HMY Iolaire — [Mr Graham Stringer in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:36 pm on 12th December 2018.

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Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence 4:36 pm, 12th December 2018

The hon. Gentleman makes a pertinent point. It is difficult for any of us to place ourselves in the shoes of the families who lost someone in the first world war, or indeed in any conflict. It is extremely painful to have survived a horrific war such as world war one, to be returning home and then to die literally within eyesight of one’s final destination.

I was just touching on the make-up of those who were onboard the vessel itself. Not all the maritime reservists served at sea; some served in the trenches on the western front in the Royal Naval division. Two friends who evaded capture in Holland went on to serve in the Mediterranean together, travelling back home on the Iolaire, only for one of them to be tragically lost.

One story that was particularly pertinent was that of 23-year-old John Macaskill from North Sandwick. His body was washed up by the cemetery wall. His home was on the other side of the cemetery itself, so after four years of conflict—four years of being away—the sea literally bought him home. It is only fitting that, leading up to the centenary of this tragic loss, we are taking the opportunity to remember those who lost their lives within sight of their home, their families and their island communities.

It is important to remember that the loss of the Iolaire is not only a significant matter for the communities on the isles of Lewis and Harris. It is also appropriate that we take the opportunity to highlight this tragic story to the nation. I understand that events to commemorate the loss will be held at the Kyle of Lochalsh and in Stornoway at the Iolaire memorial overlooking the site of the disaster, and a service will be held at sea, near the Beasts of Holm.

The Ministry of Defence has agreed to a significant level of naval support for those events in the form of the attendance of the flag officer of Scotland and Northern Ireland, a guard of honour and the Royal Marine band contingent. That is commensurate with the support given to other first world war commemorations in recent years. The Royal Marines band service and a Royal Navy guard will formally attend the commemoration ceremonies. The naval personnel selected to deliver that support will represent the finest traditions of the Royal Navy, ensuring that we pay due respect to those sailors who did not return home.

I recognise the significance of the loss of the Iolaire to the island communities, and I thank all those involved in the considerable work that has been undertaken to raise awareness of this tragic loss, and to ensure that there is a fitting commemoration of this centenary event. I thank the Royal Navy and Royal Marines personnel for supporting those commemorations over the Christmas and new year period. I also thank the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar for bringing this matter to the attention of the Palace of Westminster and the House of Commons, as we reflect not only on what happened 100 years ago, but on the devastation to his community.

Question put and agreed to.