Prince Charles has paid tribute to those who died in one of the UK’s worst maritime tragedies in peacetime. The Prince travelled to the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides on New Year’s Day 2019 to remember those who perished on the HMY Iolaire on the 100th anniversary of its loss.
The Prince, who is known as the Lord of the Isles while in the Hebrides, read a passage from scripture at the service held at the memorial to those who died on the Iolaire. Charles also laid a wreath, bearing the message ‘’in special remembrance of your service and sacrifice’’ at the commemoration which was also attended by the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, as well as descendants and relations of those who perished on the yacht.
The Iolaire was on its approach to Stornoway Harbour in Lewis in the early hours of January 1st 1919 when it hit the rocks, known as ‘’The Beasts of Holm’’ and sank. Over two hundred people died. Those on board were returning home after the end of World War One. Of those who died, 174 came from Lewis and another seven from the neighbouring island of Harris. The exact reason why the yacht ended up on the rocks has never been discovered.
The harbour at Stornoway was packed when the ship sank as family and friends waited to see relatives returning home after years at war. Many tried to save those on the ship but in the end, just 79 people were brought to safety. One man, John Finlay Macleod, helped save at least forty of those who survived by grabbing a rope and turning it into a rescue line.
After the service, Prince Charles unveiled a new memorial to the Iolaire – a sculpture of a heaving line, in bronze, to remember Mr Macleod’s rescue. It also features the names of all those who died as the Iolaire sank as well as the villages they came from. The commemorations took place just hours after representatives of the armed forces kept a watch at the Iolaire memorial at Holm just after midnight with lights beamed on to the rocks where the ship foundered at the exact time she went down.
The island was left devastated and for many years afterwards, the Iolaire was rarely spoken about. However, a determination that future generations will understand the tragedy has led to a renewed focus on the disaster. In November 2018, a book called ‘’The Darkest Hour’’, by Malcolm MacDonald and Donald John Macleod, was released with a forward by Charles. In it, the Prince talks about the ‘’indescribable grief of those families, relatives, neighbours and friends who were so cruelly affected by the loss of their loved ones’’.
Today, one hundred years on from that moment, the Lord of the Isles led remembrance for those who survived war only to be lost just yards from the safety of home.