Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Roll of Honour - I

Currently in the process of transcribing and publishing the Roll of Honour for the First World War for the Isle of Lewis. The transcription is actually complete (a 6030-row Excel file is the result), and the current task is to transform it into a decent HMTL-file, suitable for uploading to the web. A trial-page, for the village of Aird in Point, can be viewed here. Feedback welcome.

This is the intended preface:

In 1921, the Stornoway Gazette published this listing of all men from the island of Lewis who were known to have joined the Armed Forces of the United Kingdom or its overseas dependencies in the battles of the First World War.
This book, now nearly 90 years old, contains mostly very summary information on the approximately 6,000 men and women who joined up. At times, only a name is given. Mostly, a service, regiment or division is also given. When a man did not survive, the date, month or year of death is usually given, sometimes with his age and circumstances how he met his death. Any medals awarded, where applicable with a quotation from the commendation, are also mentioned.

Quite unique is the collection of portrait photographs contained in the Roll of Honour. It brings the drab listings to life – and elicits great poignancy. Some 400 portraits show the faces of the Fallen. Young men, hardly out of boyhood in some instances. Hardened veterans of the mud and horrors of the Western Front, of the searing heat of the deserts of Mesopotamia. Experienced sailors, lost in the cold waters of the North Sea in the Battle of Jutland in 1916. As it includes many of those lost when H.M.Y. Iolaire ran aground and sank a mile or two outside Stornoway. The death toll of that tragedy on New Year’s Day 1919 now stands at 205. The Roll of Honour lists 172. All were returning home after the war had effectively ended in November 1918. Sixty of those lost were never recovered.

The loss of life is greater than shown in the Roll of Honour. Personal research has pushed the total up to nearly 1,300, meaning that 150 names of the Fallen are not recorded in the Roll of Honour. In the aftermath of the slaughter of the Great War, it is a miracle that so many names were retrieved within those two years. Another source of uncertainty lies in the huge diaspora that already existed in the years before 1914. Nearly a dozen men are recorded in the Roll of Honour as coming back to the “Old Country” at their own expense to do their bit. From places as far apart as Alaska, Patagonia and Malaya. How many of the more than a million who died at the Western Front had ancestors from Lewis, or were even born there? If there was no family left in the island, and no record of such was ever made, the link is irretrievably lost.

These days, there is a heightened interest in the history of the Great War. Its centenary is approaching (2014), and in January 2009, the 90th anniversary of the sinking of the Iolaire was commemorated in Stornoway. Many people around the world are researching their ancestry, and in view of the continual migration from the island over the decades, the Internet is proving to be an invaluable tool.

Copies from the Lewis Roll of Honour from 1921 are in very short supply. One lies in the library at Stornoway, but not everybody is able to make the journey to the Hebrides. It is for this reason that the listings from the Roll of Honour were copied and will be uploaded to the Internet soon.

1 comment:

  1. Great Project.....keeps the stories/memories alive. Such ideas can only be for the good. A resource for family/friends and historians which is also a poignant reminder of the sad losses suffered by many. ...RJG