Skip to main content

tv   Islay  BBC News  May 12, 2018 2:30pm-3:01pm BST

2:30 pm
fififififififi depends on around the country, that depends on whether you're getting. for some, sunshine, for more, cloud. the rain falling in parts of the south—east and east anglia. much of it light and east anglia. much of it light and patchy. further west, a decent chance of seeing some sunshine. just the odd hefty shower. temperatures between 15 and 17 degrees. this evening and overnight the rain will slide across eastern england. heavy for a time. it will move into eastern scotland. a little uncertainty about how far west the rain will get. it looks like extreme eastern areas that will see the wet weather. chilly across northern ireland. tomorrow, cloudy and damp across many eastern parts of england and eastern scotland. further west, and eastern scotland. further west, a better chance of seeing some sunshine. temperature is nothing to write home about but not too bad for the time of the year. 13 to 70 degrees. mainly dry with sunny spells next week. it will feel warm. this is bbc news. the headline.
2:31 pm
voting is under way in general elections in iraq, 7000 candidates are standing for the 379 seats in parliament. the tuc has warned workers are experiencing the longest wage squeeze in 200 years and it is calling for an end to austerity at a rally in london today. two british tourists are among three people kidnapped in the national park in the democratic republic of congo. the foreign office says it is working with authorities in the country for the mps are calling for better broadband signals in the wirral areas criticising an appalling lack of progress on connectivity. now glenn campbell
2:32 pm
travels to the island of islay to tell the little known story of the sinking of two ships in for those in peril. 100 years ago, war‘s grim tide swept this coastline. as the island of islay‘s sons fought away on the western front, at home, their families could not escape the conflict. the carnage came to them in two separate shipping disasters. this is the almost—forgotten story of how islay coped with mass casualties in the first world war. to wake up in the morning, going out to a day's work, and to be ending up with this tragedy and all these dead bodies about must have been horrific. islay‘s small community shared the grief of an emerging superpower, and won enduring respect.
2:33 pm
the fact that they so lovingly cared for the soldiers and cared to make sure that they had the proper burial, and had the proper flag in order to be buried under that flag, shows that it was very heartfelt. a century on, islanders and americans are coming together to remember twin disasters that destroyed lives and discovered heroes. i think it's a wonderful tribute to all the young men who lost their lives. but to me it's also a tribute to the people of islay. 2018 is the centenary of the first world war ending, a year for commemorating events that shaped the course of history.
2:34 pm
i was brought up on islay, which is remembering the hundreds killed when two troop ships went down. tragedies that tested this farming, fishing and whisky—making island to its limits, back in 1918. and by then, the community was already enduring considerable pain. there was about 150 men already killed, and that's of a population of 6,000 people. so, it was... everyone would have known someone or been related to someone who had actually died in france. and, of course, none of these young men had graves on islay. the island was far from the western front, but it wasn't removed from the war. its position at the mouth of the north channel between mainland britain and ireland was on the front line in the battle at sea. the united states entered the war in 1917 and sent many ships packed
2:35 pm
with soldiers and supplies across the atlantic. these convoys were protected by the navy. so i asked a modern day commander how the system worked. they would zigzag across the atlantic, so they wouldn't just go from a to b. they were defended by destroyers leaving america and entering the united kingdom. however, the majority of the atlantic crossing was undefended, with the exception of a few arms and munitions on the armed merchant ships. the greatest threat to the convoys lurked beneath the waves. german u—boats with crews trained to hunt and sink ships. on 6th february 1918, a convoy from new york turned into the north channel, and was spotted by submarine ub—77. and the ub—77 followed
2:36 pm
that convoy for ages. sometimes in front of it, terrified of being run over by british destroyers or being found by british destroyers. it played a real game of cat and mouse. and, eventually, captain meyer of the ub—77 got a big transport ship in his sights, and fired two torpedoes. they were attacking the ss tuscania, a luxury liner converted for the war effort. the ship was carrying almost 2,500 us soldiers and british crew when it was hit. a torpedo is a ship killer. it is apparently one of the worst ways to disable a ship, because it creates an air bubble above the explosion, and then literally breaks the back of the ship. and one hit the tuscania amidships, destroyed its boiler room. the ship was now a powerless hulk. the call came to abandon ship,
2:37 pm
and hundreds made for the lifeboats. among them, arthur siplon, a young man from michigan who'd never been to sea. in america, i met arthur's youngest son, bob. there had been, i think, at least one or two british destroyers that came alongside and tried to take off survivors. some of them were successful, some of them weren't. they were dumped into the ocean, and drowned or crushed between the ships and everything. so finally, him and another guy decided that they were going to try to lower a lifeboat, and they each got in it, and they lowered it, and they did it successfully. and then they were alone, and they really didn't know where they were, and they couldn't control the boat, and so the tide pretty much took them. it took them here, to this treacherous stretch of islay‘s coastline. the 0a peninsula is remote, wild, and unforgiving.
