Prince Charles in Lewis 01012019 CREDIT PA (Use only in relation to the Iolaire)
WWI

Ceremony Held For Sailors Killed Returning From WWI

More than 200 people died when HMY Iolaire hit rocks near the shore while carrying sailors home from the First World War.

Prince Charles in Lewis 01012019 CREDIT PA (Use only in relation to the Iolaire)

Prince Charles laid a wreath during the ceremony in Stornoway (Picture: PA).

The deaths of Great War service men who died returning home on New Year’s Day 1919 have been remembered at a ceremony in Stornoway on the Scottish island of Lewis and Harris.

HMY Iolaire, whose name came from the Gaelic for "eagle" was bringing men home from the First World War to the Western Isles when she struck rocks yards from the shore and sank during the early hours of January 1, 1919.

At least 201 died, making the sinking one of the worst maritime disasters in British history.

To commemorate the centenary of the sinking, Prince Charles and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon joined islanders to pay tribute at a memorial site overlooking the scene of the tragedy.

Psalms were sung in both English and Gaelic, as well as the National Anthem.

Prayers were said and wreaths were laid. A note left by Prince Charles on his wreath read: "In special remembrance of your service and sacrifice."

The Prince was also shown a new sculpture featuring a bronze depiction of a coiled heaving line, referencing the acts of John Finlay Macleod who swam out with a rope to rescue 40 of the 79 men who were saved.

One of the wreath-bearers, Lieutenant Alison Ross of the Royal Navy, is his great-great niece through marriage. The 29-year-old said: "To do what he did at a time like that is pretty incredible.

"I'm so glad I could be here with the Navy, but also with my great-aunt, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the community - it was really quite an honour.

"It's such as shame that people weren't able to talk about it for decades afterwards. So it's really incredible now that 100 years later the whole community can come together."

Professor Norman Drummond, chairman of the Scottish Commemorations Panel, commented in the run up to the event: "It is beyond our comprehension that over 200 men perished so close to home after surviving the war in what remains one of the worst UK maritime disasters of the 20th century.

"When you look out from the Iolaire Memorial to where HMY Iolaire hit the rocks of The Beasts of Holm, you are struck by just how close they were to shore.

"It is hard to imagine the relief and excitement of the men and their families on their return and then the sorrow that was to follow."

A service also took place on board Caledonian MacBrayne's MV Loch Seaforth ferry near where the Iolaire hit the rocks.

Five hundred people were on the ferry and local school children three 201 red carnations into the sea. The commemoration concluded when a diver swam down to the wreck of the ship to lay a wreath.