On a cliff across the bay around two miles from Stornoway in the Western Isles stands a simple and poignant memorial. The memorial was erected by islanders in remembrance of one of the most appalling and heart-rending tragedies in peace-time maritime history.
Just below this cliff, jagged reefs, aptly called the Beasts of Holm, peer, with malice, out of the sea a few feet from the shore.
On the 31st January, 1919, the armistice having been signed months earlier, servicemen who had been fighting the "war to end wars" were looking forward to returning to their loved ones in Lewis, and to a lesser extent, to the neighbouring island of Harris.
As more and more servicemen gathered in Kyle of Lochalsh to be ferried across to Lewis their relief at having survived a brutal war was palpable and heartfelt.
The all-encompassing mood was joyful and celebratory as they greeted old friends and acquaintances. They were understandably excited as they anticipated being reunited with their families who had spent years hoping and praying for their safe return.
On Stornoway, itself, the mood was equally bouyant and joyous as the approaching new year was being greeted in the usual fashion but this year was to be greeted with added exhileration and relief at the prospect of welcoming loved ones who many had thought they would never see again.
Amid this gaiety no one could have anticipated that before the night was over that their lives would be devastated and that grief and despair would, from that night on, be their constant and bleak companions.
The yacht "Iolaire" had been commissioned to supplement the usual ferry in view of the vast number of servicemen who were returning to their homes. Although the "Iolaire" was inadequately equipped with life-saving equipment it was decided to ignore safety rules in order to take as many as possible on board. The speed with which the tragedy took place would have rendered this equipment useless in any event.
The approach to Stornoway harbour is quite problematic but there must have been many on board who were familiar with the entrance. A local fishing boat was following the yacht into the harbour and the crew were horrified to note that the yacht, instead of approaching the entrance, was heading at full speed towards nearby cliffs. With no way of contacting the yacht they watched powerless as the tragedy unfolded.
With the bright lights of the town in full sight the ship hit the reefs at full power and immediately tilted on its side, throwing passengers overboard and being swamped with huge waves. Lifeboats were launched but immediately floundered in enormous seas and all aboard were drowned. Although the shore was a mere twenty feet away attempts to swim ashore were mainly in vain.
On passenger, John Finlay Macleod, heroically, managed to swim to shore with a rope round his waist and managed to aid 25 of his comrades to the shore. Another survivor, Donald "Patch" Morrison, clung to the top of the mast all night until being rescued in the morning light.
As the news of the tragedy spread the celebrations in the town turned to despair and mourning and the streets were packed with anxious relatives and friends, powerless to do anything other than pray.
By morning light searchers were greeted with the intensely moving nd poignant sight of the drowned being washed ashore along with toys, dolls and presents intended for loved ones.
All morning, villagers from all round the island, tear-stained and grief-torn, came to the shore to identify, in the most harrowing of circumstances, those who were laid out in a make-shift mortuary.
There were hardly any families on the island who were not affected, one way or another, by the loss of the 205 lives on that dreadful night and those who lived through the experience would ever be the same again.
On these bleak and barren reefs, winter winds still blow, completely uninterested in their effects on human life and waves, all powerful and uncaring, still relentessly wait to pounce, with callous indifference, on unsuspecting victims.
In their vicinity, it is not difficult to imagine that the restless ghosts of those young heroes and those who mourn for them still roam and will forever more.
How incongruous and paradoxical that the cruel hand of fate won such a grotesque victory where the guns of war had failed.