A Stars and Stripes U.S. flag produced overnight on the island of Islay so that the American soldiers who died after the sinking of the SS Tuscania could be buried with honour under their own flag is making the 3,500 mile journey back to Islay one hundred years on.
The flag will arrive ahead of the WW100 Scotland National Day of Remembrance being held on Islay on May 4 which will be attended by local people, descendants and dignitaries, including HRH The Princess Royal, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, Secretary of State for Scotland, United States Ambassador to the UK, The Consul General of France in Scotland, the Acting Ambassador of Germany and the Consul General of Germany in Scotland.
Carrying over 2000 US Army personnel to join the battlefields in Europe, SS Tuscania was on its way from New Jersey to Liverpool when it was torpedoed by German submarine UB-77, sinking between Islay and Northern Ireland on 5 February 1918. More than 210 British crew and American soldiers on board the Tuscania perished, many washing up on Islay’s shores.
The flag was sent to President Woodrow Wilson and is now in the collections of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington D.C. It was made by four women and one man – Jessie McLellan, Mary Cunningham, Catherine McGregor, Mary Armour, and John McDougall – who worked through the night at Islay House, completing it at around 2.00am, just ahead of the first American funeral held on Islay.
Jenni Minto of the Museum of Islay Life, said: “Islay and Jura lost over 200 of their own men in WW1 and sadly those families never got the opportunity to bury their own. The sinking of the Tuscania and later the Otranto, gave the islanders the opportunity to look after those men, living and dead, as they hoped their own boys would be cared for at land and sea.
“The making of the flag 100 years ago is symbolic of that and I am delighted that it is to come home to Islay as part of our commemorations.”
“The flag embodies an amazing story and we are proud to have been its stewards“ said Richard Kurin, the Smithsonian’s Ambassador at Large. “We are prouder still that the flag now returns home to be exhibited on Islay where it can invoke in the current generation an appreciation of how their forebearers so respected those brothers in battle who’d washed up upon their shores, offering hospitality and healing to the survivors, and providing a last measure of honor to the fallen soldiers and crew. It’s a flag that exemplifies the long-standing bonds between the people of the United States and those of Scotland and the United Kingdom.“
One hundred years on, the ladies of the Islay Quilters have recreated the flag, working at Islay House. The new replica flag will be used in the commemorative services while the original flag will be displayed in the Museum of Islay Life in Port Charlotte for the coming months before returning to the USA.
Marian Senior, one of the Islay Quilters team which made the replica flag 100 years on, commented: “As we sewed, we reflected on what it must have been like on the island 100 years ago, making the flag in the same spot that it was done so long ago but under very different conditions. It will be a real privilege to see the original flag and to have our replica used in the commemorations.”
Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, said: “World War One had a devastating impact across Scotland with no town or village unaffected. Islay and Jura not only lost a significant amount of men for such a small community, they had war brought to their shorelines. It is a real testament to the people of the islands how they responded to those tragedies and the depth of compassion shown to those American troops and British crew men who were caught up in the sinkings of the Tuscania and Otranto.
“I look forward to paying my respects and hearing the local stories of that time at the service on May 4.”
The commemorative service on May 4 will remember the over 200 Islay men who died during World War One and the 700 US servicemen and British crew members who lost their lives in the sinkings of SS Tuscania (5 February 1918) and HMS Otranto (6 October 1918). The Otranto sank near Machir Bay, on the west coast of the island, after a collision with HMS Kashmir.