2:38 pm
what happened was they heard the sound of surf, and so they knew they were getting close to breaking water, but they weren't controlling the boat very well, and it broached, i guess the term is, it got sideways. and before they reached the shore, it overturned. so those who made it into lifeboats were swept towards this rugged coastline. and when they reached the shore, many were shipwrecked for a second time. he thought he was going to die. but at last he grabbed a hold of a rock, and when the sea receded, he managed to hang on and climbed to the shore. and there was another soldier with him that had managed to hang on too. and when daylight came, then they saw... ..the other bodies floating up on the beach. and...they heard someone.
2:39 pm
and evidently it was a scottish farmer who ultimately, found him, my father, alive. i believe the other soldier with him passed away during the night, died of exposure. it may have been farmer robert morrison who saved arthur siplon. he risked his life rescuing soldiers from the rocks and took them to his home, where his family fed dozens of survivors home baked scones. alistair carmichael grew up hearing these tales of the tuscania. he's farmed on the 0a all his life, knew the morrisons well, and remembers robert telling him about one of those washed ashore. he was stuck on the rocks. and they rescued him. and the first thing that he did, he put his hand in his wallet, in his pocket, and took his wallet
2:40 pm
out, but robert would never take money off of him for rescuing him! but he was telling us that. so one of the survivors was... ..going to pay him for rescuing him off the rocks! but he wouldn't take anything? no. nearby, the farmer here at stremnish also saved lives without seeking reward. he gave food and shelter to 1a survivors. his name was duncan campbell. he was a gaelic speaker. he rarely spoke in english. and he used to say... he speaks in gaelic. "what an awful sight, seeing the bodies piling up in the gullies." it had a dreadful effect on him. but... he speaks gaelic.
2:41 pm
"we found strength to do it." and with help, it was wonderful what was achieved. but, initially... ..there were a lot of bodies. but then for days, maybe weeks afterwards, there were other bodies being swept ashore. duncan campbell is buried near some of the victims of tuscania here at kilnaughton cemetery, port ellen. he would actually be involved in many sea rescues during his lifetime, but it's for what he did for the tuscania survivors that he earned the 0be. but i'm particularly proud of duncan campbell, because what i didn't know until we started making this film is that he was my great grandfather's brother. the tuscania's sinking was a massive disaster
2:42 pm
for a small island to manage. nearly 150 survivors needed food, accommodation and medical care. and then there were the dead. eventually, almost 200 bodies were washed ashore. and the man in charge of relief and recovery was islay‘s senior police officer, sergeant malcolm macneill. his grandson is a well—known scottish public figure. he served with three constables on the island based in bowmore in the building that is now a bank. and he could have had no experience of anything on a major scale. his job would have been largely administrative on an island without any real crime. the island, with just four police officers, had to identify and bury nearly 200 men. this is like lockerbie, or 7/7, or even 9/11 occurring in a small community.
2:43 pm
a huge event taking place with deaths, bodies, survivors, you know, the calamity that was involved certainly in the early stages before any of the emergency services could be mobilised to come. it was probably one of the worst things they had ever seen in the village. most of if not all of the young men were away at the war. and on the days of funerals or burials, the women almost from every household would line up with tears streaming down their cheeks, in a dreadful state. despite their trauma, the islanders worked tirelessly to bury the dead with dignity. but there was a problem. they had no american flag for the funerals. so this small group of locals made one. and here it is, carefully preserved in washington's smithsonian museum.
