The isle where just one man returned from war
AS they gathered on the island of Colonsay, the 17-strong group of men paid an emotional farewell to their families before leaving to serve their country in the Great War.
But when it came to the homecoming, only one of them returned.
And in the case of the sole survivor, Angus McPhee, who had previously worked as a deckhand before going off to war, he too died shortly afterwards, traumatised by the terrifying sights and sounds he had witnessed that had claimed his friends’ lives.
It is a story borne out elsewhere, particularly in and around many of the other island communities such as Fair Isle, Lewis and Scalpay – all devastated by the scars of war and the loss of lives.
Kevin Byrne, a historian living on Colonsay, said: ‘This is an agricultural community, so a lot of people would have been in reserved occupations, but what we do know is that 16 men died, and among them were three pairs of brothers.
‘As far as we know there was only one, Angus McPhee, who returned here, but he died not long after.’
Today many of the 135 inhabitants on the island will once again gather to commemorate Armistice Day.
Elsewhere, at Loch Glencoul in Sutherland, Britain’s most remote war memorial bears only the names of brothers William and Alistair Elliot.
William, a stalker on the Duke of Westminster’s Reay Estate, served as a corporal with the Cameron Highlanders in France and at Gallipoli but was struck down by influenza and died on March 29, 1917.
Alistair, 24, had left Glencoul and was working as a bank clerk in Glasgow when the war began. He later became a Lance Corporal in the Highland Light Infantry and was killed on April 12, 1918, at Neuve Eglise, Belgium, and his body was never recovered.
His name is inscribed on the memorial in nearby Ploegsteert.
The brothers grew up in the now empty estate cottage that lies in the shadow of the memorial. Poignantly the second Duke, a distinguished WWI commander, was so moved by the brothers’ tragedy that he paid for the memorial by the cottage. The Duke’s family suffered their own tragedy when Lord Hugh William Grosvenor, son of the 1st Duke, was killed on the Zandvoorde Ridge near Ypres.
The memorial was restored four years ago by the late 6th Duke whose son-in-law, TV historian Dan Snow, makes an annual pilgrimage there.
Meanwhile, the names of the Scots who died in the war will be projected today onto the Scottish parliament building in Edinburgh, the most accurate figure for the death toll yet.
A list of 134,712 names has been compiled by Lieutenant Colonel Roger Binks, who spent five years updating entries in the National War Memorial’s rolls of honour.
But he warned: ‘I don’t believe there is an absolute figure. I don’t think there ever can be.’
ROLL OF HONOUR: Neil McMillan, left, was one of 16 Colonsay sons lost