A coming together of two families connected by Tangle Tower.

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John Alexander Matheson during war time.

A few weeks ago a regular visitor to our Facebook page contacted me with a touching story of a lifelong friendship which began during the war years within the walls of Tangle Tower or as it was known then, Aird Villa.

John Alexander Matheson was a New Zealander (died in 1974) he fought for approximately 4 years in the Second World War (Middle East, Greece, Crete & El Alamein, and at one stage the New Zealanders and Australians were fighting against the German general).On his way to the Middle East he was passing through the U.K.   He had concerns he may not return from war and wanted to spend a few days’ leave travelling up to Scotland to visit the Isle of Skye where his parents had come from and where his grand-parents still lived. He made the journey safely but on his return trip was delayed (trains not being as frequent or (ahem) reliable as they are today). He managed to get to Inverness, but had missed his onward boat! A chance encounter bought him to the home of the Shand family, they invited him back to stay at their place, Aird Villa, or Tangle Tower as it is now known. A short time later he was on another boat heading back to war.

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Catherine Shand, aged 4 in front of the house. ‘Coastguard Station (Latterly Aird Villa) 1937’

One of the daughters who lived at Aird Villa, Catherine Shand was around 8 years old at that time, the same age as John’s daughter Elaine, and he encouraged them to become pen pals, which they did. A long-lasting friendship blossomed, one that lasted throughout their lives until Catherine died in 2014. Although they spoke on the phone and sent hundreds of letters over the years they never actually met. They both had their first babies, both daughters, around the same time, and Elaine called her daughter Anne Catherine (Catherine after Catherine Shand), whilst Catherine called her first-born Kathleen Ann. A second daughter was born to each of them, again at around the same time (Deborah to Elaine, and Heather to Catherine).

After the death of Catherine just a couple of years ago, her daughter Heather contacted Elaine to tell her the sad news, and she in turn put Heather in touch with her younger daughter Deborah via facebook. They now correspond regularly, and have taken over the long pen-friendship started by their mothers…. albeit through a different medium, facebook. Heather was informed by Deborah recently that her husband Kelvin, who has been in the New Zealand Navy for 37 years, was to attend a conference in Portsmouth in November 2016. Whilst in U.K. they thought it would be a great opportunity to travel up to Inverness and visit Heather and her family. Two generations later the two families finally came face-to-face.

Heather had contacted me to see if it was possible for the group to visit Tangle Tower, to see where the friendship had first begun, of course I was very willing to oblige. A wonderful hour was spent reminiscing, sharing photo’s and stories of past lives lived in Tangle Tower…One of our visitors Irene Henry ( younger sister to Catherine) , who came along with her husband Allie was actually born in the front room of the building, almost exactly where she is standing in the photo.

I felt so honoured to be witness to these two families coming together, piecing together stories that have been passed down through generations. Giving them access to the building must have helped them to make connections with the tales they had been told and will give them some lovely memories and photo’s to take back with them.

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From left to right: Husband and wife, Allie Henry and Irene Henry (nee Shand). Heather Swinton –Raven (Catherine’s daughter). Deborah Barrett (Elaine’s daughter) and her husband Kelvin Barrett.

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