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.
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.