Page last updated at 13:25 GMT, Wednesday, 17 June 2009 14:25 UK

Range an 'invasion of sassenachs'

The presence of the military has become important to the islands economy

In the 1961 documentary Rocket Range Benbecula, the presence of the military on the island is described as an "invasion of sassenachs".

At the height of the summer testing season, several hundred British Army personnel were stationed on the island.

In the black and white film - clips of which are among the archives of Scottish Screen and BBC's Scotland on Film - islanders give mixed views.

Some welcomed the military, while others worried they were now targets.

The construction of the site came in the wake of the end of World War II and the start of the Cold War - the stand-off between East and West edged by a real fear of nuclear holocaust - and the race to develop weapons of mass destruction.

A cynical insult to men who saw military service
Malcolm MacMillan

The Korean War which saw US and British troops in action against forces backed by Russia had been fought in the 1950s, while the period around the time of Rocket Range Benbecula was punctuated by major incidents.

In 1961 an American U2 spy plane was shot down over Russia by a surface to air missile and for 14 days in 1962 the world teetered on the brink of nuclear war as the Cuban Missile Crisis played out.

For one couple interviewed for the documentary the building of the rocket range made Benbecula a target for the Russians.

However, widower and father-of-six Donald Macdonald said he was happy to see the army on the island and said the range was good for the Western Isles and for Britain.

A visit by German military officials to the range was described by the islands' MP Malcolm MacMillan as "a cynical insult to men who saw military service" during World War II.

Yet another islander interviewed for the film said he had no problem with the visit having been treated fairly as a prisoner of war of five years.

In more recent times, the range and its associated facilities on South Uist and also Hirta - the main island on the remote St Kilda archipelago - became a key player in the Western Isles economy.

When the Royal Artillery pulled out, defence technology company QinetiQ took over the management of the site and there was a local campaign to keep the facilities open.

From an invasion of sassenachs, the rocket range emerged as a crucial provider of jobs and investment on the Western Isles.

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