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.