Saturday, 31 December 2016

98 years ago tonight - 23:59

The year 1918 is drawing to a close and Big Ben in London is about to start striking the midnight hour. Six hundred miles to the north, HMY Iolaire is ploughing her way north through the Minch, passing between Raasay, Rona and the Scottish mainland. The weather, which had been reasonable upon departure from Kyle, is turning increasingly windy. A heavy swell is beginning to rise in response to the strong southerly wind. The lighthouses, which serve as reference points for mariners in the Minch, blink their messages to Iolaire. Milaid, on the rocky cliffs near Kebock Head; Rona; Tiumpan Head on the eastern extremity of the Point Peninsula; and Arnish, near the entrance to Stornoway Harbour.

In dozens of houses in Lewis, glasses are charged to the New Year. The last year of war is ending. Dry clothes are draped over beds, a stew is heating over the fire. In the blackhouses in Ness, and the town houses of Stornoway. A kettle is at the ready on the stove. A plate, cutlery and cups on the table. From Eoropie to Brenish, from Lemreway to North Tolsta, and between Manor Park and Newton, the same scene is repeated over and over. Only two hours to go, the boat won't make Hogmanay. But it does not really matter, the boys will be home soon.

The clock strikes midnight. It is 1919.

98 years ago tonight

It is Hogmanay 1918, and the war has been over for seven weeks. Survivors from the Western Front and the war at sea are flocking home. As are hundreds of sailors from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Three trains pull into the harbourside station at Kyle of Lochalsh, and hundreds pour onto the platform and adjoining quayside to join a ferry home. The Skye men can take the short hop to Kyleakin, or join the steamer north to Portree. The sailors and soldiers from the Outer Hebrides have a longer journey ahead of them.

The mailsteamer for Stornoway, the Sheila is alongside at Kyle, but it very rapidly becomes clear that she has nowhere near enough space to accommodate the hundreds that want to go home to Lewis and Harris. So, a cable is sent to the naval base at Stornoway, and Rear Admiral Boyle sends HMY Iolaire to Kyle to relieve the congestion. Iolaire, the former private steamyacht Amalthea, arrives in the early evening, bumping into the pier as she docks.

A disorganised scramble occurs, where the throng of men divides between the Sheila and the Iolaire. No record is kept as to who goes on board which vessel. Some start off by boarding the Iolaire, then switch to the Sheila. Others do the reverse swap. Finally, at half past seven, Iolaire casts off and heads north. The Sheila follows suit in short order.

Sunday, 4 December 2016


The following information was submitted by a reader of the Lewismen in Canadian Service website, regarding Donald Smith, of 11 Aird Tong.  The Roll of Honour says he was wounded twice, but that must have been a mistake.

Donald enlisted with the 94th Battalion, Fort William, Ontario (Canada) on 10 Jan 1916. Arriving in England he was transferred to the 43rd (Cameron Highlanders of Winnipeg) Battalion in France. He was decorated twice.

Distinguished Conduct Medal
Deed of Action
198766 Sergeant Donald Smith
43rd Battalion

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty throughout forty hour's continuous fighting on 27th and 28 August 1918 near Vis-en-Artois, involving two attacks and repeated enemy counter-attacks. He was in the thick of the fighting, accounting for five of the enemy and setting a fine aggressive example to his men.

(Authority: London Gazette number 31726, dated 10 January, 1920)

Bar to Distinguished Conduct Medal
Deed of Action
198766 Sergeant Donald Smith
43rd Battalion

In the attack through Tilloy on the 1st Oct. 1918, he single-handed captured an enemy machine-gun crew and getting the gun in action, inflicted many casualties on the enemy. Later on he took charge of two platoons after they had lost their officers, and by his gallant leadership enabled them to take their objectives and consolidate their positions. When the enemy succeeded in penetrating one post he single-handed drove them out, killing fire and taking seven prisoners. he showed splendid gallantry and initiative.

(Authority: London Gazette number 31668, dated 2 December, 1919)