Royal Navy pay tribute to HMY Iolaire

Royal Navy and Royal Marines personnel joined Prince Charles in paying tribute to the hundreds who died in one of the UK’s greatest maritime tragedies.

Services were held in Stornoway on New Year’s Day to commemorate 100 years since the sinking of HMY Iolaire.

The vessel was carrying 280 sailors, many of whom were Royal Naval Reservists, on their way home at the end of World War 1.

At 1.55am on January 1, 1919, the ship struck rocks off the perilous entrance to Stornoway Harbour and sunk, taking the lives of 201 people who were just a matter of metres from reaching their island home.

Relatives of those who perished gathered to take part in several ceremonies which were attended by a Royal Navy guard, composed of personnel from HMNB Clyde and aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales, the Royal Marines Band as well as the Duke of Rothesay, as Prince Charles is officially titled in Scotland.

The men who perished in the tragedy were sailors and it is absolutely fitting the Royal Navy pays tribute to their sacrifice. It’s something we do, as a naval service, when we lose people on operations and we weren’t able to do that 100 years ago.

Rear Admiral John Weale

A candlelight vigil was the first event to be held at the exact time lolaire (meaning 'Eagle' in Gaelic) went down and four military personnel acted as sentinels around the yacht’s monument, including Lieutenant Alison Ross, Royal Navy Reservist Lieutenant Commander Gary Farmer, Royal Marines Reservist Captain Chris McGinley and Captain Malcolm Darell-Job, of Army Reserve unit 7 Scots.

Before that, a crowd– many of them relatives of those who died – marched through the streets carrying torches.

At the official service later that day, Prince Charles laid a wreath and a two-minute silence was held. The Last Post was also played along with the National Anthem.

Rear Admiral John Weale, Flag Officer for Scotland and Northern Ireland, said: "The commemoration was very appropriate and I am very happy the Royal Navy was able to participate.

"The men who perished in the tragedy were sailors and it is absolutely fitting the Royal Navy pays tribute to their sacrifice. It’s something we do, as a naval service, when we lose people on operations and we weren’t able to do that 100 years ago.

"So it was particularly important to us and I speak for all of the sailors and marines when I say we are privileged to have taken part, to be able to pay our respects to fallen comrades and to be able to meet their descendants.

"I applaud the community for their determination to keep the memory of those men and the disaster alive today and for tomorrow."

HMY Iolaire had set off from the Kyle of Lochalsh on December 31, 1918 and a short service and a plaque has also been unveiled there to mark the tragedy.

Led by Reverend Roddie Rankin, minister of Plockton and Kyle Free Church, the service saw wreaths laid by Lord-Lieutenant of Ross and Cromarty Janet Bowen, Commander Gary Mills from the Royal Navy and Gregor Talbot, a descendent of one of the victims.

The Calmac Ferry also hosted a service and schoolchildren laid 201 flowers into the sea near the Iolaire wreck.