The Drowned and The Saved
When War Came to the Hebrides
by Les Wilson
The Drowned and The Saved
An enthralling account of two of the worst naval disasters of the First World War, both of which took place off the island of Islay.
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WINNER OF SALTIRE SOCIETY HISTORY BOOK OF THE YEAR 2018
‘excellent from every point of view – the narrative is clear and gripping, the research is of a high, indeed exhaustive, standard, and the work is imbued with an intangible but deeply felt humanity for the plight of the men involved in these two catastrophes. The description of the actual shipwrecks and of the powerlessness of mere men in face of the forces of nature at their most pitiless is magnificently conveyed, and the descriptions of the storms at sea reaches almost Conradian levels’ – Joe Farrell
‘A well-researched account of loss and tragedy’ – Oban Times
‘a model publication… Scottish history at its best, making a local episode visible in its national and international dimensions’ – Professor Chris Whatley, Chair of the Judging panel, Saltire Society History Book of the Year (WINNER)
Next morning at about 6 o’clock my mother wakened us to say there had been a shipwreck and bodies were being washed ashore. My father had gone with others to look for survivors … I don’t think any survivors came in at Port Ellen but bodies did.
The loss of two British ships crammed with American soldiers bound for the trenches of the First World War brought the devastation of war directly to the shores of the Scottish island of Islay.
The sinking of the troopship Tuscania by a German U-Boat on 5 February 1918 was the first major loss of US troops in in the war. Eight months after the people of Islay had buried more than 200 Tuscania dead, the armed merchant cruiser Otranto collided with another troopship during a terrible storm. Despite a valiant rescue attempt by HMS Mounsay, the Otranto drifted towards Islay, hit a reef, throwing 600 men into the water. Just 19 survived; the rest were drowned or crushed by the wreckage.
Based on the harrowing personal recollection of survivors and rescuers, newspaper reports and original research, Les Wilson tells the story of these terrible events, painting a vivid picture which also pays tribute to the astonishing bravery of the islanders, who risked their lives pulling men from the sea, caring for survivors and burying the dead.
Les Wilson is a writer, and an award-winning documentary maker who specialises in Scottish historical subjects. Among his film credits is the 30-part series, Scotland’s War, an oral history of World War Two, and the 13-part series The Real Tartan Army, a TV history of the Scottish regiments. He is the co-editor of Islay Voices (Birlinn, 2016) and lives on the island of Islay.