How powerful can an image be? And how can words be of any added value? This time it can. Having just finished The Drowned and The Saved by author Les Wilson I am very much aware of the three monuments that are close to me.
No war graves
The wrecks of SS Tuscania and the HMS Otranto in 1918 are only a few miles away from me at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s the coordinates that make me believe that they are in reaching distance. At The Museum of Islay Life in Port Charlotte I talk to Jenni Minto (Islay Voices). She shows me the few objects that were saved from both wrecks: a bonbon dish and a set of keys from the SS Tuscania and an American flag from the HMS Otranto flying in Georgia at the moment. Stunningly enough both wrecks have never been designated as being war graves. Other objects such as letters, medals, maps, photographs and other memorabilia reveal the horrible events.
The Museum of Islay Life (41 yo) gives me a good idea of how Islay has been shaped as an island community and unfortunately how it was wounded as well. Two hundred men from the island lost their lives in The Great War of 1914 to 1918. All over the internet we witness the dreadful accounts. On the 4th of May 2018 the loss of both troop ships was commemorated with full ceremony Jenni tells me. The American Ambassador Woody Johnson actually visited the Museum during the commemoration and said he was really impressed by it.
The American Monument
I decide to take the Circular Walk that leads me all the way to The American Monument (55°46′N 6°9′W), erected to honour the many dead soldiers of two horrible shipwrecks just off the coast of the Mull of Oa and Machir Bay in February and October 1918. I remember having read the vivid accounts of the survivors who were so thankful to the farmers who took them into their homes. Going up the slope I have to keep hold of the book The Drowned and the Saved by author Les Wilson tightly because there is a fierce wind blowing around the Monument. It’s in this very spot that I manage to go to the last pages of the book where I see the coordinates of both wrecks. This is as near as I can get.
As I am driving on Main Street in Port Charlotte back to Portnahaven I remember the words that Les Wilson wrote in the introduction to his book: ‘If I had been living in my house in Port Charlotte ninety-nine years ago, I could have looked out of my kitchen window to watch the pipers lead the first Tuscania funeral cortège up Main Street to the freshly dug graves at the edge of the village’.
Again, it’s the images and the words that make the memory stronger.