The mystery behind an unusual war memorial within the cemetery at Cuidhir in Barra is under discussion after an online question from an islander abroad.
Mairi MacNeil Lande, who now lives in Norway, asked Barra residents to explain to her why three men with Chinese names are apparently buried in Vatersay.
Chan Sung and Chung Cheong were buried where the Annie Jane memorial stands on Traigh Siar, while Leong Kow is interred at Carragarie Point in Vatersay. A memorial stone to the three stands now in Cuidhir cemetery in Barra.
Mairi’s enquiry on the Isle of Barra Facebook page has led to some answers, but more questions. The men were three firemen (engine stokers) who died when their ship, the Idomeneus, was torpedoed during the First World War, in 1917.
Their British colleague, George Dudleston, a junior engineer, was also killed, but his body was repatriated to his home town of Birkenhead. The remains of the three Hong Kong mariners were buried close to where they came to land.
The mystery being discussed is why they were buried there? And why is their memorial stone so far from their burial place?
Resident Floraidh Macleod believes she’s heard of two Chinese firemen being buried at the old graveyard at Uinessein, a tidal island at Caragrigh Point, and another responder points out that, with no causeway to Vatersay or motor vehicles available after the Great War, a war grave stone might have been delivered to Cuidhir with others and been too heavy to transport all the way to Vatersay.
The story certainly has people talking, and has brought timely attention to the fate of Chinese Merchant seamen who served without recognition during the First World War.
Chan, Chung and Leong were just three of 96,000 members of the Chinese Labour Corps – men who served with allied services during the war. A Twitter campaign to remember their sacrifices called Ensuring We Remember (@WW1CLC) scored a major step forward on Armistice Day this year (Monday November 11th), when a delegation were able to lay memorial wreaths for Chinese workers killed during the conflict.
The cargo steamer Idomeneus, operated by the Ocean Steam Ship company, was hit by a single torpedo from U-boat 67 on 15th September 1917 in the North Atlantic, while en route from New York to Liverpool. Nearby vessels including Barra trawlers helped tow her to the beach, from where she was later refloated.
Pictures show the memorial to the three Hong Kong sailors at Cuidhir cemetery (Commonwealth War Graves) and a delegation preparing to lay wreaths at the Cenotaph on November 11th (Ensuring We Remember).