Timeline of events

  1. 16.00 hrs

    31 December 1918

    Iolaire arrives at Kyle of Lochalsh short of crew as about half of the men are on Christmas leave.

  2. 19.00 hrs

    31 December 1918

    Two trains arrive at Kyle of Lochalsh laden with servicemen.

  3. 19.30 hrs

    31 December 1918

    The Iolaire sails from the Kyle of Lochalsh to Stornoway with 260 Naval ratings from Lewis and Harris and 24 crew on board followed by the Sheila at 8pm.

  4. Approx 00:30 AM

    1 January 1919

    Squalls and drizzling rain are encountered by the Iolaire.

  5. 01:00 AM

    1 January 1919

    Commander Mason retires to his quarters. Lieutenant Cotter now in charge.

  6. 01:55 AM

    1 January 1919

    Signalman William Saunders sees a ‘blue light’ which he reports as the signal of a vessel requiring a pilot. This was in fact a rocket and was a sign of distress signal. Testimonies from survivors recount this was approximately the time the ship struck the rocks at the ‘Beasts of Holm’. The Iolaire now lays exposed and wrecked in a howling gale.

  7. 02:25 AM

    1 January 1919

    John Finlay MacLeod, 32, takes hold of a long heaving line, fastens it about his wrist and takes grip, plunges into the water and tries to swim towards the shore: “…but – oh- the waves had got up terribly at that time.” Miraculously defying both the cold and being based on the rocks, John Finlay MacLeod makes it to shore thereby providing a lifeline to half of the Iolaire survivors.

  8. Approx 03:15 AM

    1 January 1919

    The Iolaire is listing heavily to port and her stern slips off the rock on which she’s been pinned to. As she moves seaward and sinks into deep water, she drags with her the hawser (a thick rope or cable for mooring or towing a ship) to which many men are still clinging. None of them survive.

    In little groups or in pairs, dazed and stumbling survivors attracted by the lights in the farmhouse windows make their way to Stoneyfield farm where they are taken in and attended to by Mr and Mrs Anderson Young. The toughest and least hypothermic men are encouraged to make their way to town to raise the alarm amongst the townspeople there.

  9. 03:30 AM

    1 January 1919

    Five half-dead bedraggled survivors were made to report to Rear-Admiral Boyle at his office in Stornoway. He later wrote that ‘little information could be obtained from them’.

  10. 06:10 AM

    1 January 1919

    The scale of the disaster was finally becoming apparent to the townspeople.

  11. Sometime after 9.00am

    1 January 1919

    A report is received that there is a man clinging to the mast. Lieutenant Wenlock stated to the Fatal Accident Inquiry: ‘I immediately took the motor launch Spense and with a volunteer crew went out to rescue the man.’ This would turn out to be Donald Morrison, 20 years old and known as Am Patch. He later recalled: ‘The sea was still pretty rough at daybreak but between then and 10 am it seemed to subside a bit. The first boat attempted to come near where I was hanging on, but it had to turn back. I thought then I’d be safer where I was than trying to get to that boat.’

    Nearing physical collapse but finally helped onto the little skiff, of the 284 men who had been aboard the Iolaire, Donald Morrison would later recount to admirers: ‘I was the only one to step ashore on Stornoway Pier.’

    Within hours exhausted, bedgraggled survivors begin staggering into their townships.

    Later the same New Year’s Day and for many days following relatives and friends would comb the shores searching for the bodies of their sons, husbands, brothers, neighbours. Many would never be recovered.

  12. Fatal Accident Inquiry

    10 February 1919

    Fatal Accident Inquiry opens in Stornoway Sheriff Court.

  13. Admiralty papers released

    January 1970

    The Admiralty makes available all papers relating to the disaster to the public for the first time.

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