Islay pays tribute to World War I dead

The residents of a Hebridean island where hundreds of troops perished during one of the worst wartime tragedies in Scotland's seas have gathered to pay tribute to the dead.

In an event marking the launch of a year-long series of commemorations for those lost during World War I, civic leaders and residents on Islay recalled those who died off its coast.

Around 700 US servicemen and British crew members died after the sinking of SS Tuscania and HMS Otranto.

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Piper Isobel Ferguson played at the grave of Private Roy Muncaster, who served in the 20th Engineers (Forest) regiment of the US army. He is the only American soldier whose resting place is on the island.

The Inner Hebridean island will host a year-long series of events arking the island’s contribution to World War I and the loss of two troop ships carrying American soldiers to fight alongside the Allies.

Community events will take place on 5 February and 6 October, one hundred years to the day since the sinking of the SS Tuscania and the HMS Otranto respectively.

On 4 May, the WW100 Scotland Day of Commemoration, in partnership with Argyll and Bute Council, forms the centrepiece of the programme, with a service taking place at the American Monument on the Mull of Oa followed by a public service at Port Ellen War Memorial, where VIP guests will lay wreaths in honour of Islay’s war dead.

As well as the valiant rescue efforts of the local community when the ships went down and its efforts to give the dead proper burials, the events will remember the Ileachs that served and around 200 that lost their lives throughout the war.

Lord George Robertson of Port Ellen, whose maternal grandfather was the police sergeant on Islay at the time of the sinkings, said: “My grandfather, Malcolm MacNeill, had the distressing job of reporting what had happened and attempting to identify the bodies, noting any distinguishing marks that could help identify the drowned men. There were so many bodies that their descriptions filled 81 pages in his notebook.

“When they were finally buried, it fell to my grandfather to correspond with the families in the US who were desperate to know more about the fate of their loved ones.

“They wrote with information which they hoped could be used to identify the bodies of their sons, husbands or brothers, and in an extraordinary example of compassionate public service, my grandfather replied to each letter, providing what information he could.”

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WW100 Islay chair, Jenni Minto, said: “Every village on Islay lost men in the Great War but the SS Tuscania and HMS Otranto disasters brought the war directly to Islay’s shores.

“In addition to remembering the soldiers and crew who lost their lives in these two tragedies the Islay 100 programme recognises the contribution made by the local community.”

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