The granite wreath commissioned by Point War Memorial Committee in memory of the Iolaire and funded by community wind farm Point and Sandwick Trust was unveiled at a dedication ceremony in Garrabost Memorial Gardens this morning (Saturday March 2nd).

More than 50 people of all ages braved the cold winds to take part in the half-hour service, led by the Rev Donald Macdonald and with official duties performed by Francis Jefferson, chair of the Memorial Committee. The service included the singing of the 23rd Psalm.

Six youngsters – all with family connections to the Iolaire tragedy – joined together to unveil the sculpture, giving the community their first look at the memorial to all those who suffered when the Iolaire was lost on the Beasts of Holm in the early hours of January 1, 1919.

Another youngster, 14-year-old piper Aaron Ingram, also performed a key role in the service – playing Pipe Major Donald Macleod’s famous piòbaireachd Lament For The Iolaire.

The rain, which had held off during the short service, started to fall then, as the service closed.

The memorial stone was fully funded by Point and Sandwick Trust. The charity, which owns and operates the turbines at Beinn Ghrideag for the benefit of the community, had been approached for a contribution but offered to meet the £2,200 costs of the memorial in full.

After the service, Point and Sandwick Trust chairman Norman Mackenzie said: “It was a lovely service – first class, actually. It was very fitting. From Point and Sandwick Trust’s point of view, we are pleased to have been in the position to fully fund the request from the committee and the fitting permanent memorial.”

Donald Martin, the Lord Lieutenant of the Western Isles, was among those at the service. He said afterwards: “It was excellent, very appropriate, and a very impressive memorial.”

At the start of the service, Francis Jefferson spoke of the Memorial Committee’s desire to come up with a permanent memorial to the Iolaire around the 100th anniversary.

“We’ve always placed a wreath of remembrance for the people who were killed during the war,” he said. This, however, was a wreath specifically for the Iolaire. 

“They were lost in peacetime, returning home after the war. That word always gives me a little shiver. It’s a very small word, war, but it signifies a very nasty event. It invariably involves the loss of an awful lot of people and in this particular war it was millions – and that goes against the grain of what we’re taught… ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’.”

He reminded that a quarter of those who left the Isle of Lewis to serve in World War One did not return and that a further 201 had been lost afterwards, in the Iolaire.

“The island suffered tremendously for the next 100 years because people didn’t talk about it. They mourned for their losses but on reflection I’m sure that all of us know that people who took part in the war tended not to talk about it. 

“It’s a horrible thing, they have seen horrible sights, they’ve lost their colleagues – but that is all trapped in their own heads. They don’t talk about it.”

For the survivors of the Iolaire, they “came home and they suffered and suffered in silence”, and he added that he too had seen war and lost colleagues – and didn’t talk about it either. “It happens.”

He touched on the Memorial Committee’s efforts to come up with a suitable memorial to the Iolaire. Point and Sandwick Trust “were approached for a donation” but “generously offered to pay the costs in full”. He said: “We are extremely grateful to them for this gesture… thank you.”

During the prayer, Rev Macdonald spoke of how the “pain, trauma and sorrow” over the Iolaire had characterised the island for many years and prayed for the children involved in the ceremony, that they would help keep the memory of the Iolaire alive for the generations to come.

The granite memorial, which is decorated with a ring of coloured poppies, came from a company on the mainland. It was the Point and Sandwick Trust’s final act of charitable support for a programme of events in remembrance of the Iolaire throughout 2018.

Pictures by Sandie Maciver of SandiePhotos.