21 December 2018

A century on from the Iolaire disaster

Nearly one hundred years ago the Scottish Western Isles woke to the tragic news that hundreds of sailors returning from the Great War had died within sight of home.

Iolaire 

In the early hours of 1 January 1919 the wooden yacht HMY Iolaire, bringing hundreds of Hebrideans home after the end of the conflict, ran aground during stormy weather just off the Isle of Lewis. Survivors struggled to save their comrades, but of the 283 on board more than 200 perished.

They had survived the war only to lose their lives on the final stretch of the journey home.

A series of events will be taking place to mark the anniversary of the tragedy, including a special centenary commemoration due to be attended by HRH The Prince of Wales and First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) remembers all those who died in the disaster. Some were laid to rest in burial places near to the site of the wreck, while others whose bodies were never found are remembered on memorials to the missing.

CWGC staff regularly inspect all its war graves and memorials, and headstones around the Western Isles were recently restored to ensure that the names and personal details remain legible despite the constant challenge of weathering.

Dr Glyn Prysor, chief historian at CWGC, said: "The tragedy of HMY Iolaire remains one of Britain's worst maritime disasters. The horrific loss of life had a profound impact on the communities of the Western Isles, many of which were utterly devastated by the death toll of the First World War.

"The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is proud to remember equally all those who died in service, whether they lost their lives in action, or closer to home. We care for all their graves and memorials to ensure that their names are remembered.

"These commemorations help to remind us that the Armistice of 1918 did not mark the end of suffering. Tens of thousands lost their lives in the subsequent months from harrowing incidents like this one, from sickness or war wounds, or in conflicts which continued across the world."

CWGC cares for the graves of victims of the Iolaire disaster in the following cemeteries on the Isle of Lewis, while many others are named on naval memorials to the missing in Plymouth and Chatham.

ARDROIL CEMETERY, ISLE OF LEWIS 5
BARVAS (ST. MARY) OLD CHURCHYARD 6
BHALTOS BURIAL GROUND 2
BOSTADH CEMETERY, GREAT BERNERA 2
BRAGAR OLD CHURCHYARD 15
CROSBOST CEMETERY 16
DAIL MOR CEMETERY, ISLE OF LEWIS 7
EYE CEMETERY (OR AIGNISH BURIAL GROUND), ISLE OF LEWIS 19
EYE OLD CHURCHYARD, STORNOWAY 1
GRABHAIR CEMETERY 2
GRIAIS OLD CHURCHYARD, STORNOWAY 6
LACASAIDH CEMETERY, ISLE OF LEWIS 3
NESS (ST. PETER) OLD CHURCHYARD, BARVAS 14
NORTH TOLSTA CEMETERY, STORNOWAY 8
SANDWICK CEMETERY, ROSS AND CROMARTY 17