Lt Dr John Cattanach


'Natural ability, superb physique and a scientific approach to the game left Cattanach head and shoulders above many outstanding contemporaries.'

Submitted by Hugh Dan MacLennan

Lieut. Dr John Cattanach, (1885-1915) doctor, soldier, shinty player of the highest order, and outstanding athlete, was the youngest of four children of William Cattanach, merchant, Newtonmore in the Scottish Highlands, and Ann Cattanach.

Educated at Newtonmore and Kingussie Public Schools, George Watson’s College and Edinburgh University, he graduated in Arts (MA 1907) and Medicine (MBChB 1912). His first medical appointment was in the Bangour Hospital near Edinburgh and he also worked in England. Cattanach served in the Royal Army Medical Corps, Warwickshire Regiment, being made Lieutenant in 1914. He died in July 1915 from wounds sustained in the Dardannelles.
Cattanach was a local hero from an early age, best known locally as an outstanding shinty player, although his peerless ability won him fame throughout the shinty-playing area. He is still held by many to have been the finest exponent of shinty ever, a tower of strength to the Newtonmore team, which he captained in a victorious season during a vintage period in the early years of the 20th century.

Natural ability, superb physique and a scientific approach to the game left Cattanach head and shoulders above many outstanding contemporaries. He trained hour after hour, with the ball on his club, darting round larch trees, catching the ball on his caman (club) before it touched the ground. He was said to run nearly a mile without letting the ball fall off his club. His most spectacular individual performance was when playing for Newtonmore against Furnace in shinty’s premier event, the Camanachd Cup Final, at Glasgow in 1909. Newtonmore won 11-3. Dr Cattanach scored eight goals, a Cup Final record which still stands and is unlikely to be matched.

From 1911 Cattanach concentrated more on hockey and sprinting, and he was capped for his country at both, excelling also at the long jump. While a member of the Carlton Hockey Club, he represented Scotland against Wales in 1912. In 1909 and 1910 he had won the long jump at Edinburgh University sports appeared in the Scottish international University contests 1909-1911. In 1911 he won the long jump (20ft.10in.) and an athletic international cap for Scotland against Ireland at Dublin. Less than a year before his death he won the Rangers Football Club 100 yards handicap (off 10 yards) in the fast time of 9.45 seconds.

Cattanach’s death from wounds sustained at Gallipoli and his consequent final distancing from his native heath, buried at sea cast a deep gloom over the village and his memory lives on in the minds of many as the greatest ever, a prince among shinty players. Dr Cattanach is the only shinty player in the National Dictionary of Biography and the only one in Scotland’s official Sporting Hall of Fame. A specially commissioned silver medal in Dr Cattanach’s name is awarded to the best player in the Edinburgh University shinty Club. His home club Newtonmore have now named their new shinty facility next to the Eilan as the Dr Johnnie Cattanach Memorial field.

Note: Shinty is an ancient outdoor stick and ball game, not dis-similar to hockey, which was probably brought to Scotland by Irish settlers. Its true beginnings are lost in the mists of time. It is now mainly played in the Highlands and on the west coast of Scotland, although there are also players in England, Russia and Northern California and it was played in most areas of Scotland at one time or another! Scottish settlers have taken the game abroad over time and shinty has regularly been played in military surroundings, mainly during the World Wars and in prisoner of war camps. The current Scots regiment still enters formal competitions when they can.