Matthew Joseph Lannon 1914 - 1993

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Matthew Joseph Lannon 1914 - 1993


Matthew (Matt) Joseph Lannon was born in Fortune Harbour, Newfoundland on 7 February 1914  to John Lannon and Margaret Glavine.  At that time Newfoundland was a British dependency and only became part of Canada in 1949.  Matt went to school in fortune Harbour and later worked part time at the fishing, in the lumber industry at various other jobs before his decision to sign up for overseas service.


The picture below on the left shows Matthew, front right, with his siblings and grandfather and grandmother Glavine.  The right picture shows Matt just before he left for Scotland.  He is flanked by his sisters Annie and Mary.


In Scotland the Newfoundlanders who came to help the war effort by working in the woods as lumbermen were placed in camps from the Borders to the Highlands.  Matthew Lannon was one of those volunteers and worked in places as far apart as Lockerbie, Boath in Easter Ross and Dunrobin Glen near Golspie.  My father arrived at the Golspie camp at about the time of the opening of the camp and remained there until his marriage in 1945 though the camp did not close until 1946.


The Golspie site, a camp of prefabricated type, is now hidden by trees which have been planted on the slopes of Ben Bhraggie.  It was formerly used by Honduran forestry workers for over a year in 1941-42 but they do not appear to have been very industrious and left the camp in a very poor condition when they left.  Apart from the normal wear and tear and neglect it is said that they also indulged in some wonton vandalism.  After they moved on elsewhere the Newfoundlanders moved into the camp in 1942 and brought a completely different work ethic.  They were very hard working worked a five and a half day week at a rate of two dollars per day.  It roughly calculated that this would have been about 8/6d as the Canadian dollar exchange at the time was probably about 4/3d.


The Newfoundland foresters originally signed up on a six month contract and worked a six day week.  However, there work being of a high standard they were offered a further contract and careful negation obtained the shorter week with a half day on Saturday but at the same rate of pay giving them a full days pay for the Saturday.  Apparently this rate of pay did not change over the period to the end of the war but it did include payment from when they left home in Newfoundland until they returned back there at the end of their contract.


The movement across the Atlantic was part of the need to diversify and to look for better prospects of employment as well as to support the ‘old country’ in the Second World War.  The movement of men, young and old, took a well trodden path. For decades in Newfoundland men journeyed to the mining industries in Buchans and the pulp and paper making in small towns like Grand Falls, Bishop's Falls and Botwood and beyond during the war by the coastal ferries around the Newfoundland coast.  Matt moved to Grand Falls to work in the paper mill there and lived in lodgings.  His father, John Lannon, left the fishing to work as a carpenter in the mill in Bishop's Falls.  Both would work for some weeks or months before returning home by steamer.


The main mode of travel at this time, in the 1920s and 1930s, from Fortune Harbour was by the steamers which called two or three times per week.  The Kyle, the Carrick and the Clyde were well known around the coast and the Kyle lay beached at Carbonear after it was no longer required. The steamers took workers from Fortune Harbour to Lewisporte or Botwood from whence they travelled by train to Grand Falls, Bishops Falls and other places of work.  It was by this route that my Matt Lannon and Tom Davis, Jim Mitchell and Tom Croke travelled on the first leg of their journey to Scotland in 1940.  The subsequent Atlantic crossing, after a journey by sea to Halifax was made on the SS Ettrick in a convoy which had to run the gauntlet of possible U-Boat attacks but which was, in fact, a fairly uneventful journey apart from the problems of thick fog and keeping such a large fleet of ships together.

The SS Ettrick off Inveraray in Lock Fyne where it was providing accommodation for members attending The Combined Training Centre based there.

The SS Ettrick was not a particularly imposing ship.  She was a steamer built for passengers in 1939 but which was quickly requisitioned for the war effort. The Ettrick journeyed in early July 1940 from Liverpool to Quebec carrying hundreds of refugees in its four holds and the conditions in which the passengers were held was considered bad enough for questions in Parliament and an official enquiry.  Overcrowding had been grim but she made the journey successfully and then, immediately according to my Matt, journeyed down the coast to Halifax to collect her next cargo.  His memory and the HX62 convoy records she was carrying lumber and general cargo and men to work in Scotland’s woods.  Fortunately she got her Newfoundland Overseas Forestry Unit volunteers across the Atlantic despite a number of loss in the convoy. 


