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When I Heard The Bell

History, Military, History & Adventure
Publication Date
01 May 2010
Paperback (also available as an eBook)
Available for Sale
Birlinn Limited

When I Heard The Bell

The Loss of the Iolaire
by John MacLeod - Find out more about the author


eBook also available from the iBookstore

'Compelling...MacLeod superbly evokes the homeland of the men who died, and of the much diminished island their deaths left behind’ — Rosemary Goring, The Herald

’Judicious and wide-ranging’ — The Scottish Review of Books

’He deserves both praise and gratitude for — what must have been at times — a gruelling and harrowing endeavour for anyone to write’ — Shetland Life

The loss of the Iolaire remains the worst peacetime British disaster at sea since the sinking of the Titanic. Yet, beyond the Western Isles, few have ever heard of what is not only one of the cruelest events in our history but an extraordinary maritime mystery — a tale not only of bureaucrats in a hurry, unfathomable Naval incompetence and abiding, official contempt for the lives of Highlanders, but of individual heroism, astonishing escapes, heart-rending anecdote and the resilience and faith of a remarkable people.

On 31 December 1918, hours from the first New Year of peace, hundreds of Royal Naval Reservists from the Isle of Lewis poured off successive trains onto the quayside at Kyle of Lochalsh. A chaotic Admiralty had made no adequate arrangements for their safe journey home. Corners were cut, and that evening HMY Iolaire sailed from Kyle of Lochalsh, grossly overloaded and with life-belts for less than a third of all on board. It never made it. At two in the morning, in pitch-black and stormy conditions, she piled onto rocks only half a mile from Stornoway pier, where thronged friends and relatives eagerly awaited the return of their heroes. 205 men drowned, 188 of them natives of Lewis and Harris – men who had come through all the dangers of the War only to die on their own doorstep, at the mouth of a harbour many could themselves have navigated with ease, on a day precious to Highlanders for family, celebration and togetherness.

John MacLeod was born in Lochaber in 1966. After graduating from Edinburgh University, he began his career at BBC Highland in Inverness and quickly established himself as a freelance writer. He won Scottish Journalist of the Year in 1991 and contributed regularly to The Scotsman and The Herald. He is presently a columnist with the Scottish Daily Mail.

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