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Western Isles

Life on the Hebridean Island of Harris during World War II

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This drama documentary shot in Technicolor and based on a real life incident involving islander Angus Murray, depicts life on Harris in the Western Isles during World War II. A local family await news of their son after the sinking of the vessel "Atlantic Queen". The family's daily work continues after they hear of the sinking of the "Atlantic Queen' by a German submarine with the knowledge that one of their family was a crew member. The survivors of the ship row 300 miles in a lifeboat to the shores of the Hebrides. Shots of life and work on the island, including fishing, making the "browns" and "greens" of Harris tweed, washing, spinning, carding, weaving and waulking the tweed. Shots of peatcutting and general views of the life-style of the people. The film includes shots of gathering sheep at Scarister. Among the islanders who appear in the film are: The Mother - Bean Ailein The Father - Somhaisle Mac Tille Mhoire The Son - Iain Mac Neill Chiolais The Daughter - Kitty MacLeod (Catriona MacLeoid) Factor played by Jock McCallum of Rodel Hotel Skipper of lifeboat - John Gillies (A Motor Mechanic from Harris who was aged 14 at the time of the film)

Questions & Activities


  • What are the women doing as they sing?
  • Why do they sing?
  • Who is the narrator?
  • How realistic do you think that this film really is?
  • How could the filmmakers have made this film more exciting?
  • How many distinct cinematic techniques can you spot in this film?
  • What did the filmmakers want the audience to take from this film?
  • What is the significance of the film being shot in Technicolor? What difference does this make?


History: Research the true story behind this film and write a modern account of the event and the making of the film.

Craft and Design: Research Harris Tweed and its enduring popularity. Write a technical description of making Harris Tweed. Design your own modern clothing collection using this traditional Scottish cloth.

Business Studies: Research how music is used in different workplaces to improve wellbeing and boost productivity.

History / WWII: Home Front: At the time this film was made the war was not going so well for the United Kingdom. Why did the filmmakers pick this particular story and how did the film aim to influence the hearts and minds of the wartime audience through this stoic tale.

History / Art and Design / Science and Technology: Research the construction of black houses and build your own scale models.

Textiles: Research natural dyes and traditional weaving techniques.

English: It is said that on the islands "grief is not of the face, but the heart"€. Write the woman's diary during these dark days, focusing on her hopes and fears.

Music: Research the walking songs and write and record your own version.

Drama: Recreate a scene from the film or write and act out your own version.

Clip Details

Record Id 007-000-002-001-C
Resource Rights Holder National Library of Scotland
Project Ref 0028
Date 1942
Genre Drama Documentary
School Subject Geography, Art and Design, English, Media Studies, Science, Technologies
Subject Matter World War 2, Home Front, Textiles
Who British Council (distributor), C. Beaumont (editor), Charles Tasto (sound), Jack Cardiff (photography), Joseph MacLeod (spoken commentary), Terence Egan Bishop (written commentary), William Alwyn (music)
Where Harris
Event WWII, Home Front
Attributes Colour, Sound
Clip Length 14:05
Film Length 14:05