until the break of day

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 tragic sinking of the HMY Iolaire slowly became apparent. She had taken 205 men to their death. Few soldiers were found barely alive on the beaches and rocks, most were dead and some were never to be found.

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.”

Of the 205 dead men there were 7 from Harris. The death toll had been far heavier on the northern part of the island, on Lewis. Fewer mothers had to bury their sons in the South. Whereas Lewis lost a whole generation, the losses in Harris were far less but certainly not less felt.

The village of Grabhair (Gravir) in lost two men,  in the biggest maritime disaster they had ever known. Deck hand Ferguson was 48 years old.

On his stone a bible quote in Gaelic Agus pilidh an spioraidh chuim de a thug uaith e. And the spirit shall return to him who gave it. (Ecclesiastes 12:17)


The other dead deck hand was only 19 . The war was at an end. So was his life.

Until the break of day it says on the stone of the young man who died in the early morning hours of 1st January 2019. Gus am bris an lath

source and further reading:

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

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