I am drawn to novels set on Scottish Islands; for years now I have tried to get my hands on any and every novel featuring a Scottish Island setting. Skye, Orkney, Lewis and Harris, Iona, Shetland, Barra,—well it could be a long list because there are over 90 inhabited Islands (although in some cases the population may consist of a single caretaker or family). Of course two famous writers (Ann Cleeves and Peter May) have made it easier, each by setting a series on a Scottish Island. I have reviewed many of these novels in greater detail in past blogs (and explained some of the reasons why they attracted me).
And….I have been presenting an overview of some impressive World War 1 novels in my past few blogs and now I am going to continue with the war theme and add the Scottish Island theme. I hope my next few blogs might offer some choices and possibilities to readers who enjoy this type of fiction.
I have stated that my main interest is fiction–well this blog is about fiction—BUT right now, in this posting, I am going to indulge in some NON-fiction. I think the narrative I am about to present will give the reader some perspective with respect to the Islanders’ involvement in World War 1. So I will break with form to tell…..
The Heartbreaking and True story of the HMY Iolaire,
The young men of Isle of Lewis had a long record of coming to the aid of king and country, and true to form, during World War One, Lewis contributed 6,200 servicemen to the cause, and that from a population of 30,000. When the guns went quiet after the armistice had been signed….1,000 Lewis men had succumbed to the war. One thousand young men would never come home. Six weeks after the armistice, Lewis servicemen (survivors of a hell on earth), were still being demobbed and preparing to return home to their Island . On New Years Eve, 9:30 p.m., the HMY Iolaire (Gaelic for Eagle) left the Kyle of Lochalsh and set sail for Stornaway Harbour on the Isle of Lewis. These men had survived the obscenities of war….and they were going home. Families on Lewis were preparing to have their sons/fathers/brothers/cousins/husbands/sweethearts home for the new year. The ship had a maximum capacity for 100 persons yet 280 men were onboard that night. Just outside Stornaway harbour, the Iolaire hit a rocky outcropping known as “The Beasts of Holm” These rocks had long been known as challenging to navigate (even in daylight with a familiar crew….and even today). On January 1, 1919 the Iolaire sank. Many men drowned immediately with their heavy boots and full uniforms weighing them down and others were able to hang on to the masts for hours. Of the seven men gripping the masts, only one was able to hold on until rescued. And there was a hero…… A man named John F. McLeod managed to swim ashore with a rope. He secured it to a rock on the shore and it is believed that 40 men were saved by using this life line. In the final count 205 men of the 280 onboard perished in the sea that night…….174 Lewis men, 7 Harris men and the rest were crew. The entire Island was in mourning.
The first time I heard this story it was like a kick in the gut. They survived the war, only to die within sight of their home.
My next blog will feature Scottish Island fiction set during the First World War. I hope my readers can understand why I chose to reveal this true story before I began the next stage of my WWI fiction blogs.