Loss of HMS Laurentic, 25th January 1917

Brian Budge, (brian.budge@btinternet.com) has begun looking at the loss of this armed merchant cruiser.

Built 1909
Tonnage 14892 GRT
Length 550' 00"
Breadth 67' 00"
Average Speed 17.0 knots

On the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the White Star liner R.M.S. Laurentic was requisitioned by the Admiralty as an armed merchant cruiser. On 25th January 1917 she struck a mine off Lough Swilly on the northern coast of County Donegal, Ireland and sank with the loss of 350 persons. H.M.S. Laurentic was travelling to New York and her cargo included a substantial amount of gold bullion that was later recovered.

Sources: Text based on details in The Red Duster website at http://fp.redduster.f9.co.uk/WSTAR5.htm

Lieutenant William A. McNeill, RN

Lieutenant McNeill is buried on Heisker, a five-island group (also known as the Monach Islands) that lies six miles west of North Uist in the Outer Hebrides. The islands are now an uninhabited National Nature Reserve, but during World War I there was a lighthouse on Shillay, the most westerly island. The lighthouse (built in 1864) was in use until 1942, at which time the last members of the population (which had reached over 100 in the early 19th century) left the small island group.

The following quote from the book The Scottish Islands - A Comprehensive Guide to Every Scottish Island by Hamish Haswell-Smith (Edinburgh, 1996) suggests that Lieutenant McNeill's body was washed up alone, possibly identified by articles in his clothing or by his identification tags:

Hebridean sailors believed, and maybe still do, that if they drown the sea will always carry their body home. A cairn on Ceann Iar marks the grave of Lieut. R.N.R. MacNeill, who drowned off Northern Ireland when his ship, HMA Laurentic, struck a mine in 1917. His body was washed up on Ceann Iar which is part of the clan lands of the MacNeills.

Lieutenant William A. McNeill's family home was in Orkney, the West United Free Church Manse in the parish of Holm. William and his brother, Patrick K. McNeill, are commemorated on the Holm War Memorial, which looks out over Scapa Flow.

The two brothers joined up early in the war, William into the Royal Navy and Patrick with the Territorials. Patrick was twice wounded (on the Western Front), but was a Sergeant in the Glasgow Yeomanry, training as a Royal Artillery cadet officer at Exeter, when he died (presumably of sickness) on 31st January 1917 - less than a week after William's death.

The loss of two sons in the same month of the war must have come as a great shock to the parents, the Rev. Daniel McNeill, M.D. and wife Jessie Jane Dewar. William's body was presumably recovered from the sea on the lonely Hebridean island some time after the sinking of H.M.S. Laurentic, possibly after Patrick's death.

Last Updated: 16 June, 2002.

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