2:44 pm
the fact that they so lovingly cared for the soldiers and cared to make sure that they were... ..had the proper burial, and had the properflag in order to be buried under that flag, shows that they were very... it was very heartfelt, that people went out of their way to respect those who had just recently lost their lives. the seaming is not quite straight, but when you turn the flag over, it looks beautiful. and it's still a very well—made flag, even though it was done very quickly. this year, the flag is coming home for the centenary, on loan to the museum of islay life, where it will take pride of place. the flag, to me, is one of the key elements of the commemoration. the creation of a flag to give them the proper,
2:45 pm
respectful funeral that military people should get was foremost in people's minds. and i think that sums up, really, the caring and compassionate way that people are on this island. within weeks of the tuscania sinking, survivors were fighting on the western front. arthur siplon fought in france, and survived the conflict to return home and marry. he was very grateful that he had a life that continued on, and through him, so did i and all my siblings. but i think the other thing that it made him was it made him realise the frailty of human life, and how important it is to live your life fully while you have the opportunity, and not... ..and not fritter it away. do something. make it worthwhile. in america, the disaster seemed
2:46 pm
to galvanise support for us involvement in the war. a generation of young men signed up for military service on the other side of an ocean. on 6th 0ctober1918, the troopship hms 0tranto was nearing the west coast of islay in a terrible storm. it was in a convoy with hms kashmir. but its journey was about to be cut short. and it wasn't an act of war that put the ship in peril. it was human error. an accident. when ships are navigating incredibly closely together, you've got to be very careful of any manoeuvre that you make, and with the wind and the tide and the weather, that would have only added to the difficulty. the kashmir, who correctly identified islay as islay, then altered to starboard, and then her bow was unfortunately smashed into the 0tranto amidships and caused a whole host
2:47 pm
of catastrophic effects. the kashmir, which was about 10,000, 11,000 tonnes of clyde—built steel, just hammered into the side of the 0tranto, hitting it amidships, destroying the boiler room and the engine room, killing 20, 30 people instantly, and the 0tranto was stuck, wallowing in the sea, in a force 11 gale, with a huge gash in its side, with no power, and slowly sinking. in near—hurricane conditions, the royal navy destroyer, hms mounsey, came alongside the 0tra nto, giving soldiers and sailors the chance to jump aboard. one who did was sam levy, a us army officer from georgia. he trained here at fort screven, where i heard sam's story from his grandson. after all his men at the lifeboat station
2:48 pm
that he was commanding hadjumped, he... ..he... fortunately, the mounsey came alongside again, and he made the decision to jump himself. and he did. but as it turned out, he picked a time where the 0tranto's going on, the mounsey‘s coming up, and so when he landed on the mounsey, it was a very hard landing, itjarred him. the mounsey‘s commander was lieutenant francis craven. his high—risk rescue saved around 600 men, while the rest of the convoy steamed on. the convoy was under orders, by the way, that if any ship was disabled, that no other ship was to be rendering assistance. so... but in my viewpoint, captain craven was a real hero. perhaps the real hero of the event. and he saved hundreds of lives that would otherwise have been lost.
2:49 pm
including... including my grandfather. including your grandfather. yeah. those left aboard the sinking ship were being swept towards islay‘s west coast. the 0tra nto's captain was running out of time. there's nothing captain davidson could do to save his ship. his best hope was that the storm would wash it ashore here at kilchoman, and the safety of machir bay. but that wasn't to be. the waves lifted the 0tranto and dumped it down onto a reef. it broke its back, and broke the ship into a million pieces. this would not be a large scale rescue operation. those cast into the cold, heaving atlantic had little chance. many were torn apart by the wreckage. just 21 men came out of the sea alive — some helped ashore by the mcphee family.
