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Local History

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  • Local History

    I live in a small village in Aberdeenshire. There is a great deal of history and prehistory in the area: we have a fine example of a particular type of stone circle which is only found in the Aberdeenshire area, there is an Iron Age house, or at least the cellar of the house, nearby, and in 1056, King Macbeth fought a battle near the village as he was retreating to make his last stand at the nearby village of Lumphanan.

    In the middle of the village there is a war memorial, like so many in every town, village and parish in Scotland. Our war memorial has a sculpture or a First World War Highland infantryman bowed over his reversed rifle, and the pedestal bears the names of the dead from the two world wars of the 20th Century. If you look at the names from the Second World War you will find two brothers, and it is their story I am going to tell here.

    Most of the land around the village was owned by the MacRobert family. The patriarch of the family was Alexander MacRobert, who was created First Baronet of Crawnmore and Cromar. He had founded the British India Corporation and made a fortune. He married the daughter of an American physician and she became Lady Rachael Macrobert. They had three sons, Alisdair, Roderick and Iain.

    Sir Alexander died in 1922 and the eldest son became Sir Alisdair MacRobert, Second Baronet of Crawnmore and Cromar. He also became the Chairman of the BIC. All three brothers were enthusiastic aviators and each qualified as a pilot as soon as he was old enough. Unfortunately Sir Alisdair was killed in a flying accident in 1938 and so Roderick became the Third Baronet.

    When the Second World War broke out Sir Roderick joined the Royal Air Force and became a fighter pilot. Shortly after, the third brother, Iain, also joined the RAF and began flying Wellington Bombers. In 1941 Sir Roderick was killed while leading a squadron of Hurricane fighters in an attack on a Luftwaffe air base, and Iain became the Fourth Baronet. Unfortunately, Sir Iain didn't get to keep his title for long as he too was killed in action less than a month after his brother, earning his place on the war memorial, just below his brother.

    Lady MacRobert had lost her sons and had no heir to inherit her fortune, so what did she do? She bought a bomber aircraft and gave it to the RAF! More precisely she donated the funds required to build a bomber and asked that it be named for her family. This is what she wrote to the Air Ministry:
    It is my wish, as a mother, to reply in a way my sons would applaud - attack with great fire power, head on and hard. The amount of £25,000 is to buy a bomber aircraft to continue my son's work in the most effective way. This expresses my feelings on receiving notice about my sons ?
    They would be happy that their mother would avenge them and help to attack the enemy. I, therefore, feel that an appropriate name for the bomber would be the MacRobert's Reply. The aircraft should also bear the MacRobert's coat of arms the family crest, a crossed fern leaf and an Indian rose. Let the bomber serve where there is the most need of her and may luck be with those who fly her. If I had 10 sons, I know they all would have done service for their country.
    MacRobert's Reply was a Stirling Bomber, commissioned in October of 1941. After flying missions to Nuremberg, Cologne and Bremen the bomber was badly damaged by flak and was sent to RAF Lossiemouth for repair. Unfortunately MacRobert's Reply crashed into a Spitfire on the runway at Lossiemouth (killing the Spitfire pilot) and was damaged beyond repair.

    The name was transferred to a new Stirling Bomber which continued to "attack with great fire power, head on and hard" as Lady MacRobert had wished. The second MacRobert's Reply was shot down on a mission to Middelfart in Denmark, killing all on board save the radio operator.

    Not one to give up easily, the redoubtable Lady MacRobert donated the funds to buy four Hurricane Fighters, which were named The MacRobert's fighter Sir Iain HL735, The MacRobert's fighter Sir Alisdair HL844, The MacRobert's fighter Sir Roderic HL851, The MacRobert's salute to Russia the Lady HL775.

    After the war was over Lady MacRobert build a substantial nursing home which she donated to the RAF Benevolent Fund for the care of retired servicemen. The home is named Alastrean House after her three sons.

    Meanwhile the RAF continued to transfer the name MacRobert's Reply to new bombers as required, and the tradition has carried on to this day. The eighth MacRobert's Reply is a Tornado Bomber based at RAF Lossiemouth.

  • #2
    Sadness for sure

    But a grand story, a mother loseing so much, but giving so much more. Happy to see she was also an american lady/mother.

    thanks for the story Neil. cheers
    bojo& my sweet ol' Sheltie "GINGE"


    • #3
      What a wonderful story!!!

