Sunday, 26 April 2009

Local history file: the Iolaire Disaster

The former private yacht Amalthea, rechristened HMY Iolaire [Eagle], was sent to Kyle of Lochalsh on 31 December 1918 to assist in the returning home of servicemen from Lewis and Harris. This was done because the normal ferry, SS Sheila, could not accommodate the hundreds that were amassed on the quayside at Kyle. Iolaire left port at 7.30 pm, and was approaching Stornoway some 6 hours later in poor weather conditions when she struck rocks on the Beasts of Holm, 2 miles south of the town. More than 200 drowned, the bodies of whom washed up on shores up to 5 miles away. Some 60 were never recovered. The exact cause and circumstances of this sinking are still not entirely clear, and Admiralty files on the incident are closed.

The Stornoway Historical Society were very helpful in supplying me with the names of those involved in the tragedy. In turn, I placed the list of names on the Internet, adding as much information as I could find in local and Internet sources. I also established a simple website, outlining the circumstances of the disaster and a link to the aforementioned list. This has since been augmented by portrait photographs of the men concerned, as scanned from Loyal Lewis Roll of Honour 1914-1918. Because the Iolaire went down a few hours after midnight on 1 January 1919, the First World War is held to have ended in 1919 in the island, rather than 1918 as is the case elsewhere in the UK. I have visited the island’s graveyards to photograph gravestones to the victims of the Iolaire Disaster, and those pictures have been included on the extended listings site.

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