2:50 pm
they just stayed up in the shepherds cottage behind me here, and they would be down, and it would all be happening in front of them. so all they had to hand was their crooks, as they were young shepherds at the time, and they would use what they had. that's the length of life and death, i'm afraid. that was it. as far as they could reach. aye, reach. yeah. that's right. it must have been so sad for them to see that, waking up in the morning to a normal day's work and hundreds of dead bodies by the evening... it must have been horrendous. once again, islay had the grim task of finding, identifying, and burying the dead. so this notebook that has survived since the 0tranto disaster, you know, and there are, what now, sort of 90—odd pages of copperplate handwritten descriptions. so, this is lieutenant
2:51 pm
bh coffman, usa. "body in a decayed state, "falling to pieces. "name on letters in pocket." and the detail with which he's written each one of these, you know, descriptions of each of the bodies seems, you know, to be a herculean piece of work. the people of islay buried almost 400 soldiers and sailors from the 0tranto. they had more outside help this time. but this disaster still required the whole island to pull together. you know, you only have to look at the photographs of the bodies in kilchoman church to know that this was a real, real tragedy involving real human beings on a small island where the size of the tragedy, you know, would seep into the soul. growing up on islay, i neverfully appreciated how
2:52 pm
significant this year of double disaster was. i think when certain generations died off... was forgotten. this has been revived now. i really don't know what effect it'll have on some people, because there were so many families touched by the whole thing. people, even in my home, rarely talked about it. there is one very visible memorial, built by the american red cross just after the war on the mull of 0a. the red cross felt like, since this area was away from what was considered the theatre of warfor world war i, that there needed to be something there to remember
2:53 pm
the fallen soldiers. this was a little different, this was unique. these were large events in the grand scheme of casualties for the united states in world war i. for hundreds of the americans who perished in these disasters, islay was only a temporary place of burial. in keeping with american military tradition, their bodies were taken home after the war. except for one. private roy muncaster, whose family decided he should be left where the islanders laid him to rest. in georgia, the 0tranto dead are remembered in small towns across the state. just last year, this memorial was unveiled in screven county, from where 2a victims came. what was it about this story
2:54 pm
that touched your heart? just the sadness of knowing how small this community is, and this county, and how young those boys were. i'm sure some of them lied about their age. and knowing they'd gone to fort tybee and seen the ocean for the first time, and then getting on a ship, much less outside of new york. and having lost their lives at such a young age, and the effect that that had on this little county. while some from this little county would never grow old, others most certainly did. rose thomison's great uncle donald cooper survived the 0tranto. he was rescued by the mounsey, and taken to belfast, and on to the war. but he never forgot his narrow escape off the coast of islay. he always told war stories to my grandfather. but it wasn't until i was an adult
2:55 pm
that i really started to take notice about what he was saying about world war i. he had tojump from a sinking ship. did he ever talk about that? i remember him saying that... ..hejust had to do what he had to do. so, you know... but it was hard. he said it was very hard, it impacted him because he still talked about it for years and years, if anybody would ask him about it. and his memory was still really very clear on it. even as he aged, and aged, and aged. donald cooper's life touched three centuries. he outlived everyone on the 0tranto, reaching the age of 104. when private donald cooper was laid to rest in this georgia cemetery, the sinking of the 0tranto passed from living memory into history. the same is true for the tuscania.
2:56 pm
but in this centenary year, there are people here in the united states and in scotland determined to make sure that these twin disasters, and all those touched by them, are not forgotten. this is a year to honour the victims, and to honour what islay did for those in peril a century ago. it's like the actions of those people 100 years ago rippled through time to affect me, 100 years later. and so it sort of tells me... ..what we do makes a difference. let's not forget the wonderful people of islay who risked their own lives to save our young men.
2:57 pm
i can't imagine going out in a hurricane, freezing cold, and trying to save young men's lives, and taking these strangers into your home. and, to me, it honours them too. it was a huge contribution to the war effort at the time but also to humanity as well, and i think our small and remarkable island played a big part in history, and it should be remembered. good afternoon. some beautiful scenes across scotland today, some areas have had plenty of sunshine. a different story further south and east with some outbreaks of rain and thicker cloud. the best of sunshine found out west through the remainder
2:58 pm
of the afternoon. as we get into this evening and overnight rain really turns quite heavy across the south east of england then moving across to the east and eventually into eastern scotland by the end of the night. but from any further west it will be dry. there could even be some frost at some spots in the countryside. tomorrow the best of the sunshine in the west again, more rain in the east of england across eastern scotland. temperatures are not too bad for the time of year. but the prospect is promising through the coming week, mostly dry with sunny spells and feeling presently warm. this is bbc news. i'm lukwesa burak. the headlines at three: the people of iraq head to the polls — the country is holding its first general election since declaring victory over the group that calls itself islamic state. translation: i voted because i want a change in this country,
2:59 pm
nothing more. this country has suffered so much and we hope the good people win, people with ethics, conscience and faith in god. the worst wage crisis in modern history — the tuc says workers are still feeling the effects of the financial crisis. two british tourists are among three people kidnapped at gunpoint in a democratic republic of congo national park. mps and campaigners criticise a "lack of progress" on mobile connectivity in rural areas. also in the next hour, we'll hear about a novel plan to regenerate the high street in dumfries.
3:00 pm


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on