From 1914 to 1918, men and women in their thousands left the Western Isles to travel to foreign lands to face an uncertain fate.
The impact of the war was possibly more keenly felt on these islands than anywhere else – already small and fragile populations were reduced even further as the journey to war was undertaken.
To mark the centenary of the call to arms, Pròiseact nan Ealan, The Gaelic Arts Agency, is embarking on a commemoration that will remember their going, their journeys, their time at war – and, for the few who did return, their coming home.
Call of the Gael is an ongoing project to ensure that the personal stories of those from the islands who were involved in the Great War can be retold – and in some cases freshly traced – for future generations.
Chrissie Macrae, project co-ordinator at Pròiseact nan Ealan, said: “We’re putting on the exhibitions because of the incredible contribution that the Western Isles made to the First World War.”
Chrissie said that in terms of population the Western Isles lost the greatest amount of service men in comparison to any other commonwealth countries.
She continued: “Before the War started there there were a high number of young men in the Royal Navy Reserves. It gave them an extra income, which they needed, so they were among the first to be called up.”
Upwards of 330 Hebrideans died aboard more than 150 ships that were lost. 1797 Hebrideans were lost through the war, out of approximately 9500 who served.
Chrissie said: “We wanted to honour the services and the sacrifices that these people made for the country and for the islands and these exhibitions are the means we have used to do that.”
CALL OF THE GAEL
Pròiseact nan Ealan has been working in partnership with local Comunn Eachdraidh l Historical Societies and other project partners and a number of events have taken place with more scheduled for 2014 and 2015. These events focus on the sharing of these memories, thereby encouraging others to help build an even more vivid picture of the role islanders played in the war and how it affected those left behind.
Drama productions and lectures have already taken place and the next stage of the project is a series of exhibitions across the Western Isles that will showcase photographs, documents and artefacts that the project has been given access to and continues to discover.
Call of the Gael does not just want to tell the stories of other individuals – it wants people to come forward with their own recollections and family stories about WWI.
The project is for young and old, those who speak Gaelic and those who don’t.
One of the legacies of the project will be to gift the exhibitions back to their communities and this will help young people establish a greater understanding of the ultimate sacrifice islanders made and enable communities to work together to strengthen their own identities.
The exhibition at an Lanntair opens next week on Saturday, October 25th, and continues through to December 6th.
The an Lanntair show is one in a series of different exhibitions that will be hosted at various locations across the Western Isles, each one highlighting the stories of the individuals who served.