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Translated from an interview with An Geal, John Maclennan, born 1896 at 15 Kneep and married at 4 Aird, Uig. The Admiralty ship the Iolaire taking servicemen home to Lewis grounded on the Beasts of Holm outside Stornoway, on the 1st of January 1919. More than two hundred men perished. Translated by Maggie Smith.
At the end of December 1918, on leave and travelling back to Lewis with other servicemen from Uig, we planned to arrive home on New Year’s day and surprise the families. Approaching Stornoway Harbour on the Iolaire the mistake was made when we changed course. All it required was less than half a point, it just needed to be slightly to the West. The lighthouse was visible, but the man at the wheel didn’t alter the course when he should have.
We never suspected a thing until she hit, it was so quiet and everything was so normal… Only two people escaped from that part of the ship I was in. One brave man swam ashore with a rope and secured it. When the ship grounded she swung round broadside. I remember moving the rope from the stern to the side, but today I don’t quite know how I managed it. A lot of those around me had lost their mind, particularly the younger men. There were no orders from the officers maybe if… If only the ship had grounded closer to the shore, most of those aboard would have been saved. But the rocks we hit were the furthest point from the shore. Although there had been a strong wind it was behind us. I was able to crawl to safety across that rope. The ship sunk eventually and one man was left clinging to the mast until he was rescued. Only seventy five people made it to the shore.
When I got ashore I was shoeless as I had been resting and had taken them off. A lot of the men had taken their shoes off and were lying down, wherever they could get space to rest their head. Reaching the shore I fell into a bog and lost my socks, then I headed for the nearest house, where a huddle of injured people had gathered. I was injured with cuts on my chest, but I never let on to anyone. It was a frosty night and I walked from Holm to Stornoway.
Seeing a sign for the Post Office I headed in that direction. I heard a woman crying. It was Maga (nighean Seonaid Chalum Tharmoid). Maga had met two Uig men who had been on the boat, Uilleam Dubh (William Maclennan 36 Cliff) and (Tuireag) Malcolm Macritchie 7 Aird. They had mentioned I was on the ship, and as they hadn’t seen me since coming ashore, they had come to the conclusion that I too, had been lost.
The first school in the Western Isles was founded shortly after 1610, when the Seaforth Mackenzies gained possession of the island, and in 1680, a report by ‘Indweller’ says that the Seaforth school had done much good, not only for Lewis but also for the adjacent isles. Other schools followed.
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There were 104 pupils at Valtos School in 1904. This key may help with the identification.
1 Mr Cameron
2 Flora Maciver Kneep (Floraidh nighean Mairead Alasdair)
3 Christina Mackay 21 Valtos (Cairstiona Rothaich)
4 Mary Matheson Kneep (Mairi Smiodaidh)
5 Betty Buchanan (Beit Dhomhnaill an t-Saighdear)
6 Barbara Maciver 25 Valtos (Bab Tharmoid Mhurchaidh)
7 Catherine Smith 13 Valtos (Catriona Chaluim a Ghobha)
8 Joan Buchanan 18 Uigen (Seonag Chaluim Mhoir)
9 Dolina Matheson 5 Kneep (Doileag Smiodaidh)
10 Annie Morrison Reithmir (Anna Mhurchaidh Sheumais Reithmir)