The SS Ettrick Convey HX 62, comprising initially 37 ships but increased to 67 when joined by Sidney and Bermuda convoys, sailed from Halifax on 31st July 1940 and arrived in Liverpool on 15th August though she most probably then proceeded to Glasgow as the convey record records Glasgow as her final port of call and additionally Matt said that he landed in Glasgow. 


The Ettrick sailed in the middle of the convoy and it is reported that Commodore R B Ramsey, as Vice-Commodore of the convoy and aboard the Ettrick, said she was a great help in this position in keeping the convoy together.  


The Commodore's recorded comments are as follows:
"The convoy behaved excellently, and all did well. The master of S.S. Lindenhall, Captain F. H. Wainford, (the Commodore's ship) and his officers did everything possible to assist me."
And he says there was "dense fog 3 hours after leaving Halifax until 9 p.m. 1.8.40 and again all night of 1.8.40 and it was during this time that 5 ships lost convoy. Junction with HSX (Sydney portion) was not made until 4.8.40 and with BHX (Bermuda portion) until 5.8.40. Fog again on nights of 10th and 11th Aug. was responsible for 5 more ships losing the convoy.

Apart from fog and usual difficulties of keeping such a large convoy together this voyage was without special incident while under my command. I would like to say that Commodore R.B. Ramsey as Vice Commodore in S.S. Ettrick was of the very greatest help and his position in the middle of the convoy did a very great deal to keep the convoy together.

With reference to the junction of the Halifax, Sydney and Bermuda sections I suggest that the air escort and local escort from Halifax of the Halifax portion should on their return to Halifax harbour report how late (if late at all) the H.X. portion is likely to be at the junction with the other two portions and that Halifax radio should broadcast this to the Halifax, Sydney and Bermuda portions, no answer being required. Also, I think that the distance of 20 miles between the parallel routes is too great, and should be reduced to 12 miles."


The SS Ettrick's end came on 15th November 1942 when she was torpedoed by German U155 whilst part of a convoy in the Gibraltar area and it later sank.  Eighteen naval ratings were killed whilst the remainder of the crew was rescued.



The wedding of Matthew Joseph Lannon and Annie Isabella Fraser Melville at Dingwall in September 1945.

Left to Right; Joey Melville (nee Angus, Cathel Melville’s widow), Matthew Lannon, Annie Melville, Barbara Melville, George Melville (Wordie), Mary Melville (nee Sutherland, Neddie Melville’s wife) and Grandfather, George Melville.  In the front; David Melville (Cathel and Joey Melville’s son) and Don Melville (George and Jessie Melville’s son).



Matt worked for almost all of his working life after the Second World War with the building firm of James Sutherland and Son.  The family firm were nicknamed ‘Meam’s’ derived, I assume, from a common corruption of the name James.  The photo below shows the yard.

Concrete blocks for house building were produced in great numbers but a laborious manual method.  An oblong wooden plate or palate large enough to accommodate one block was inserted into a machine with four sides that flapped out open.  One inserted a lever was pushed and the centre area depressed and the sides of the box came up to form a mould in which a block was to be formed.  Cement was shoveled into the box and a heavy top plate on a high handle was used to hammer down the mixture.  Once this process was completed the lever on the machine was pulled to raise the centre and drop the sides revealing a perfectly formed block sitting on the palate of wood.  Each block was produced this way and set out for drying and curing.  Cement for the process was mixed in a petrol driven concrete mixture which was filled by one or two men using just hand held shovels.


Other building materials produced at the yard included, lintels and sills for houses, kerbing stones and milestones.  Those milestones can still be seen on the verges of the Sutherland roads though they are disappearing with the advent of modern signage. 


One stone still in perfect condition is situated on the lawn in front of the Sutherland Arms Hotel in Golspie.  This stone indicates the miles to nearby and more distant settlements.  It was made by my father and his elderly workmate, Willie Campbell.  I am told that they put their names in an empty tobacco tin and inserted this in the centre of the mixture before completing the production of the stone.


The distances relate to the old road rather than the actual distance to places, such as Inverness, over the new bridges south.


The business hit financial problems and was taken over by Alexander Sutherland’s and this business was in turn taken over by Morrison’s of Tain.  My father reluctantly moved from his place of long time endevours less than half a mile along the Main Street to the building yard of Alexander Sutherland.  He worked there carrying out similar duties until he had a significant stroke which prevented him returning to work. 


