Children from Laxdale Primary School were among the volunteers braving the cold this morning (Wednesday) to help plant 201 trees near the Lewis War Memorial in memory of the Iolaire loss.
A crowd of more than 30 had gathered at the lower reaches of the path to the War Memorial from Memorial Avenue at 11am for the first of the day’s two planting sessions, the second of which is taking place at 2pm.
The Iolaire tree memorial is supported by Point and Sandwick Trust and Stornoway Trust and has largely been organised by Point and Sandwick Trust’s Croft Woodland Project Officer Viv Halcrow and the Woodland Trust, which has been running a ‘Centenary Woods’ planting project across the UK from 2014 to 2018 in memory of those who died in the Great War.
Viv said: “I’m delighted that we are planting these trees in memory of the Iolaire lost and I’m very pleased that Point and Sandwick Trust and the Woodland Trust and the Stornoway Trust have come together to make it happen.
“I’m also very pleased to see the turnout of people coming to plant trees. It just shows what an important thing the Iolaire was for the island and planting trees is a very apt living memorial.”
Andrew Campbell, Senior Outreach Manager for the Woodland Trust, had come to Lewis for the event and helped Viv in organising the trees – a mix of native species including downy birch, wych elm, bird cherry, rowan and hazel, being planted in clumps of five for the most dramatic effect.
Andrew spoke of the significance of the event, the last of their Centenary Woods plantings in Scotland. It is one of 150 across the UK over the four years; around 60 of them in Scotland. Of these, 18 Centenary Woods have been planted in the Outer Hebrides.
“It’s the last Centenary planting project that we’ve got going on within Scotland. As Viv said, it’s a fitting, living, breathing, growing memorial to those that died or were affected by the First World War, and in particular the men that were lost in the Iolaire.
“Also, it’s fantastic to see such a great turnout.”
Point and Sandwick Trust’s General Manager Donald John MacSween addressed the volunteers as Viv and Andrew were getting the trees ready to go into the ground.
He said: “This is to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Iolaire. We are going to plant a tree for every soul in the Iolaire lost that night.”
The trees have been specially selected by Viv because they would have been found in the islands naturally years ago and Donald John pledged: “We will take care of them and see that they grow and prosper in the years to come.”
Representatives from both community trusts had come to take part, including Stornoway Trust trustee Donald Macleod, who had lost an uncle in the Iolaire.
His father’s older brother had been among those sailors travelling home, after four years of war, on the yacht when she hit the Beasts of Holm just outside Stornoway in the early hours and sank with the loss of so many lives.
Donald said: “It’s great to be here today. My uncle was on the Iolaire, so it’s more part of remembering, it’s all part of that family stuff. My uncle was 18 and my father was number 10 in the family, born in 1923, so they never met.”
“I’m here through the Trust but it’s all interconnected and this is a great memorial for the Iolaire, that will grow, through time.”
Point and Sandwick Trust chair Norman Mackenzie said: “We are proud to commemorate the lives of those lost 100 years ago and the trees will be a lasting memorial to their sacrifice.”
Stornoway Trust chair Norman A Maciver added that the Trust were “absolutely full supportive” of the event, which he described as “a fantastic idea – it will be a memorial of the 201 people”.