|The sinking of H.M.Y. Iolaire - 1 January 1919|
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|This page is dedicated to
the victims of the Iolaire Disaster, which occurred in the early hours
of 1 January 1919.
As the memorial plaque, pictured at the bottom of this page recounts, 205 men drowned within sight of the lights of Stornoway.
They were servicemen, returning from the horrors of the Western Front or the Atlantic convoys and U-boats after 4 hard years.
What caused the vessel to run aground in waters familiar to all on board has never been cleared up, as the Captain perished.
This is the third worst maritime disaster in peacetime, yet is barely known.
A list of names is available from this link. The list was compiled by the Stornoway Historical Society.
|This is an survivor's account, as published in 1956. The loss cannot be imagined. Not a family, not a village was left untouched. Lewis never really recovered from this blow, and a wave of emigration in the 1920s depleted the island further.|
Text on memorial
Erected by the people of Lewis and friends in grateful memory of the men of the Royal Navy who lost their lives in the "Iolaire" disaster at the Beasts of Holm on the 1st January 1919. Of the 205 persons lost, 175 were natives of the island and for them and their comrades Lewis still mourns. With gratitude for their service and in sorrow for their loss.
|The above picture, taken on 1st January 1919, shows how close to the shore the Iolaire went down. Her masts still protrude from the water; on New Year's morning, one man was found still hanging on to the rigging for dear life. Seven others had been with him, but had not been able to hang on.|
|Battery Point, where the dead were landed||The Glasgow Herald, 4th January, 1919 - " An old man sobbing into his handkerchief with a stalwart son in khaki sitting on the cart beside him, the remains of another son in the coffin behind --- that was one of the sights seen today as one of the funeral parties emerged from the barrack gate. Another, an elderly woman, well dressed, comes staggering down the roadway and bursts into a paralysis of grief as she tells the sympathisers at the gate that her boy is in the mortuary. Strong men weeping and women wailing or wandering around with blanched, tear stained faces are to be seen in almost every street and there are groups of them at the improvised mortuary|
you ever visit the Isle of Lewis, go down the Holm Road, located
opposite Sandwickhill Primary School, along the road to the airport.
It's a 1 mile walk, or a short drive. The monument by the shore can
only be reached on foot.
Please spare a thought and a moment for those lost so near the shore - yet so far.
portraits, linked to in the list
names, were scanned in from Loyal Lewis, Roll of Honour 1914-18.
A video with some portraits can be viewed on YouTube.
About 100 graves of island victims are dotted across the island's cemeteries. Images of some headstones are included as well.
|More stories can be read from this link. Please leave further feedback in the Guestbook.|
by Alasdair MacIver
Mr MacIver kindly granted me the use of the below poem, stating he was particularly touched by the image of the gravestone, above, carrying the name of his hapless namesake.
Four long years the storm did rage, we lost so many men
So few survived, so many more will never come home again
Versaille, the Somme and Jutland too, such sacrifice was paid
At last the end, exhausted peace for which the world had prayed
T'was time to send the boys back home, the few who had survived
Mothers and wives with aching hearts waiting for them to arrive
The island men were worn and sore and eager to get home
Years end at hand they caught a ship across the Minch's foam
If there's a god that cares for us please tell me who can say
Why this has come to pass this darkest new years day
That ship was called the Iolaire and she never should have sailed
The cruel hand of fate had won where the guns of war had failed
Within the sight of lights of home Iolaire struck a reef
And tears of joy so quickly turned to darkest hopeless grief
Two hundred more were plucked from us with home almost in reach
New Years dreams and christmas presents washed up on the beach
Now the winds will blow and the waves will break upon this lonely shore
Where the ghosts of those young men that died must roam forevermore