Kenneth Smith

Today is the 100th anniversary of the start of the first World War. In one of the articles I was reading, there was a comment that it was an event that probably touched most of our families in one way or another. In light of that, I thought I might share a story that I encountered when investigating my own family’s history.

My mother’s father’s family were crofters and fishermen on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. They lived in an area called Lochs, which is so named because it has many lochs. My mother’s great-great-great-grandfather was a man called Kenneth Smith, who lived in a village called Leurbost. Born in about 1794, there is some evidence to suggest that he may have actually been descended from the Earls of Seaforth, but I can’t really prove that, and it’s not really part of this story.

Kenneth Smith married Mary McIver and in about 1844, they had a son called Murdo (or Murdoch). Murdo married a Mary Smith (lots of Smiths in that area) and in around 1878 they had a son called Kenneth. In the 1911 census, Kenneth Smith is married to Anne and has two daughters, Marion and Murdina. At the outbreak of World War I, Kenneth joins the Royal Navy Reserve and at the end of the War was serving at HMS Pembroke. During World War I, HMS Pembroke appears to have been a barracks at Chatham Dockyard, rather than a ship. This may have seemed like a fairly safe assignment, but on the 3rd September 1917, it was bombed, with the loss of around 130 lives. I believe that one of the lives lost was another of my ancestors, but I haven’t been able to confirm this.

Kenneth Smith survived the War and together with 280 other men, returned home on an Admiralty Yacht called the HMY Iolaire. In the early hours of 1 January 1919, the Iolaire struck rocks, called the “Beasts of Holm”, in the entrance to Stornoway harbour, and sank within a few hundred yards of the shore. Only around 75 of those on board survived. Kenneth Smith was not one of them and his body was never recovered. World War I must have been an awful period to have experienced, but I can’t begin to imagine what it must have been like to have gone through that, for your father, husband, brother, or son to survive, and then for them to lose their life within reach of home soil.

Anyway, that’s my story about one of the ways in which World War I influenced my family, and I thought it might be fitting, today, to remember someone who lost their life in service. Of course, there were many others who also lost their life in the Iolaire tragedy, so if you want to know more, you can read about it here. There’s also a memorial page for those from Leurbost who lost their lives.

Kenneth Smith

Kenneth Smith

Addendum – added 5 August 2014
As per this comment, I’ve since confirmed that another ancestor was killed in the Chatham Barracks bombing in September 1917. Below is a picture of him – Alexander Kennedy – in his naval uniform. The picture at the bottom is of his brother, Murdo, who was in the Ross Mountain Battery and survived the war.

Alexander Kennedy

Alexander Kennedy

Murdo Kennedy

Murdo Kennedy

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23 Responses to Kenneth Smith

  1. Vinny Burgoo says:

    I did a bit of research on a local coal magnate recently. He had three children. His son survived the Somme and won a Military Cross there only to die in a motorcycle accident in Ireland (presumably when on leave) a few months before the end of the war. Then within two years both of the magnate’s daughters died of the Spanish Flu, both while working in Britain as nurses in military hospitals, something they had done in France during the war in what he must have thought were more perilous circumstances, This sent the poor chap over the edge and he seems to have had a breakdown (which involved a fetish for miniature railways and concrete). In his will, he said his mansion and its grounds should be used as a rest home for gentlefolk suffering from nervous disorders but somehow his wife overturned this and sold the place within a year. Perhaps she had him declared insane.

  2. I was tempted to mention the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, partly because it affected the the other side of my family, and partly because it must have been awful to have had to experience World War I and then a flu pandemic (that I think took as many lives as the War), but too many depressing stories in one post just seemed a bit much.

  3. Vinny Burgoo says:

    No, bring on the gloom!

  4. Steve Bloom says:

    Interesting, although I have to confess I’m insufficiently interested in the details of my own ancestry to bother doing work like this. Actually for my father’s side it wouldn’t be any work to speak of since I have Mormon relatives on both grandparental branches, but I haven’t looked.