      And what a wonderful place to visit someday. Thank you for sharing....have any more good tales to tell???



      • #4
        I am new here, I have been reading alot of good information here. I read your story Niel,it was great.I love history and you have so much to offer. thanks

        cho sona ri radan ann am muileann And Gus an coinnich sinn a rithisd


        • #5
          I found the following while searching for more information about Lady MacRobert. It's from a website about Scots aviators who have been awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest medal for bravery awarded to British military personnel.

          Flight Lieutenant William Reid, RAFVR
          14th December 1943

          b. 21st December 1921 Baillieston, Glasgow. Educated Coatbridge Secondary School. Joined RAFVR 28th April 1941. Trained Newquay, Monkton, Canada and California, USA.

          On the night of 3rd November 1943 Bill Reid set out in Lancaster 360, 'O' as part of a six hundred strong bomber force to raid Dusseldorf. His Lancaster had a crew of six. As the aircraft crossed the Dutch coast it was suddenly attacked by an enemy fighter from the rear. The windscreen was blown out by cannon fire and Bill Reid was wounded in the head, face and body. The Lancaster nose dived from 21,000 feet to 2,000 before Reid managed to bring it under control. He however continued with his mission. Shortly after the first attack he was set upon by a second enemy aircraft. The whole length of the Lancaster was hit by cannon fire. One of the crew was killed and three were wounded. Without a compass Reid navigated to the target using the stars and accurately dropped his bomb load. On the return trip they encountered considerable flak over the Dutch coast and all four engines stalled at one point, but the aircraft finally made it back over the United Kingdom. Short of fuel, badly wounded, with a damaged aircraft and no navigational aids, Reid brought his aircraft down with a collapsed undercarriage at the USAF base at Shipham. One of the wounded died the following day. Subsequently Reid joined 617 Squadron and took part in "Tallboy" raids with DP (Deep Penetration) bombs on E-boat and U-boat pens and VI launch sites. On 31st July 1944, flying at 12,000 feet, his aircraft was hit from above by a 1,000 pound bomb dropped from another Lancaster flying 6,000 feet above. Five of the crew members died and Bill Reid and his wireless operator were taken prisoner for the remainder of the war.

          After the war he studied at The University of Glasgow and the West of Scotland College of Agriculture where he graduated with a BSc in Agriculture in 1949. For 10 years he was farm manager on Lady MacRobert's estate at Tarland, Aberdeenshire.Lady MacRobert lost two sons in the RAF during WWII and gifted four Hurricane fighters and a Stirling bomber - all christened "MacRoberts Reply" to the RAF in honour of their memory.

          He later became the Spillers Group national adviser on sheep and cattle. After the war he served with the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve and was a member of the Tayside Branch of the Aircrew Association. In 1981 at RAF Swinderby he officially opened the "Reid Block" accommodation facility named in his honour. He was made a Freeman of the City of London in May 1988. He passed away peacefully at his home on Wednesday 28th November 2001.
          I remember once seeing a television programme about the VC and I particularly remember Bill Reid being interviewed. He was a very modest man who didn't think he particularly deserved the medal. I rememeber his saying something like "how many others did what I did but ditched on the way back and never lived to tell the tale?"


          • #6
            MacRobert's Reply

            If you are interested, you can learn more about the first two bombers to bear the name "MacRobert's Reply" at which is run by the son of the sole survivor of the second MacRobert's Reply.


            • #7
              More MacRobert family history

              The following article is taken from

              XV Squadron is the RAF squadron which flew "MacRobert's Reply".

              Alexander MacRobert was born on 21 May 1854, the son of an Aberdeen labourer. He left school at the age of 13 to work as a floor sweeper in the Stoneywood Paper Mills on the outskirts of the City. He married his first wife, Georgina Porter - a clerkess in the Union works, on 31 December 1883.


              By the time he was 30 (1884) he applied for and obtained the post of manager of Cawnpore Woollen Mill in India. He set sail for India early in 1884 and Georgina followed a year later in 1885., where she lived with Alexander until her untimely death 20 years later. There were no children of his first marriage. Georgina died at Douneside on 8 November 1905 and is buried in the Allenvale cemetery in Aberdeen.

