Glasgow & West Scotland

Service on Islay to remember sinking of SS Tuscania

Memorial service Image copyright Lenny Warren
Image caption The ceremonies marked 100 years since the loss of the ship

A service of commemoration has been held on the Scottish island of Islay to mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the troopship SS Tuscania.

The ship was carrying more than 2,000 US soldiers at the end of World War One when it was torpedoed by a German U-boat close to the island.

Many of the soldiers on board were saved and cared for by local people.

But more than 200 drowned, with the bodies washed up on the beaches of the small island.

A wreath-laying ceremony has taken place at the American Monument.

It was followed by a memorial service at Kilnaughton Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery, held at the grave of Pte Roy Muncaster, the only US soldier still buried on the island.

The bodies of other US soldiers - initially buried on Islay - were later exhumed and either repatriated to the United States or buried at the American Cemetery at Brookwood in Surrey.

Image caption Only one US serviceman is buried on Islay
Image caption A monument was erected the year after the disaster

Former Nato secretary general Lord Robertson, whose grandfather Malcolm MacNeill was a policeman on Islay at the time, told BBC Scotland that many local residents helped to recover the dead and aid the survivors after the sinking.

He said: "It is difficult to imagine just how remarkable it would have been - how horrible it would have been - for all these lifeboats coming ashore and all the bodies being washed into the gullies there onto an island that had no experience of anything like that in the past."

Image caption The story featured on the front page of the American newspapers
Image copyright US National Archives
Image caption A funeral service for those who died was held on Islay after the tragedy a century ago
Image caption SS Tuscania was carrying more than 2,000 US soldiers when it was torpedoed by a German U-boat

A monument was erected on the southernmost tip of the island by the American Government in 1919 as a memorial to those who died when Tuscania was sunk by UB-77 in the Irish Sea, seven miles south-west of Islay.

On board were 2,235 soldiers consisting of companies from the 6th Battalion, 20th VS Engineers, members of the 32nd Division, the 100th and 103rd Aero Squadrons and a British crew.

Image copyright Naval History and Heritage Command
Image caption SS Tuscania was sunk by the German submarine UB-77, seen here probably at Wilhelmshaven in Germany

Lord Robertson is due to attend a larger event on Islay in May, which will commemorate the sinking of both the SS Tuscania and the HMS Otranto.

The Otranto sank during a severe storm off the coast of Islay on 6 October 1918, killing 470 American soldiers and crewmen.

The event on 4 May will retell Islay's contribution in WW1, including the assistance provided in the aftermath of the Tuscania and Otranto tragedies.

It will be followed by a service at Port Ellen War Memorial.

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