Strange events in the Scottish Islands while I recuperate from medical problems - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

A Yorkshire Aviator's Autobiography
Tony Cunnane
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Strange events in the Scottish Islands while I recuperate from medical problems

Once they learned that the wedding was off, and my reasons for calling it off, my colleagues on the Russian Course admitted that even before being invited to that party in the Officers Mess, Veronica had known that I had been a member of that court-martial and that was why she was very keen to meet me – but they had never got around to telling me because Veronica wanted it to be a surprise when we met. So, it had been a 'blind' date only for one of us! Veronica, they then told me, believed that the decision to acquit the captain had been a travesty of justice. She had, apparently, persistently and vehemently harangued her late-husband’s squadron and station commanders, and even the Ministry of Defence, about the injustice she believed had been done to her husband and the others killed in the crash. Veronica had even, they told me, lobbied the media to try and discover the names of the five officers who had officiated at the court martial of the captain of the aircraft that had crashed. That information was not normally released to the public. However, through unofficial RAF sources, Veronica had eventually succeeded in tracing me to the Russian Language School at North Luffenham, but I still could not imagine what her real motive was in wanting to meet me – let alone marry me!

My colleagues on the Russian course finally told me that they had anguished for weeks over whether to tell me that Veronica had been searching for me for a long time, but in the end, once the wedding was announced, they had decided not to. I must admit that in their position I would probably have done the same: you interfere in a friend’s love life at your peril! I have no idea what happened to Veronica, but I think of that little boy every single day and I still have all the happy photographs I took of him.

To recuperate from my glandular fever and my double hernia operation, I was granted 14 days compassionate leave - and I certainly needed it! I decided to get away for a complete rest without telling anyone where I was going. Very early in the morning, I set off up the A1 from North Luffenham and, apart from several refuelling stops, continued driving until, 600 miles later, I ended up in the Royal Hotel Thurso. That was almost as far as I could go without actually leaving the UK. A few days later, I crossed The Minch on a MacBrayne Ferry from Ullapool on the mainland to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. I stayed a couple of days and nights in the splendid Caberfeidh Hotel in Stornoway. I then continued south from island to island, hopping on and off ferries, until I eventually came to rest in Lochmaddy on the island of North Uist.
Above: I took this image on Lochmaddy quayside on 15 August 1977 shortly after I had left the ferry seen in the background
Before I'd had breakfast one morning, the cleaning lady came into my room in the Lochmaddy Hotel and caught me sitting on the bed wearing only my underpants, with headphones on and spouting Russian into a hand microphone connected to equipment in my half open attaché case. The room maid looked both flustered and suspicious. She insisted that she'd knocked twice before entering, then muttered that she would return later, and departed. However, there was still a Cold War with the Soviet Union on-going at that time and anything Russian was suspicious. The equipment was actually nothing more suspicious than my portable tape cassette recorder and the Linguaphone Russian tapes. I had decided that while I was on leave I would try and catch up on the Russian lessons I had missed in recent weeks. I heard nothing more about the bedroom incident but, as it happens, I had already decided to move on that day to South Uist. I set off as soon as I had dressed and paid my bill; one might suppose that was indecent haste - especially as I forgot to have breakfast!

I took this image of Tarbet Village, Isle of Harris, in August 1977
On my way south from Lochmaddy I had to cross the large island of Benbecula which lies between North and South Uist. I knew that there was an important RAF air defence radar station somewhere on the island but I had absolutely no wish to meet the RAF while I was on compassionate leave, so I gave the station a wide berth and continued my drive south on empty roads. It was a beautiful summer day and, for the first time in many weeks, I was feeling both mentally and physically fit and I was at peace with the world.

Above: The causeway to Benbecula, August 1977

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