Islay’s First World War Centenary Wood

Woodland Trust Scotland was delighted to help the community of Islay plant a Centenary Wood as part of a wide range of First World War-themed events organised by the local WW100 Islay group.

A huge 'thank you' to all the volunteers who helped over Remembrance Day weekend (Photo: Russell Jobson)
A huge 'thank you' to all the volunteers who helped over Remembrance Day weekend (Photo: Russell Jobson)

Known for its distinctive whiskies, Islay is the southernmost of the Inner Hebrides. Seas around the island were the scene of two naval disasters towards the end of the war as British troopships transported United States servicemen to battle.

Over the weekend of Remembrance Day around 100 volunteers planted 2,000 native trees on ground at the Bruichladdich distillery to create the Centenary Wood. A massive thank you to Bruichladdich who fed and watered everyone. Thanks also to Bridgend Community Garden where a further 2,000 saplings are being held for later planting.

Thanks also to Islay Energy Community Benefit Fund which is funding 20% of the planting.

Plaque reads: This wood was created as part of the Centenary Woods project to commemorate all those involved in the First World War (Photo: Ian Baird)
Plaque reads: This wood was created as part of the Centenary Woods project to commemorate all those involved in the First World War (Photo: Ian Baird)

SS Tuscania

The British troopship SS Tuscania was torpedoed in the North Channel between Islay and Northern Ireland in February 1918. She had regularly shuttled US troops from New York to Glasgow and Liverpool. On the occasion of her sinking 384 crew and 2013 US soldiers were on board. 210 people were lost.

The preface to a souvenir album of photographs by local photographer Archibald Cameron, described the community’s response:

“A shudder of horror went through the hearts of our fellow-islanders, as in the grey dawn of morning they found the shores strewn with the bodies of the unfortunate victims...

"The bodies were tenderly collected and every means taken to procure their identity.

"Large crowds gathered from all parts of the island to pay their tribute of respect to the memory of the fallen.”

HMS Otranto

Eight months later, HMS Otranto was wrecked off the west coast of the Rhinns on Scotland's west coast after she collided with another troopship during a severe storm. In total 470 US troops and British crew were lost. Among the dead were French fishermen whose sailing boat had been accidentally sunk in an earlier collision with the troopship. The fisherman had been rescued by the HMS Otranto's crew only to later perish when HMS Otranto also sunk. A double sinking for the unfortunate Frenchmen.

A total of 316 Americans were found and buried on Islay and nearby Muck. After the war, most of the American bodies were reinterred at Brookwood American Cemetery and Memorial in Surrey or repatriated to the United States.

Local losses

Every village on Islay lost men. The memorials in Bowmore, Port Charlotte, Portnahaven, Ballygrant and Port Ellen name almost 200, with a further 24 not recorded on any memorial. This from a community of only 6,000 people.

Given the extent of these local losses together with two naval disasters it is hardly surprising the First World War casts a longer shadow on Islay than most communities. Local organisers  – WW100Islay – have ambitious plans for various events to mark the centenary. We were delighted to help with the creation of a Centenary Wood.

This image captures the remarkable result (Photo: Ian Baird)
This image captures the remarkable result (Photo: Ian Baird)

Looking ahead

We're working with our lead partner Sainsbury's to plant millions of native trees to mark the centenary of the First World War.

Scotland’s National First World  War Centenary Wood is at Dreghorn in the Pentland Hills, just outside Edinburgh. We are recruiting volunteers for a public planting day on December 2. Book a place at Dreghorn.

Be part of this special commemoration project.

Make a donation to Centenary Woods