Service to remember the lost at the Iolaire memorial

editorial image

Hundreds of people, some from as far afield as Canada, gathered at the Iolaire Memorial in Holm this afternoon to remember those involved in the tragic sinking of HMY Iolaire.

The ship hit ‘The Beasts of Holm’ rocks, around 20 yards from Stornoway’s coastline, as it brought men home from World War One 100 years ago to the day.

Of around 300 on board, more than 200 men from Lewis and Harris perished along with the crew.

The remembrance service was held at midday, and was attended by local people; Iolaire descendants, HRH The Prince Charles, Lord of the Isles; First Minister Nicola Sturgeon; Scotland’s most senior Naval Officer Rear Admiral John Weale and the Convener of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council), Norman A Macdonald, each of whom laid a wreath.

Conducted by The Very Revd Dr Angus Morrison the service included a reading of Isaiah 43 1-7 by HRH The Lord of the Isles, The Iolaire Lament played by Stornoway Piper Finlay Macleod and The Iolaire Centenary Prayer which was composed and led by the Minister.

The end of the two minute silence was marked with the reveille by Royal Marine Bugler James Trowbridge.

A new sculpture to commemorate the Iolaire, adjacent to the Memorial, was unveiled by HRH The Lord of the Isles.

Commissioned by An Lanntair, Stornoway’s arts hub, the sculpture features a bronze depiction of a coiled heaving line which references the heroism of John Finlay Macleod who swam ashore with a rope to rescue 40 of the 79 men who were saved.

It was created by artists Will Maclean, Marian Leven and Arthur Watson and bears the names of those lost and the communities they came from as well as a bronze wreath composed of maritime insignia.

HRH The Lord of the Isles and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon met Iolaire descendants and the 29-strong Royal Naval Guard.

Descendants included Anne Frater whose great grandfather perished and Malcolm Macdonald whose grandfather died in the disaster.

Malcolm has co-written a book about the tragedy ‘The Darkest Dawn’ which tracks the stories of all those on board.

HRH The Lord of the Isles wrote the Foreword for the book.

As the service took place on land, a similar event, led by Rev James Maciver of the Stornoway Free Church, was held on board Caledonian MacBrayne’s MV Loch Seaforth ferry near where the Iolaire hit the rocks.

More than 500 people were on board, including schoolchildren from the Western Isles who threw 201 red carnations into the sea.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, said: “As we welcome in the New Year, today in Stornoway we rightly look back 100 years and remember those lost on the Iolaire - a tragedy that involved so many, so close to shore and, for most of the men, so close to home.

“We reflect on those who perished and how survivors, family, friends and the wider communities on Lewis, Harris and Berneray must have felt.

“It may have been a century ago but the legacy of the Iolaire will never be forgotten. I was honoured to be part of the commemorations and meet descendants.”

For many taking part, the service had a particular poignancy. One of the wreath bearers, Lt Alison Ross of the Royal Navy is the great great niece of John Finlay Macleod who brought ashore the rope that is depicted in the new Iolaire sculpture.

Stornoway-based Constable Shona Macdonald, whose Great Grandfather from Inner Coll lost his life on the Iolaire, laid a wreath on behalf of Police Scotland. Laying the wreath on behalf of the Stornoway Coast Guard was volunteer Coast Guard Robert McKinnon.

Robert’s grandfather, after whom he is named, made it to shore and helped secure the rope that John Finlay Macleod had brought ashore. He walked home to Harris, a distance of nearly 50 miles, soaked but safe.

In the early hours of the morning of January 1, Comhairle Convener, Norman A Macdonald, led a small vigil at the Memorial to the minute the Iolaire hit the rocks. The Very Rev Dr Angus Morrison delivered a short service followed by a two minute silence at 1.55am.

At the end of the silence a Lone Piper played “Lament for the Iolaire” while the Stornoway Lifeboat illuminated the rocks from the sea.

At 3pm on December 31st, at Kyle Railway Station where the sailors disembarked before heading for the Iolaire 100 years ago, a special commemoration was held by Legion Scotland.

The Lord-Lieutenant of Ross and Cromarty and Skye and Lochalsh, Mrs Janet Bowen CVO, unveiled a plaque and both she and Sir Alistair Irwin, President of the Royal British Legion Scotland, laid wreaths.

Sharon Smith is the great niece of Malcolm Thomson who was lost on the Iolaire at the age of 27. “My great uncle Malcolm had already been in the Royal Navy Reserves for two years when World War One broke out, and he spent the whole of the war at sea. As far as I am aware, he never suffered any injury or illness during this time.

“At the end of the war, he was one of hundreds of sailors waiting at Kyle of Lochalsh for the boats to take them back home to Lewis. There were two boats allocated, the Shelia and the Iolaire.

“I have been told that Uncle Malcolm was due to board the Sheila but he unexpectedly met two brothers who were close childhood friends from the same village. They hadn’t seen each other since the beginning of the war and had much to talk about so Malcolm boarded the Iolaire with them instead.

“Sadly a few hours later, all three had drowned on that tragic New Year’s morning.

“My dad spoke about the deep grief and sorrow his grandmother endured for the rest of her life, and he would take us to the memorial site at Holm to remind us of the tragedy and not to forget. It will always affect our island, and it is important that the future generations continue to remember the lost.”

Scripture reading delivered by HRH The Lord of the Isles:

But now thus says the LORD,

he who created you, O Jacob,

he who formed you, O Israel:

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;

I have called you by name, you are mine.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;

and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;

when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,

and the flame shall not consume you.

For I am the LORD your God,

the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.

Because you are precious in my eyes,

and honoured, and I love you,

I give men in return for you,

peoples in exchange for your life.

Fear not, for I am with you;

I will bring your offspring from the east,

and from the west I will gather you.

I will say to the north, Give up,

and to the south, Do not withhold;

bring my sons from afar

and my daughters from the end of the earth,

everyone who is called by my name,

whom I created for my glory,

whom I formed and made.”

Isaiah 43: 1-7 (ESV)

The Iolaire Centenary Prayer composed by The Very Revd Dr Angus Morrison

God of the years, our hope and refuge, we come to you with the memory of so grievous a loss weighing heavily on our hearts.

Gracious Lord, heal our wounds and grant us peace.

God of our hearts, we remember before you those who, having endured hardship and danger in war, had their lives taken within sight of their island home.

Gracious Lord, heal our wounds and grant us peace.

God of our minds, we think of those who lost husbands and lovers, fathers and sons, brothers and friends, and can scarcely imagine the emptiness of hearts and homes.

Gracious Lord, heal our wounds and grant us peace.

God of all comfort, in the midst of such pain and horror, we give thanks for acts of selfless courage and kindness, by which others were saved or comforted.

Gracious Lord, heal our wounds and grant us peace.

God of all grace, we pray for these islands, their communities and families, over which the dark cloud of sorrow has lain for a century. Comfort, console and strengthen us in faith, so that in waiting on you we may mount up on wings as eagles.

Gracious Lord, heal our wounds and grant us peace.

God of sea and land, whose ways are beyond our grasp and from whose love in Christ nothing in life or death can separate, we give thanks for your abiding presence in our time of need.

Gracious Lord, heal our wounds and grant us peace.

God of past, present and future, renew in all a vision and longing for reconciliation. By your Spirit, empower us to work for the day in which justice, harmony and love shall reign among all nations and in every heart.

We offer these our prayers in the name of the crucified and risen Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Amen