The Dead of the Tuscania by Katherine Lee Bates

A while back Alice Bailey contacted me through the Isle of Islay Facebook page. The uncle of Alice was one of the 2,000 American soldiers on board the Tuscania. On February 5, 1918, the American troopship, en route to Britain, was torpedoed by a German submarine in the North Channel and sank seven miles off the Mull of Oa. More than 200 men drowned and her uncle was one of the victims. Years later Alice visited Islay and had a chance to visit the Islay museum where she found a hand written copy of a poem by Katherine Lee Bates. Being an American history teacher it immediately caught her attention and she found out that the poem was about the Tuscania tragedy.

The funeral procession

When she read the poem again, she realized once more how closely it parallels the actual events published in the faded, yellowed booklet sent to her great-grandmother from the Glasgow Islay Association ninety years ago. The fishermen DID retrieve the bodies, the Scottish women DID lovingly prepare them for burial. And more heartfelt than ever, the women of Islay DID work through the night stitching by hand an American flag to be used in the funeral procession. The flag is visible in the image of the funeral procession on the Tuscania account written by Lord George Robertson. Continue reading...

Alice told me that her uncle William's body washed ashore along with many other soldiers. she said that the wonderful people of Islay lovingly retrieved the bodies and buried them in numbered graves at four different sites. Her uncle William was buried at Kilnaughton. Two years later, most of the bodies were exhumed and returned to the U.S. Her uncle was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Alice also said that her visit to the American monument was a very emotional one. When Alice contacted me she also sent an image of the Tuscania poem by Katherine Lee Bates and she thought it would be a good idea to publish it on the blog.

The Dead of the Tuscania - Katherine Lee Bates

Far on the wild Scotch coast our boys are sleeping
Between the solemn cliffs and churning waters
Our soldiers side by side in peaceful trenches,
Clad in their Khaki, coffined in fresh timber
Or sheeted, quiet score by score, in canvas;
Their brief, brave struggle over, there they rest them,
Where nevermore shall enemy molest them

Their country blessed all who did them honour
The fishermen who sought those broken bodies
Among the rocks, the grief-wise Scottish women,
Who all night long before the burial labored,
Stitching with mother-tears a Starry Banner
That so their flag might wave above them,
Lying at their supreme salute of loyal dying

Far from their prairie farms and inland cities
Their sleep is listening to a new, strange music
Thunder of stormy tides and cry of seagulls
A mightier organ, but the same proud anthem
That shaped the hero dreams of childhood
Courage, faith, sacrifice, and they beloved,
Lamented, slumber like tired boys at home, contented

A while back I created a video from the Oa and the American Monument and I think it's appropriate to embed this video here. It contains some atmospheric music and views.

Tag: tuscania poem