Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, whose grandfather was Islay's police sergeant at the time of the 1918 tragedies, casts a wreath at the Tuscania's wreck site (Photo © Warren Media 2018)

Navies pay combined tribute to 'Tuscania' and 'Otranto' off Islay

Posted on centenarynews.com on 04 May 2018
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International commemorations for the American and British dead of the First World War troopships SS Tuscania and HMS Otranto got under way with a tribute at sea by the British, US, French and German navies.

Five warships assembled for ceremonies above the wreck of the Tuscania - a transatlantic liner torpedoed in the waters between Scotland and Northern Ireland on 5 February 1918, with the loss of more than 200 lives.

The remembrance service, conducted on the Royal Navy patrol boat HMS Raider by the Reverend Dr Karen Campbell, National Chaplain of the Royal British Legion Scotland, also honoured 470 US soldiers and British crewmen who died in a second tragedy months later. HMS Otranto sank on 6 October 1918,  after colliding with another ship off the west coast of the Hebridean island of Islay.


Lord Robertson of Port Ellen cast a wreath of poppies into the sea. For the Centenary, he's recalled the experiences of his grandfather, who was Islay's police sergeant at the time of both sinkings.

"My maternal grandfather, Malcolm MacNeill, had the distressing job of reporting what had happened and attempting to identify the bodies, noting any distinguishing marks that could help identify the drowned men," Lord Robertson, himself a former UK Defence Secretary and NATO Secretary General explained.

"There were so many bodies that their descriptions filled 81 pages in his notebook," he continued.

"When they were finally buried, it fell to my grandfather to correspond with the families in the United States who were desperate to know more about the fate of their loved ones. They wrote with information which they hoped could be used to identify the bodies of their sons, husbands or brothers, and in an extraordinary example of compassionate public service, my grandfather replied to each letter, providing what information he could."


HMS Raider and the frigate HMS Montrose, together with USS Ross, FS Andromède and FGS Lübeck from the US, French and German navies, have provided the backdrop to WW100 Scotland’s day of international commemorations taking place on Islay today, Friday May 4.

Rear Admiral John Weale, representing the Royal Navy as Flag Officer Scotland and Northern Ireland, said: "We are gathered on Islay to commemorate all those who lost their lives defending the ideals that have stood the test of time.  To remember, not only those who lost their lives but also to remember those lives saved on this island due to the heroic actions of service personnel and islanders."

A rededication service at the American Monument on the Mull of Oa - erected by the American Red Cross in 1920 - was followed by the main commemorative service at the War Memorial in Port Ellen, Islay’s largest town.

Wreaths were laid by HRH The Princess Royal, and representatives of the Scottish, UK,  American, French and German governments  (Photo © Warren Media 2018)

Robert Wood Johnson, American Ambassador to Britain, expressed his nation's thanks: "It is humbling to come to Islay to honour the soldiers and sailors who lost their lives here in the service of our nation.

"The American people will always remember their great sacrifice, just as we will always remember the solidarity of the people of Islay who stood beside us in that time of tragedy.

"A hundred years later, that same spirit of friendship lives on - in good times and in bad, America and Britain stand side by side together."

Read more here in Centenary News about the loss of SS Tuscania. 

The 100th anniversary of the Tuscania's loss was marked in February 2018 with community remembrance services on Islay.  Further events will take place on October 6  to commemorate HMS Otranto. For details see WW100 Islay.

Source: WW100 Scotland

Images © Warren Media 2018, courtesy of Lenny Warren/WW100 Scotland 

Posted by: CN Editorial Team