Four BT engineers hang up their tools after nearly 200 years of service
A group of engineers from the Western Isles have retired together after each working for BT for more than 47 years. Angus Macdonald, Jimmy Thomson, David Mackay and Willie Bell all joined BT, or the GPO as it was at the time, as apprentices between 1966 and 1968. They started their careers in Inverness or Tain, in Ross-shire, and moved to the Western Isles in the 1970s.
Together, they’ve witnessed and been a part of huge advances in technology over their many years of service. From the rollout of automated telephone exchanges in the 1970s to the arrival of fully-digital exchanges and then broadband in 2004, the quartet have been a crucial part of their communities, keeping people connected. More recently, they’ve seen the rollout of sub-sea fibre links between the Western Isles, Skye and the mainland helping to bring the first fibre broadband connections to the Western Isles in 2015.
Angus (Sammy) Macdonald started his career in Inverness in 1967, initially working on the upgrade and maintenance of exchanges across Scotland. After moving to Harris, he remembers his work included looking after a remote payphone at Rhenigidale. He would travel there by boat or walk 5km each way until a road was built in the 1980s.
The longest serving engineer is Jimmy Thomson, who started a year earlier in 1966 in Inverness and moved to Stornoway in 1971 where he maintained the Stornoway Crossbar telephone exchange equipment on Lewis before moving on to support the transition to digital. Jimmy said: “I really enjoyed my career as a BT engineer, seeing lots of changes in my time, like new technology coming in, and working with some great colleagues. There were a lot of laughs and challenges along the way and I’m looking forward to enjoying my retirement with family and friends.”
David Mackay plans to become a crofter after 47 years as an engineer. It’s a far cry from one of his former roles, maintaining the MOD’s communications links on St Kilda and at Benbecula. In 1968 his mother applied on his behalf to the GPO and told David he was to be interviewed the next day, the first he knew about the application.
Finally, Willie Bell, who moved to Harris with his family in 1980, is planning to renovate his new home and relax after years of service with his close-knit team of colleagues. Before Harris, he worked on construction projects for BT in Inverness, building new exchanges and upgrading existing ones, skills that will come in handy as he renovates his home.
Fraser Rowberry, general manager of BT’s local network business, Openreach, in Scotland, said: “These engineers will be sorely missed by their colleagues and customers alike. Openreach employees around Scotland are at the heart of their communities.”
There is no shortage of replacements for the long serving engineering quartet. “In the past year, in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, we’ve taken on 26 engineers and we’ve recently announced plans to recruit more,” said Fraser.