    I notice you have 1878 for the latter Kenneth’s birth, but the photo caption seems to indicate more like 1890.

  5. Steve,
    Ahh, no, 28 Leurbost was his address. In the crofting villages on Lewis, there were so few houses that they were simply identified by a number and the name of the village. His age was 41. There’s a bit more detail in the links.

  6. Rachel M says:

    I have a great uncle who died at Gallipoli. His family planted a tree at the family farm in south-east Queensland in his memory which by the time I came along had grown to an impressive size and was perfect for climbing. The farm belonged to my Grandparents by this stage. Sadly, the tree was taken out in a storm not all that long ago. Maybe ten years ago? Another tree was planted in its place.

  7. Rachel,
    That’s really nice that even today the family does something to remember someone who died almost 100 years ago.

  8. Rachel M says:

    Yes, everyone in the family remembers him because of that tree which was particularly popular for all of us grandkids for climbing. There was also a plaque on the tree which I think has been transferred to the replacement.

  9. I mentioned in the post that I had thought that another ancestor had been killed in the bombing at Chatham barracks in September 1917. I checked with my parents, and it is indeed the case. My mother sent the following, which I’ve edited slightly.

    There were two brothers, Alex and Murdo Kennedy, from Cromore (the sons of my grandfather’s sister, Ishbel). They were to have gone to University, but signed up straight after leaving school (The Nicolson Institute – my old school but which in those days was in the building which I seem to remember we visited during our Stornoway holiday, as it now contains the Museum, although in my day we still had some classes there – I came off my bike one day, rounding the corner as there was black frost on the ground,, which you couldn’t see, and I skidded).

    Alex, who was in the Royal Navy, was killed at Chatham Barracks in 1917 during an air raid. He was 21 years old. His brother, Murdo, was in the Ross Mountain Battery. I have a photo of them, and a hand drawn post card sent to my Aunt Anna by Alex at the Gallipoli landings, from the ship, HMS Implacable.

    A lot of the Lewis family visited and stayed with my grandparents in Renfrew on their way to and from their leave periods, and my father remembers my grandmother weeping when bad news was received about any of them.

    I don’t know if you remember the story, but the two brothers hadn’t seen each other since the beginning of the war, and Murdo was being rowed ashore and one of the oarsmen was his brother, Alex. A strange reunion, but at least at that point they both survived.

    I’ve added a couple of pictures of Alexander Kennedy and Murdo Kennedy, that my parents sent me, to the end of the post.

  10. Pingback: An Australian family history | RachelSquirrel

  11. Marion E Macleod says:

    How interesting to happen upon your writings. Kenneth Smith was my great, great grandfather. Marion was my granny Leurbost and Murdina, my dear and slightly crazy great aunt whose birthday I still remember every October 23rd. No.28 was my family home. It would be be wonderful to hear more from you.

  12. Marion,
    Then it seems we’re distantly related. My great-great-grandmother was Annabella Smith, who (I think) was Kenneth Smith’s Aunt. She married Murdo Macleod and moved to 18 Cromore. If you want to hear any more, feel free to get in touch via the contact page.

    [Edit: I should probably reread my posts before responding to comments, as the above should have been obvious from the post 🙂 ]

  13. Pingback: Chatham Air Raid | …and Then There's Physics

  14. Reblogged this on …and Then There's Physics and commented:

    Since today is the 100th anniversary of the Iolaire disaster, I thought I would reblog this post that I wrote a few years ago and that mentions it. If you want to read more about it, there is a a Guardian article and one in the Scotsman.

  15. Greg Robie says:

    In case this possibility creates similar intrigue. Your clan’s historical stomping ground and our 45th President’s are somewhat concentric. The possibility, however significantly probable, of a shared familial genome is imaginable.

    But to infer, with this memorializing, that WWI was other than mindless human _______ … [motivated reasoning], isn’t such simply more of the same?

