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First Minister backs calls for HMY Iolaire to be designated as war grave

The bodies of around a third of the 201 servicemen believed to have died in the tragedy have never been recovered.

Nicola Sturgeon has backed calls to have a ship which sank off Stornoway while returning servicemen from the First World War designated as a war grave.

Only 82 of the 283 passengers on board the HMY Iolaire are believed to have survived when it smashed into rocks off Lewis during the early hours of January 1, 1919.

The men had been returning home to Lewis, Harris and Berneray having survived the war.

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The wreck of HMY Iolaire (Lewis Museum Trust/PA)

The Prince of Wales and the First Minister were among those at a commemoration ceremony on Lewis on New Year’s Day to mark 100 years since the sinking of the Iolaire, which was one of the UK’s worst maritime disasters.

Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan raised the issue at First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood on Thursday, saying: “The First Minister will be aware from her recent very welcome visit to Lewis of the deep feelings that this tragedy still evokes.

“Will the Scottish Government give its support to calls from the community for the Ministry of Defence to designate the site as a military maritime grave?”

Ms Sturgeon said: “The commemoration for the loss of HMY Iolaire on the first of January, I attended that commemoration, it was very moving and clearly the event is still keenly felt by the local community.

“The bodies of around one third of those who were lost in that tragedy were of course never recovered so we are, I am, supportive of calls to have the wreck of the Iolaire recognised as a war grave.”

She said members of the Scottish Commemorations Panel have already raised the issue with the Ministry of Defence, which has power over the decision.

Western Isles Council convener Norman MacDonald said: “I very much welcome the support of the First Minister and the Scottish Government for the designation of the Iolaire site as an official war grave.

“We raised this issue with the Scottish Commemorations Panel and it would be fitting for the memory of the men lost on that terrible night and their families that recognition is given in this way.”

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