modern business enterprise in the Highlands, and to be associated with it, even as a humble labourer, was to be in touch with the latest technology. One might therefore have expected William's sons to follow their father's footsteps into railway employment. Instead, and somewhat surprisingly, they were mainly drawn to the sea. His first two sons both became marine engineers, while Margaret, possibly as a result of her brothers' connections, would marry an Engine Room Artificer in the Royal Navy in 1918. How this connection with marine engineering came about is not very clear - although Inverness was a port as well as a railway hub it was hardly a centre of marine engineering like Glasgow or Dundee. But however it can be explained, it put the Inverness Munros in the frontline of the war at sea during the great conflict of 1914-18.
Roderick Munro, William's oldest son, had the misfortune to become one of the earliest casualties of the war. After a spell in the merchant navy, he joined the Royal Navy as an engineer (fitter and turner) in June 1912 - by which time naval rivalry with Germany was well underway. After serving on various training ships he joined H.M.S. Hawke in March
1914. The Hawke was an old armoured cruiser that had been turned into a training ship but it was hurriedly recommissioned and brought up to full complement in time for the outbreak of war in August 1914. On 15 October 1914, the Hawke was patrolling the northern sector of the North Sea, some sixty miles off Aberdeen, when it was hit by a torpedo from a German U-Boat. The torpedo struck amidships, near the magazine, and caused an enormous explosion that sank the ship within minutes. There were only 64 survivors - the remaining 526 officers and men, including E.R.A. Roderick Munro, were lost. It was one of the first, and worst, reverses experienced by the Royal navy in the opening months of the war.
Unfortunately, we know too little at present about the impact of the war on the rest of the Munro family in Inverness. It was bound to have been eventful because Inverness station was busy with the movement of troops, particularly naval personnel moving to and from the large naval bases at Invergordon, on the Cromarty Firth, and Scapa Flow in the Orkneys. James was at sea, in the merchant marine, during these years, while Archie, who was a blacksmith, appears to have been in a reserved occupation and avoided conscription. However, their younger brother, Colin William, who preferred to be known as William Colin, joined the Cameron Highlanders, the infantry regiment that recruited from Inverness-shire, and from there transferred to the more specialist Machine Gun Corps. He was killed in action in Greece, in March 1917, as a member of the British Salonika Force which fought in one of the little-known, but deadly, side-shows to the main event on the Western Front.
In contrast to the bustle of Inverness, Strathpeffer was a quiet backwater between 1914 and 1918. The influx of tourists dried up, the summer residents stayed away, and the young men disappeared into various branches of the armed forces (predominantly into the Seaforth Highlanders). Such was the availablity of space in the village that the US Navy, conducting trans-Atlantic operations from Invergordon and Inverness, opened a field hospital there in the late months of the war. For this purpose they used the Pavilion and some of the empty residential and hotel properties. The Americans brought with them touches of an exotic foreign culture that intrigued the locals, but had little longer-term impact on the life of the community.
With the Spa closed, Rod Munro's employment was now focussed on forestry and estate work for the Cromartie Estates. He was too old for military service, and his sons too young. A family photograph, taken in a Dingwall studio around 1915, presents a serene and untroubled image,
suggesting the tranquility of a peaceful community. But as the war years rolled on, the worst effects of the battle-field carnage were never far away. All around them, family, friends and neighbours experienced bereavement and grief. Hitting closest to home was the tragic story of Bella's four nephews, sons of her brother Duncan at Aigas. Two of these young men - Alexander and John - had emigrated to Canada shortly before the outbreak of war (after service with the Metroplitan Police in London) and signed up for the Canadian Expeditionary Force. They were killed on the Western Front, in April and September 1916 respectively. Their brother Kenneth, a gunner in the Royal Garrison Artillery, was also killed on the Western Front, in April 1918, while the youngest of the four, Archibald, served in the Cameron Highlanders and then the Highland Light Infantry before being killed in action against the Turks in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) in October 1918. Such loss of life within a single family was extreme, but not uncommon, in the slaughter of 1914-18. Rod and Bella Munro were undoubtedly moved by the sacrifices of their nephews, and of other young men of their acquaintance, and their lives acquired a sombre and subdued tone which was matched by the local and national mood as the war memorials arose in Strathpeffer, Dingwall, Inverness and all the other villages and towns in the land. By 1919 their world had changed forever.