Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Tragedy at Arnol

In June 2007, a man of 60 went out canoeing with his youngest son. He was a father of 11, living in the village of Arnol, 15 miles north of Stornoway. That afternoon, the two were seen by a chance walker off the coast by the next village, Bragar. Thinking nothing of it, the walker went on her way, and after a little while came to the beach by the cemetery at Bragar.

Where one of the canoes was found washed up. She immediately raised the alarm, and the Coastguard found the man in the water. He was quickly transferred to hospital, but did not survive. His son was not found for another 3 weeks, in spite of intense search efforts which were carried on quite late in the evening, on account of the long evenings in June.

Whenever I pass through Arnol, I pass the house where the family used to live - I seem to remember they moved away - and feel the sadness. As in all communities by the sea, this is only too common an occurrence. Even in the few years I've been here, several tragedies like this have occurred. Those left behind remain in my thoughts.

View across the walls of Arnol to the next village, Bragar.

Sunday, 16 November 2008


It is 4 years ago that I arrived in Lewis, and among the handful of activities that I have engaged in over that period of time is photography of wargraves and war memorials. I have so far located over 330 individual graves of war dead or gravestones linked to these casualties in the two dozen cemeteries in Lewis and Harris. The task is not complete, as I initially focused on the victims of the Iolaire Disaster, later of World War I and this year World War II.
Photographs and additional information can be accessed through this page on the Scottish War Graves Project website.

This is an example of a wargrave in the cemetery at Gravir, South Lochs.

Murdigan Aonghais Alasdair
Last address in Lewis: 10 Calbost
Son of Angus and Christina Finlayson, of Lochs.
Service: Merchant Navy
Date of death: 1 February 1944
Lost on SS Caleb Sprauge, when that ship was sunk at Newhaven by enemy action.
Had served in RNR for 2 years 9 months before war
Interred: Gravir Cemetery
Local memorial: Pairc, Kershader

Last month, I visited the island of Hoy in Orkney to take pictures of all the (named) wargraves in the Royal Naval Cemetery at Lyness. I have now completed the task of putting images and information on a different page of the Scottish War Graves Project. . In this cemetery lie buried the dead from all over the United Kingdom, as well as more than a dozen German service personnel.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Armistice tribute 2008

Armistice Day, and the 90th anniversary of the end of hostilities in the First World War. The war to end all wars, what a fallacy that turned out to be. Watched the ceremony in Whitehall this morning, when the three remaining surviving veterans of the Great War laid their wreaths at the Cenotaph. The eldest, Henry Allingham, aged 112, laid the wreath with his own hands. Very moving.

My thoughts today are with all who fell in that conflict. And with those who tragically drowned outside Stornoway Harbour on 1 January 1919, on their way home. Their transport, a troopship called the Iolaire [Eagle], ran aground on a reef and sank after an hour and a half. 75 survived, but 205 went to the bottom with her. They had survived up to 4 years of war - only to drown within sight of their home town. Inquiries in 1919 and 1972 did not properly account for the events of that dreadful night.

The village of Shawbost, 18 miles from Stornoway, buried 9 of its sons a few days later. North Tolsta, 13 miles north of the town, had lost the largest number of their young men. Of those drowned, 64 were never found. The remaining 140 were found scattered on the shores around Stornoway; one turned up in Loch Grimshader 5 months later.

I'll close this post with a tribute to one of the victims:
Leading Deckhand John MacAskill

Last address in Lewis: 12 Lower Sandwick
Son of Kenneth and Mary MacAskill, was married
Service: Royal Naval Reserve, HMT Thomas Booth
Service number: 9635/DA
Date of death: 1 January 1919 at the age of 24
John drowned, and lies buried at Sandwick