During the early months of his illness Sutherland’s was taken over by Morrisons and some of the workforce received redundancy payments.   My father was not so lucky as his new employers would not make him redundant on the pretext that it would be unfair dismissal.  It certainly saved them having to pay money to him and he had to leave employment without getting what he, and many others, considered to be his due.


After his marriage Matt and Annie lived in the Melville family home on Main Street, Golspie until allocated a new house in Millicent Avenue in about 1954.  In those days there was a considerable waiting list for houses and picking a choosing was not an option.  The house allocated was a wooden on one the Swedish type and not necessarily a first choice for most families.  However, it was newly built and became an excellent family home.  The wooden structure proved to be very warm and with three bedrooms, a kitchen that might be called fitted and with an electric cooker and a bathroom it was both spacious and well appointed.


This photograph, showing Matt with Cecil Melville, Joey Melville the widow of Cathel Melville, young David Melville, Cathel and Joey's son,  and Allan Lannon was taken in the garden of the house on Main Street, Golspie.


Not long after the move into 17 Millicent Avenue Matt used his masonry skills to lay concrete paths up to the front door and around the house.  Once completed he erected two wooden spar fences across the middle of the front garden. Between the fences and the house he planted potatoes and between the road and the fences he laid a lawn on either side of the path.  The lawns were laid from grass turfs cut at the foot of the Culmaily Burn on the road to the Little Ferry.  It was good quality and made a fine lawn quickly but it required two attempts.  Almost immediately after first being laid a water main burst in the garden more or less below the turf and though it into the air running the work completed.  However, all was quickly put back together and for some years the front garden stayed in this form.

The photo above shows Matt, Allan and James in the front garden of 17 Millicent Avenue in 1960.


Later the fences were removed the, full length lawns either side of the path were laid and vegetable were restricted to the side and back of the house.  Even here there was a small vegetable plot as a small lawn was laid below the back livingroom window.  Even with those changes there was ample room for potatoes, carrots, cabbage and lettuce.  The family waited impatiently for the first boiling of the new potatoes which we simply had with lashings of butter.  The lettuce also came part of a ritual with the earliest crop being tested in a thick Morrison's bread sandwich and with a sprinkling of salt to bring out the clear crisp flavour of the leaves.


Carrots were probably Matt's best vegetable crop.  The rich sandy soil, which was annually manured, produces large and tasty carrots which could be stored for use throughout the winter.  The storage was in large square, wooden tea boxes which we hardly ever see nowadays.  The carrots were layered between clean dry sand and they seems as good at the end of the winter as when they were placed in the box.  Potatoes too were stored but in their case in a potato pit comprising straw covered with a thick layer of earth.


The quality of those vegetables was a testament to the care and attention given to the soil with the addition of the good old farm dung and the recycling of composed from the truly massive compost heap constructed at the rear of the large garden shed.


It is worth mentioning that Matt was not just a vegetable gardener. He had a fine array of flowers out the front of the house with his dahlias but exceptionally impressive.  Many were the size of dinner plates and of beautiful colours.  Some of the tubers he dried but many were left in the ground over the winter and they did not come to any harm.


The picture above shows the front garden of 17 Millicent Avenue.


The picture below shows Matt outside Allan's house, 33 Albyn Place, Aberdeen, in 1970.


After the start of Matt's illness it was necessary to move to a house on the flat without steps for access to any part of the property.  This resulted in a moved to 1 East Millicent Avenue where he continued with very light gardening and enjoyed sitting in the sun on his seat by the end of the house.


For about 20 years after his first stroke he 'enjoyed' a happy home life despite his repeated mini strokes.  The picture below shows Matt and Annie in there house in East Millicent Avenue.

After a major stroke in 1993 Matt spent many weeks in hospital in Wick and the Cambusavie Wing of the Lawson Memorial Hospital, Golspie before he succumbed to the great pressure on his always weak  lungs and passed away on 3rd October 1993.


His burial took place in Golspie cemetery on 5th October 1993. Chief mourners -  Allan Lannon, Ian Lannon, James Lannon, Cecil Melville,  John Melville,  John Melville, Don Melville, Jimmy Melville, Wattie Pumphrey, Donnie  Findlay, Graeme MacKenzie, Alec Smith. Cause of death pneumonia after  a severe stroke.

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