Islay commemoration for World War One

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Published Date: 

24 May 2017 - 11:04

Argyll and Bute Council is supporting the programme with funding of £25,000. The series of commemorative events is planned to run from 5 February to 11 November 2018.

It is part of WW100 Scotland's national commemorations marking the centenary of the final year of the Great War.

Centrepiece of the island programme will be a Day of Commemoration on 4 May. A service will take place at the American Monument on the Oa in remembrance of the hundreds of US servicemen, and British crew, who lost their lives when two troopships, the SS Tuscania and the HMS Otranto, went down off Islay.

This will be followed by a public service at Port Ellen war memorial, where wreaths will be laid in honour of Islay’s war dead.

The 4 May Day of Commemoration will be wrapped by services at each of the cemeteries where men from the Tuscania and Otranto were buried. Some of the resting places were temporary, others remain.

These services will take place on 5 February and 6 October respectively. Various events will take place and exhibitions will be created across the island throughout the year.

Armistice Day services in each of the Islay communities will draw the commemorations to a fitting close.

Other plans include improvements to the Islay war memorials, the creation of a WW100 trail linking places and buildings significant to the Great War, and working closely with the RSPB, interpretation panels and access to the American Monument are being improved.

These projects, as well as others in the pipeline, involve many community groups on Islay, including schools, organisations such as lunch clubs, and charities.

WW100 Islay is organising the programme as a part of the outreach work of the Museum of Islay Life.

WW100 Islay chair, Jenni Minto, said: “Every village on Islay lost men in the Great War. The war memorials in Bowmore, Port Charlotte, Portnahaven, Ballygrant and Port Ellen name almost 200, with a further 24 not confirmed on any memorial. It is clear the price paid by this one small Scottish community was very high.

“But the loss of the troopships SS Tuscania, torpedoed in the North Channel, between Islay and Northern Ireland, by UB-77 on 5 February 1918, then HMS Otranto, which sank near Machir Bay after a after a collision with HMS Kashmir on 6 October, brought the Great War directly to Islay’s shores.

“The ships were carrying thousands of young American servicemen to fight on the battlefields of Europe. Many were saved after heroic rescue missions but sadly hundreds perished: 166 from the Tuscania and 470 from the Otranto, many washed up on Islay’s shoreline.

“Immediately after the war the American Red Cross commissioned a monument in recognition of America’s lost: a lighthouse-like structure it sits proud atop the cliffs on the Mull of Oa and is a poignant reminder of these two disasters.

“It is these tragedies and the part the islands played in the rescue of survivors and the respectful funerals of those lost, as well as the loss of Islay’s own, that are being remembered with this programme of commemorative events. They will be drawn together into a lasting legacy that can be revisited by individuals and communities in the future.”

The overriding themes of the year will be remembrance, reflection and reconciliation.

Charles Reppke, the council’s head of governance and law, said: “The programme put together by WW100 Islay is a fitting tribute to all those who gave their lives in this conflict. “It will also heighten awareness of the great sacrifice made by island men who went off to fight and the part the island played in the aftermath of the troopship tragedies.

“Tribute must be paid to the huge amount of work done by WW100 Islay to put together such an extensive series of commemorations. “Everyone has worked extremely hard and the council is delighted to be able to give its support.”

WW100 Islay is supported by the Argyll and Bute WW1 Commemoration Steering Group which is chaired by the Lord Lieutenant of Argyll and Bute, Patrick Stewart.

A piece of history – The preface to a souvenir album of the SS Tuscania disaster, containing poignant photographs by Bowmore photographer Archibald Cameron, expresses the community’s feelings and actions: “A shudder of horror went through the hearts of our fellow-islanders, as in the grey dawn of morning they found the shores strewn with the bodies of the unfortunate victims… The bodies were tenderly collected and every means taken to procure their identity. Large crowds gathered from all parts of the island to pay their tribute of respect to the memory of the fallen.”