The sale of almost 10,000 Poppy Scotland pin-badges, specifically designed to commemorate the loss of the Iolaire, has kindled worldwide remembrance of a tragedy which spent most of the past 100 years almost shrouded in the silence of grief.
HMY Iolaire foundered on the Beasts of Holm near Stornoway in the early hours of New Year’s morning 1919, with the loss of 201 returning servicemen after the Great War. Commemorations of the centenary of the tragedy include a new memorial at Holm and performances of commissioned music, as well as the special Iolaire Poppy badge now on sale.
Organisers from the Iolaire Working Group have asked those buying badges to share their location on social media, with comments and memories flooding in from around the world.
As well as thousands of Lewis-based purchasers, there have been online buyers from all over England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Many have made multiple purchases, badges being sent off to Canada, the USA, New Zealand and Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands, among many other destinations. One has gone to Gabon in West Africa.
Together with their locations, buyers have been sharing stories sparked by buying, giving or wearing the badge.
Tracy Alexander said: “I ordered four to come to Canada. My great grandad was a survivor and I remember him as seanair, even though he was my mum’s seanair.
Karen France said: “I was wearing one today at the Tower of London and a Beefeater there asked me about it. He had never heard of the Iolaire and I think he was a bit moved by the story.”
Chrissie Davies of Cornwall said: “I gave a pin to an elderly gent in the village. He's originally from Lewis. He told me his mother's family lost three men. There is one crew member buried in Penzance.”
And Marina Powell of Carrbridge said: “I have had a lot of questions about mine. I also purchased one for my dad who got quite emotional after knowing a few survivors. A great memorial tribute to all that lost their lives that cold night.”
A spokesperson for the Iolaire Working Group has pledged that orders for the badge, to be sold locally and online via Poppy Scotland, will continue to be made until everyone who wants to buy one has done so.
The next delivery of badges is due to arrive at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar for local sale tomorrow (Wednesday November 7th).