The Tuscania and Otranto Disasters
This year is very poignant, as we mark one hundred years since the end of the First World War. One of the bloodiest wars in world history. And here on Islay, we mark the centenary of the sinking of troopships Tuscania and Otranto. Both happened in 1918, just eight months apart. Almost 700 men, mostly American troops, lost their lives in these two disasters.
As these tragic shipwrecks happened off the coast of Islay, many of the bodies washed up on our island’s shores. The impact of these events on the islanders and all those affected was hugely significant. And it’s just as important for us to remember them today, a hundred years on, as ever before.
Kilchoman Military Cemetery
Most of the graves at Kilchoman Military Cemetery on Islay, 71 out of 74, are for Otranto victims. Sadly, 43 of the bodies were never identified. There is a large memorial cross overlooking Machir Bay, where the Otranto collided with the HMS Kashmir, causing the disaster.
The American Monument, Mull of Oa
The American Monument is a memorial to the victims of both the Tuscania and Otranto shipwrecks. The American Red Cross erected it on Islay in 1920. It overlooks the spot between our Scottish island and Rathlin Island in Northern Ireland, where German submarine UB-77 shot the Tuscania down.
Museum of Islay Life
The Museum of Islay Life in Port Charlotte has many artefacts on display relating to the Tuscania and Otranto disasters. These include the Otranto’s large steam whistle and the bells from both ships.
We Will Remember Them
There have been several memorial ceremonies and remembrance events on Islay this year to mark the centenary of these two disasters that changed our island forever.
On 4th May, WW100 Scotland National Day of Remembrance, Princess Anne laid a wreath at a service to commemorate the tragedies. While warships from Britain, America, France and Germany gathered for a ceremony over the wreck of SS Tuscania, on board Royal Navy boat HMS Raider.
Also in June, the Lancashire-based Badlads Diving Group took part in a memorial dive through the remains of the Otranto. They placed remembrance flags, and mapped and filmed the remains of the ship as a tribute to all those who died in the disaster. The film was donated to the Museum of Islay Life, along with artefacts such as coins and loose tiles that the divers recovered from the wreck.
And most recently, there was a service of remembrance for the loss of HMS Otranto on 6th October. This was attended by descendants of the victims and survivors of the wreck. Led by former Nato Secretary, General Lord Robertson, whose Grandfather was an Islay Police Officer during the First World War.
Find out more about the centenary of the end of World War One and the Tuscania and Ontranto shipwrecks on the WW100 Islay website.