    Carl Sandberg, burdened by the insanity of that war conceptualized thinking differently when suggesting that one day a “they” will give a war and nobody will come. The experience of man’s inhumanity to man during WWI inspired his feelings that invoked that assertion. But the kids who grew up with their parents saying “never again” got to do it again with WWII. Isn’t that what is tragic about Kenneth’s drowning: that a lesson learned was so quickly forgotten?

    If it is plausible that a war starts ten years before the first bullets fly, such is a possibility that could lead to different feelings about the choices our forebears made. Hasn’t theirs lead to today when #NoLivesMatter within an adopted way of thinking that informs the choices we are making today … & ThxNOT! to trusted motivated reasoning?

    …or, within GREED-as-go[]d’s limited liability law enabled globalized CapitalismFail:

    Freedom constitutes
    A responsibility
    To the “Other” first

  16. Marbhig says:

    Kenneth Smith was my my 2nd Great-Uncle, and Alexander Kennedy was my 2nd Cousin x2 removed. In our family Kenneth Smith was always seen as the man who would rescue the family. My grannies father, John Macleod, was killed on 29th April 1918. John and Kenneth were brothers-in-law, and kept in touch as they travelled around the Med. I have a letter from Kenneth Smith to his sister, my great-grandmother, where he talks about their relationship, and weeps for her loss. She died in 1918 also, and her son (my great-uncle Kenny, named after Kenneth Smith) went to live with the family in Leurbost. My grannies hope was that, had Kenneth Smith survived the war, that he would have taken care of the family – which undoubtedly would have been a heavy burden.

  17. Marbhig,
    Thanks for the comment. That’s very interesting. We’re clearly related in some way, but I can’t quite work out in what level of cousin how many times removed it would be.

  18. Chris Gleadell says:

    Kenneth Smith is my second cousin (3x removed) so we’ll share common ancestors going further back on the Isle of Lewis including around 1700 two Great x4 Grandfathers of Kenneth, the rather grandly named Smith, Tacksman of Earshader amd MacKenzie, Tacksman of Laxey (old norse for salmon waters)

  19. Chris,
    Thanks for the comment. I’m aware of some of Kenneth Smith’s ancestry, but may not have it all. Would be interesting to see what you have.

