The Iolaire Memorial

Tuesday 18 April 2017

School went back today after the Easter holidays. 

Well for three of the boys it did. James (17) is away this week with some other Army Cadets from across the country, on their practise Gold Duke of Edinburgh expedition in Dartmoor!

For once though, David (11) was very eager to get back to school as he wanted to tell his teacher about a trip we made when we were up in Lewis in the holidays.

His class has been learning about the Iolaire disaster and so he asked if we could visit the memorial to it when we were at Granny and Shen's.

The Iolaire, if you haven't heard of it, was a ship returning from the First World War, bringing servicemen who had been away fighting for years back home to the island. In the early hours of the 1st of January 1919 the ship was approaching Stornoway in a storm. It hit the rocks known as the Beasts of Holm, just outside the safety of the harbour and very quickly sank. Because of the terrible sea conditions, despite the ship sinking very close to land, 205 of the 284 men on board lost their lives.

It is such an unbelievably sad story. That the men had survived the war. That they were so close to home. That it was New Year's Day. That so many died.

It is said that every family on the island was affected by the tragedy in some way, and the loss of so many men on top of the 1000 or so who lost their lives fighting had a great effect on the island.

So we decided to walk out from Stornoway to the memorial one afternoon. We reckoned it was about 2.5 miles or so from Granny and Shen's house, so not too far for bigger legs - like those about to head off on a Gold DofE expedition - but just about as far as little 7 year old legs could manage without grumbling. 3 year old legs would be nice and cosy in the buggy!

For the last mile of our walk there we were walking straight into a strong wind and it really felt like we had walked much more than a mile!

When we finally reached the end of the road, and the top of the hill - where the wind was even stronger and coming straight off the sea - we found the plaque explaining about the tragedy at the start of the path to the end of the cliff where the memorial is.

That tiny little mark about a quarter of the way from the left of the picture below is where the memorial is in relation to the start of the path.

The path isn't exactly perfect for pushing a buggy down, but thankfully I had an Army Cadet with me, who was happy to help me by pushing/wrestling/carrying it down.

Finally we made it to the memorial.

Standing at the memorial you can see where the ship hit the rocks, round about where the spike is in the sea in the picture below. Unbelievably close to land.

And then to the right of that picture above, and round the corner of the picture below is the safety of Stornoway harbour.

I didn't feel that my photos really showed how windy it was though, and so asked the boys to stay still while I took a little film of them there...

So if this was how windy it is there on an ordinary, non stormy day, it's a little easier to understand how severe it would have been in the sea, in a storm, in the dark.

Once we were done at the memorial it was time for the mammoth task of getting the buggy back up the path!

And I have to confess that once we had reached the top of the hill again we phoned Shen to ask him to come and pick us up, rather than walk all the way home again. Although with the wind behind us this time we would probably have done it in half the time!

If you want to read more about the tragedy of the Iolaire, I highly recommend the book When I Heard the Bell by John Macleod.