HM Coastguard remembers HMY Iolaire

Credit:  Buckingham Covers Commemorative Stamp
One hundred years ago today, on New Year’s Eve 1918, HMY Iolaire, a steamer yacht set sail from Kyle of Lochalsh carrying 280 soldiers returning home to Stornoway from World War One.  On New Year’s morning just before 2am, tragedy struck when the vessel hit rocks at the Beasts of Holm at the entrance to Stornoway Harbour.  

201 men lost their lives and 79 others survived - making it one of Britain's worse maritime disasters. 

Every village on the island was affected and some families lost several sons, brothers and fathers.  There are few local families which were unaffected by the tragedy and because of the poor communications available at the time, it was in some cases, days before news of the tragedy reached families in the remoter parts of the island.  As day broke on the first day of 1919, one lone sailor clung to the mast of the ship which was still above water but bodies were strewn across the shore along with personal belongings, many gifts for children and even a few engagement rings were later found in pockets and bags.  The poignancy of these details still resonates deeply with the islanders.

The event marked the history of the Western Isles more significantly than any other and left a devastating and lasting tragic legacy.  This year marks the 100th anniversary of the loss and it is being commemorated widely on the island as well as online.  There will be a torchlight procession through the town on New Year’s Eve and at 01:50 a small contingent of 15 local dignitaries will make the journey to the Beasts of Holm coastline where the vessel sank and lay a wreath.  HM Coastguard is taking part and/or providing safety cover in all of the commemorative events and services planned.
We will always remember those who perished on that fateful morning 100 years ago.

Carol Campbell, Maritime Operations Specialist and MCA Respect Ambassador said:  “This Hogmanay, the island community unites to commemorate 100 years since fateful sinking of HMY Iolaire.    The 1st of January 1919, should have been a time of great celebration, with servicemen who had survived the Great War returning home to their families.  But the tragedy shrouded the island in a blanket of grief which has resonated down through the years and still touches people very deeply.  HM Coastguard will join with the community to mark the passage of time since this significant maritime tragedy and provide safety cover and support for the events of commemoration at this time of sad reflection”.

Events from 9.30pm will be live streamed from this website:

With kind thanks to Buckingham Covers for allowing us to use this commemorative collectable stamp image of the HMY Iolaire.

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