the aftermath

Crosbost cemetery, Isle of Lewis

white urn grave grey sky

The morning of the first day of the year 1919 dawned but despite the light the day was as dark as a day could be for the islanders. Lewis was in shock, the death toll after the sinking of the HMY Iolaire slowly became apparent. She had taken 205 men to their death. Few were found barely alive on the beaches and rocks, most were dead and some were never found at all.

All 4 officers of the HMY Iolaire drowned, 7 escaped out of a crew of 23. Not all were buried on Lewis. They “fill graves the length of the land – Havant and St. Helens, Poutsmouth and Newcastle, Southend and Auchterarder, Greenwich and Islington and Southampton. For six, from Mason to Herbert Head, The Portsmouth Naval memorial is their monument, and their names are cut with other unfound Iolaire men and all those Great War sailors whose grave is the sea.”

angel moss lichen graveyard grey skyThe other corpses were lying under tarpaulins waiting to be transported across the island, to Ness, to Tolsta, to Lochs. Carts filled the streets of Stornoway. Pain and sorrow filled an island. The burials were going on until midnight. There were so many, the traditional wake could not be held, men to carry the coffins were hard to find.

Life would never be the same again for the widows and mothers. As the families slowly recovered from the disaster, new bodies appeared. Norman Morrison, a farmer from Steinish was found three weeks after he died, Angus Matheson from Uigen was found six weeks later.

Crosbost jetty Isle of Lewis

headstone Angus MacDonald IolaireMonths later two boys from Lochs found another one while fishing. It was the summer 1919 and the body caught with the herring in the net didn’t look like a human being any longer. The decomposed corpse was identified as Angus MacDonald from Port of Ness by his RNR tag, a handsome young man once, now a horrible sight. The find must have burned itself into the memory of those two boys forever.

Angus MacDonald was quietly buried where he was found, in Crosbost cemetery. It was the last burial of the Iolaire disaster.

CWGC war grave A. MacDonald Crosbost“His mother Margaret Màired Iain Bhàin, came to Crosbost Communion twice each year for the rest of her life, and the first thing she did was to visit her Angus’s grave. She died, aged eighty-six, in September 1952.” (MacLeod)


She had 33 years to live and to mourn her son. She was not the only one.

source and further reading:

John MacLeod: When I Heard The Bell. The Loss of the Iolaire. Edinburgh, Birlinn, 2009




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