UNTOLD stories of the 205 people who died in a Western Isles tragedy a century ago have been revealed in a digital visualisation of the HMY Iolaire created by Scottish researchers.

The vessel was returning sailors to the islands from the First World War when it foundered on rocks and sank on New Year’s Day, 1919. Of the total who died, 181 were from the islands, which devastated the communities of Lewis and Harris.

A team from Abertay University and the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) have created an online application – Visualising the Iolaire – that features a virtual map of the disaster. Their creation details those who died, identifies the communities directly and indirectly impacted and documents how they have been remembered.

It comes as descendants of those killed launch centenary commemorations at the Iolaire memorial in Stornoway, which overlooks the site of the wreck.

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Prince Charles and the First Minister will join descendants at a National Commemorative Service on January 1, organised by WW100 Scotland and Western Isles Council. Hundreds of people including Scotland’s most senior naval officer Rear Admiral John Weale, will attend the event at the Stornoway memorial.

Professor Norman Drummond, chairman of the Scottish Commemorations Panel, said: “It is beyond our comprehension that over 200 men perished so close to home after surviving the war in what remains one of the worst UK maritime disasters of the 20th century.

“When you look out from the Iolaire Memorial to where HMY Iolaire hit the rocks of the Beasts of Holm, you are struck by just how close they were to shore.

“It is hard to imagine the relief and excitement of the men and their families on their return and then the sorrow that was to follow.”

Following the service, to be conducted by the Very Rev Dr Angus Morrison, the prince will unveil a new sculpture to mark the tragedy, a bronze depiction of a coiled heaving line that references the heroism of John Finlay Macleod, who swam ashore with a rope to rescue 40 of the 79 men who were saved. It was created by artists Will Maclean, Marian Leven and Arthur Watson, and will bear the names of those lost and their communities.

While the land service is taking place, a similar event, led by Rev James Maciver of the Stornoway Free Church, will be held on board Caledonian MacBrayne’s MV Loch Seaforth ferry, which will be situated near where the Iolaire hit the rocks.

Development of the new online application has been led by Dr Iain Donald from the School of Design and Informatics at Abertay University. He said: “Working with Dr Iain Robertson at the University of the Highlands and Islands and the community partners on this project has demonstrated what a heavy price the Western Isles paid during the war, and the Iolaire tragedy was sorrow heaped upon sorrow.”

Robertson added: “We have collected memories of silence, of the ‘widow’s share’, and of the joy felt when sisters and cousins, returning from working in Dundee, were no longer dressed in mourning black.”