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Moray tribute: Donnie Stewart from Lossiemouth

By Alistair Whitfield

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Donnie pictured at a 'memory morning' at Lossiemouth High School. Picture: Daniel Forsyth.
Donnie pictured at a 'memory morning' at Lossiemouth High School. Picture: Daniel Forsyth.

Lossiemouth is mourning an irrepressible character who was a true fountain of knowledge regarding the town's history.

Donnie Stewart, who has died at the age of 91, was deeply fascinated by all aspects of Lossie's past, not least its fishing heritage and its role during the Second World War.

Paying tribute to the man they labelled the town's unofficial historian, Lossiemouth Community Council said: "It is hard to do justice to all the work which Donnie did, with his wonderful sense of charm and good humour.

"He was a Lossie loon who gave his time, his passion and his talent to ensure that future generations will know so much more about their past.

"Donnie, you may be gone, but your legacy will live on."

Donnie was born in Lossie during 1931.

The youngest of five children, he was descended from at least four generations of fishermen.

Due to being colour blind his father was prevented from becoming a skipper.

However that fact didn't stop Mr Stewart snr from part-owning the boat upon which he worked.

Donnie recalled his family used to eat fish every night of the week except Sunday, when they had sausages.

Asked if he ever grew tired of this, he replied: "What would you want to do? Starve? With five children, if you didn’t eat it, it would soon vanish off your plate."

Donnie attended Lossie primary and junior secondary before going on to Elgin Academy.

Meanwhile, one of his elder brothers, Peter, had volunteered for the RAF in 1938 "as soon as he recognized that Hitler meant business".

A flight sergeant on a Wellington bomber, Peter would be killed during a mission over Cologne.

Donnie was much too young to fight, but this didn't stop him from doing his best on the home front.

During Autumn 1940 tank barriers were being put in place along the Moray coastline due to fears that a Nazi invasion was imminent.

These barriers can still be seen today standing on Lossie West Beach, and Donnie and his school pals worked for free to collect flat stones that were used to build their foundations.

He remembered the Luftwaffe bombing the town the following summer. Amongst the four civilians killed, were two people who had moved up from Plymouth because they thought it would be safer.

But that number of fatalities pales completely besides the 384 who lost their lives while learning to fly at Lossiemouth.

Recalling one crash, Donnie said: "We sat and watched this plane take off from the aerodrome near the golf course.

"We saw it swing around, and then the starboard wing fell off and landed on the 17th fairway."

The plane crashed, killing all five of its crew. In addition, a man drowned after swimming out to try to help them.

Donnie Stewart on the Lossiemouth street that was bombed during the Second World War.
Donnie Stewart on the Lossiemouth street that was bombed during the Second World War.

Donnie spent two years doing his National Service following the war.

Then, in 1953, he went to the University of Aberdeen to study chemistry, eventually earning a master’s degree in metallurgy.

For much of his professional life he worked as a lecturer, latterly at Strathclyde University.

After taking early retirement he moved back to Lossiemouth at the age of 60.

The next three decades would see him produce a whole array of written records about the local area, including books on old Lossiemouth and the town's war memorial.

His son Alistair said: "Returning to Lossie seemed to give dad a new lease of energy. He loved the place.

"He wasn't just interested in history, he was interested in people and in their personal stories.

"He wanted to be useful and to help folk learn more about where they were from. That was the educator in him.

"So, for instance, the town's memorial was more than just a list of names to him. It was an opportunity to highlight who they had been, to show their photographs and to tell their stories."

Donnie Stewart with his Lossiemouth Citizen of the Year award.
Donnie Stewart with his Lossiemouth Citizen of the Year award.

Donnie painstakingly archived old footage on topics such as the fishermen's picnics, the opening of the playing fields in 1957, the beach huts and the old briggie.

In addition, he also helped to organise several exhibitions of old photographs that were held at the town hall.

Meanwhile, his many YouTube contributions included films on the history of Lossie High, The Stotfield Memorial and the opening of the Bunker.

In his 80th year, he duly received the town's Citizen of the Year award.

But Donnie's work was not just confined to the past

He also fundraised for and was the chairman of Elgin and District Cancer Support Group which received the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service in 2010.

Ann Ingram, from the Ladybird Group which looks after pre-school children, paid her own heartfelt tribute to the man.

She said: "He was a true gent who had a real soft spot for disadvantaged children. In his own quiet unassuming way, he raised a huge amount of money.

"Lossie has lost a great ambassador and he is going to be a huge loss to the town.

"Rest in peace now Donnie. Your work is done."

Moray MSP Richard Lochhead said: "My thoughts are with his loved ones at this difficult time. I met with Donnie many times over the years and always enjoyed his good company and wonderful stories.

"He was so very proud of his Lossie roots and he leaves behind an incredible legacy.

"I know the community will be deeply saddened by his passing."

Donnie died peacefully last Tuesday.

He leaves behind his partner Mary, son Alistair, daughter-in-law Jackie and grandson Peter, plus many friends.

His funeral service will take place at 1.30pm on Thursday at Steven Thomson and Son on Clifton Road, Lossiemouth.

Donnie is set to be interred next to his late wife Anita at Lossiemouth Town Cemetery.

From there well-wishers are also invited to the Stotfield Hotel.

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