  20. Doneil Macleod says:

    Dear Ken & others,
    Delighted to have come across these posts, and that my cousin Marion has contacted you. We seem to have some history in common! Marion’s dad, my uncle, Kenny J, sadly died a few years ago. For many years I had thought to write a book about my family history, but it always seemed a vanity exercise until I began to learn that the themes of birth, death and all of life, both tragedies and delights, that I can trace through my own family history actually provide good story material about life in general, and more specifically island lives. Murdina, the aunt Marion mentioned, was a young girl when her dad died, I had the good fortune of living with her as a boy for some time. I met someone on the Ullapool/Stornoway ferry recently who described her as a poetic genius who would pen a ditty about anyone, and she could be sharp tongued, a close friend of hers described her as a “genius gone wrong”. I remember her as an older lady, not taken too seriously by the time I lived with her in the 1960’s, but as an adult I realised that her favourite poems that she used to recite to me line perfect were by William Wordsworth (The Ballad of Lucy Gray), and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (The Rime of The Ancient Mariner). There were other poems too, she was undoubtedly my first Professor, as well as being a rogue, and yes a genius who had she been a boy, would have likely gone to university, possibly your own, the same one I attended (New College) and my son now attends. I had no idea the value of what I was being taught by her and other older women in Leurbost, at the time to me and my future. And I had no idea that these women had stories to tell. I put this down to the emphasis, understandably so, put on the stories of the men. I do believe poetry provided an emotional outlet for Murdina (Curly, as she was known), that helped her in trying to make sense of her father, Kenneth Smith, drowning with the Iolaire. That was tragedy. And looking at the names of the Leurbost men drowned with the Iolaire, the suggestion is that all nine others were buried at Crossbost, only Murdina and Marion’s dad never returned. It is hard to imagine a family robbed of that ritual of walking the coffin through the village, laying to rest near to home, and hard to imagine how two young girls and their mum, Annie, would have coped attending those other funerals but not having one of their own. If anyone knows anything about how such families were treated/helped locally at the time, I would love to hear from you. For example, was there a church service held for them, or mention at other funerals? Marion, known as Mor, married in 1930, two to three years later her young son, also named Kenneth died of Scarlet Fever I think, he was buried by his father, Murdo (Murchadh Fridh/Cromore) along with a friend. Murdo built the coffin. The child was not allowed to be buried inside the cemetery apparently, fears of contamination? Marion sat at home, possibly pregnant or with a young infant, while her beautiful son Kenneth was taken away, and buried somewhere not marked or known as far as I know. Depression was her only solace, and no doubt this life tragedy impacted any love, affection and care she was able to offer the second son she was carrying or was an infant at the time. That second son grew up to be my father, and without doubt his life journey was scarred by such early influences, and the fact of his dad leaving in 1939 for a second war that showed we had learned nothing from the tragedy of the first world war. One can imagine how a third son (Kenny J, my uncle and Marion’s dad) may have been cherished, bearing the name of his dead brother, if not understandably so smothered even, by a woman who could see potential threat/danger all around her. For example, from her window she could always view the sea that took her dad’s life, and that her husband loved to sail in. I imagine she could not bear to look out the window sometimes, and indeed as a boy I remember her as a grandmother who was always more frightened of life than excited by it. Depression, however, was known well to Marion from New Year’s Eve 1919. Off course there are many more details one could add here (personal and historical – stories I have been told), but I am interested in hearing from others, selfishly because I am looking for details to include in a book, or at least my writing that may not become a book but will be a store of information for another to take on as a book. Too many other projects going at the same time! Details such as Kenneth Smith being looked to as the one who would make things right, are wonderful, and also the story around Kenny Beag, who became a much loved brother to Murdina and Marion, following their father’s death. Through Stornoway archives, I came across a letter someone clearly penned for Annie (KSmith’s widow), requesting assistance from an Iolaire Fund, in it there are listed three children, one a two and a half year old boy, I presume Kenny Beag. An example of how the women coped, what they had to do, and how many may have coped alone, quietly depressed but outwardly stubborn and hard working. There are an abundance of examples of the heroic, and indeed gifted men, because their gifts are remembered through deeds during war, for example, and Murchadh Fridh (my grandfather and Marions) is one incredible example of this. Child rearing in times of rationing, child bearing, giving birth, keeping a home, feeding everyone, and endless waiting for the men to return are less remembered deeds, but no less heroic and requiring an incredible abundance of gifts. I would love to hear from you all. I am proud to sit on the shoulders of those ancestors gone by, both the men and the women, but I also want to write their story as future as much as past. Generations influence generations, enabling life trajectories, filled with all that life presents us with, both the tragic and the delightful. Thank you for opening up this chat, Ken!

  21. Doneil,
    Thanks for the fascinating comment. I suspect we’re related though Kenneth Smith and Mary McIver, but I’m not sure what level of cousins that would make us (4th, or 5th). My mother used to talk about a Murdo Free, who may well have been your grandfather. I’ll have to check with her who she was referring to. I’ll ask and post something here. I do have a reasonably extensive family tree, which I’m happy to share, but you may have it all already.

  22. Doneil says:

    Dear Ken,
    Thank you, the Murdo Free your mum speaks about is likely my grandfather, and I would love to hear any stories/recollections she may have. I am sure we are related down some family line. I have a cousin in Edinburgh, you may have met, Neil Macleod, he works as a solicitor, and he is quite an expert on family trees, I’m afraid I have less information about family trees. I would be happy to view what you have in relation to family tree around Cromore and Lochs connections though.

  23. Hi Doneil,
    I’ll see what stories my mother has and let you know. I haven’t met your cousin. Would be interesting to see what he has. I got quite into geneology a few years back and do have the family tree. Happy to send you what I have, if you would like. I’ll look through it all later today.

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