay north of the border, an amendment to the Bill requiring two of the members to have special knowledge of forestry in Scotland was accepted, as was the proviso that one member was to have scientific and technical knowledge of forests.

Wisely, the choice as head of the new authority was Lord Lovat, whose estates were already far advanced in the technique of growing and harvesting timber. He took up his duties on llth December, 1919. One of the earliest steps taken was to set up a
school for training forestry officers at Beauly. James Eraser was one of the first pupils at that school.

He joined the Forestry Commission in 1920 and served until February 1956, being awarded the OBE in 1948. James was appointed Conservator of Northern Forests at Inverness in 1930. During World War If he worked in the Ministry of Supply, Timber Department.

A dinner was held at the Station Hotel, Inverness, in his honour on Friday, 24th February, 1956, on his retirement. One hundred and sixty people gathered to see him presented with a portable radio, dining room clock, and gifts for his wife and daughter, by Sir A. H. Gosling, Director General of the Forestry Commission. A feature of the evening was the playing of a fiddle tune called "James Fraser OBE" specially composed by a forestry officer, Duncan Macleod, who is unaccountably not in our photograph.

Unfortunately, James Fraser did not live long to enjoy the retirement which he intended to spend in Inverness. A year or so later he collapsed and died in Union Street. He was succeeded as Conservator by John A. Dickson, who can be seen in the photograph, third from the right. John Dickson was second in command at Inverness when this picture was taken, but he rose to lofty heights, eventually becoming head of the Commission in London.

In the same way that World War 1 necessitated widespread felling of trees, so World War II also required huge amounts of timber. In 1945 there was a panic in the Government concerning the timber shortage just as there had been in 1919. The Commission was given a mandate for the wholesale planting of forests to replenish stocks.

The acquisition of land for tbat purpose in the mid 1950s caused some misgivings on the part of hill fanners. At the annual meeting of the Northern Pastoral Club, held in conjunction with the Wool Fair in July 1955, Colin Campbell of Creich said: "The Forestry Commission intend to plant five million acres in the next 50 years. They must be made to plant on small areas or it won't be worth hill farmers carrying on."

Incidentally, another, but rather less significant, problem that the men in our photograph had to face in July 1955 was that of fires. That summer a heatwave raged throughout July and August. There were numerous fires in wooded areas and a particularly serious one on Daviot Moor. Perhaps that is why there are no cigarettes visible among our group. Only Victor Mullowney is sucking on a pipe.

When I saw this photograph for the first time 1 could not restrain a whoop of joy. I immediately recognised one of the faces. I remember standing on the touchline beside him watching my son playing rugby for Ross Sutherland 30 years ago. He is the fair-haired young man centre right with his hands behind his back and wearing a dark tie. Even today he has changed remarkably little. He is, as many will also recognise. Alan Mackay, honorary president of that club.

I haven't the least doubt that many of the people in our picture will be remembered, although the year 1955 when it was taken, is fading rapidly into history. Thankfully some of them are still alive. With the aid of Alan Mackay and lain Innes,whose father. Robert Innes QBE, is fourth fromthe right, I have been able to identify every person present. They are (left to right):

K. A. H. Cassels; Finlay Macrae MBE; Douglas Graham-Cam pbell; Andrew R. Crawford; M.(Callum) Nicholson (he was the "Civil Servant" I mentioned, being chief clerk of the Inverness office. He was also a leading member of the Toastmasters Club); G. G. M.Taylor; T. D.Cotter-Craig; Victor L. Mullowney (one of the engineering staff); James Fraser OBE (Conservator); A. M. Fraser; G. F. (Fred) Savage; G. Forrest; A. (Sandy) Morrison; Alan Mackay; R. B. (Roddy) Ross; Charles D. MacMahon; Jack Massey; Robert Innes OBE; John D. Dickson; Mike Long MC (who had an illustrious war career as a
Commando and member of Popski's Private Army); and lan A. D. Grant.

How can I be sure of the date? lain Innes has a photograph of exactly the same people, although posed differently, which is dated and lists the names. Today's photograph must
have been taken at the same time because, although men are apt to wear the same suit until it falls apart, they don't wear the same tie and have the same inch of pocket handkerchief showing in their top pockets every day.

In his article in the Courier in February 1919, our contributor wrote: "Our countryside is bare just now, and five shillings spent on a hundred young plants will not only give an added
beauty to the countryside but the timber may be of value to our children — may even yet help to win a war." Prophetic words that unfortunately came true. Let us hope that the work of these gentlemen in our photograph, and our present-day foresters, will
only continue to beautify our countryside and meet the demands of peace.’’

Some points are now quite correct as James Fraser was a Divisional Officer from at least 1931 based in Inverness and it seems that on returning from his wartime timber duties that he was then promoted to Conservator in 1945. The location of the photograph could be Culloden but from the quality of the trees behind which look like Douglas fir, the location could also be in the Great Glen perhaps the stand in Portclair Forest planted in the 1920s.

The people have been numbered in the large photograph:

1. K A H Cassels
2. Finlay Macrae MBE
3. Douglas Graham-Campbell
4. Andrew R Crawford
5. M (Callum) Nicholson
6. G G M Taylor
7. T D Cotter-Craig
8. Victor L Mullowney
9. James Fraser OBE
10. A M Fraser
11. G F (Fred) Savage
12. G Forrest
13. A (Sandy) Morrison
14. Alan Mackay
15. R B (Roddy) Ross
16. Charles D MacMahon
17. Jack Massey
18. Robert Innes OBE
19. John D Dixon
20. Mike Long MC
21. Ian A D Grant

Details on career and location of any of the people mentioned would be very welcome.
Picture added on 11 July 2016 at 11:31
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