              Following Georgina's death, Alexander eventually decided to return to India. his subsequent rise to Managing Director and then Chairman was swift. The mill became mills, both cotton and woollen and the business expanded to take in tanneries and boot and shoe manufacture. He became a founding member of the Upper India Chamber of Commerce. Alexander was knighted in 1910 and made a KBE in 1918 and created Baronet of Cawnpore and Cromar in 1922. He died a few months later on 22 June 1922 at Douneside and is buried with Georgina in Aberdeen.

              In 1909, on one of his voyages back from India, Alexander met a Miss Rachel Workman, daughter of Dr and Mrs Workman from Worcester, Massachusets. Rachel, an American by birth, went to school at Cheltenham Ladies College and graduated in Geology at Imperial College London and was one of the first women to be elected a fellow of the Geological Society.

              The courtship was brief and Rachel Workman became Lady MacRobert in 1911. They were married at Friends Meeting House in York on 7 July 1911. there were three sons of Alexander's second marriage, Alasdair, Roderic and Iain and the eldest, Alasdair, was only 10 at the time of his fathers death in 1922.

              Alasdair went to school at Oundle and his two younger brothers went to Cranleigh. All three went on to Cambridge. Sir Alasdair, after coming down from Cambridge, became Chairman of the British India Corporation and frequently flew himself in a Percival Vega Gull to Cawnpore. It was on a flying visit home from India that he was tragically killed near Luton on 1 june 1938. In that same year Sir Roderic, who inherited the title, took a Short Service Commission in the Royal Air Force. Sir Roderic was killed leading a flight of No 94 Squadron in a Hurricane strafing attack on German held Mosul airfield in Iraq, on 22 may 1941.

              It was only a month later, on 30 June, that Sir Iain was posted missing, following an operational Air-Sea rescue mission over the North Sea in a Blenheim of No 608 Squadron.

              Lady MacRoberts' fighting response is now history. In addition to giving the Stirling bomber, The MacRoberts Reply, and 4 Hurricanes named after her sons, she also provided the House of Cromar, renamed Alastrean House, as a leave centre for operational aircrew serving in the Royal Air Force and the Commonwealth Air Forces.

              Lady MacRobert died at Douneside on 1 September 1954 and is buried in the gardens a Douneside House.


              • #8
                Interesting trivia

                I have just learned (while searching the Web) that the pilot of the current incarnation of MacRobert's Reply is Flight Lieutenant Colin McGregor, who has a brother named Ewan. Apparently Ewan is an actor who has appeared in a few films (Star Wars Episodes 1 & 2, Trainspotting, etc.)


                • #9
                  I'm not sure if this is going to work, but I found a picture of the first MacRobert's Reply at


                  • #10
                    Do you have a connection to the MacRoberts family, or is it just an interest of yours?? It is all very fascinating. I love learning these little tidbits of history they don't teach you in school!!



                    • #11
                      My only interest is that it is part of the local history of my home. I wrote the original piece on that basis and then I decided to search the internet for some more background material. When I found something interesting (to me) I posted it here.


                      • #12

                        Neil, very, very interesting. I was growing up during the period of these hostorical stories. Recall a couple from my limited storehouse, that may have some interest, but they are not of your locality. Not sure if I should start another thread, for they fall within the same criteria as your own. So will await your invite, before posting them. cheers
                        bojo& my sweet ol' Sheltie "GINGE"


                        • #13

                          Bojo, please feel free to start a thread with your recollections.


                          • #14
                            I can't wait to find out where my family is from originally, but for not, I'm hoping to learn more about the MacNichol clan and the area from where the Clan chief is from...Portree and Scorrybreac. Any good stuff from there, or a website that might be of interest?? It's what I love about's so steeped in history, there's stories about everyplace you go. You are so lucky!!!

                            Have a wonderful day!


                            • #15
                              Local history around Berlin...

                              ... has for instance the site of what once was the concentration camp of Ravensbrück where women and children were murdered and abused for medical research. Interesting enough that some politicians want to tear it down and build a shopping center there now...

                              Other, not so terrible thing is the Lord of Kampehl (which sounds quite similar to Campbell if you pronounce it right )who was accused of having murdered one of his peasant farmers. He claimed to be innocent and said that if he was guilty, his body should not rot after death. Some more than 200 years have passed and you can still go and see his mummyfied body. There are several places where people were found mummyfied, due rather to the wind and the climate than to spooky doings.

                              Berlin itself has some interesting aspects concerning the tribes (Wendish and Slav)that ruled this area before the Germans. Most of interesting historic architecture has been consumed by WW II.
                              "Wherever the spirit of Montrose may lead me"