Flag stitched by islanders to honor fallen US soldiers returns home

Stars and Stripes hand-stitched by Scottish islanders to honor 210 US soldiers who perished when their WW1 troop ship was torpedoed is to be returned for the 100th anniversary

  • The flag was made by quilters on the island of Islay in the Inner Hebrides in 1918 
  • It was made so soldiers who died could be buried with honor under their flag
  • The quilters finished the stitching around 2am just ahead of the first US funeral 
  • SS Tuscania sank off Islay after being hit by a torpedo from a German U-boat 

An historic stars and stripes flag hastily made for the burial of American soldiers on a Scottish island during the First World War is returning home after a century away.

The ‘star-spangled banner’ was hand-stitched by quilters on the island of Islay in the Inner Hebrides in 1918 following the tragic sinking of a British troopship.

The SS Tuscania sank after being hit by a torpedo from a German U-boat seven miles off Islay – with the loss of 210 British and US servicemen and crew.

The ship was loaded with around 2,000 men and women making their way from New York to the north of France at the time. Many of the dead washed up on Islay’s shores.

An historic stars and stripes flag (pictured) that was hastily made for the burial of American soldiers on a Scottish island during the First World War is returning home after a century away

The SS Tuscania (pictured) was loaded with around 2,000 men and women making their way from New York to the north of France when it sank in 1918

The flag was made so soldiers who died after the sinking could be buried with honor under their own flag.

It was made by Jessie McLellan, Mary Cunningham, Catherine McGregor, Mary Armour, and John McDougall – who worked through the night at Islay House to complete it.

They finished the stitching around 2am just ahead of the first US funeral held on Islay.

The flag was later sent to President Woodrow Wilson and is now in the collections of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington D.C.

Islay residents (left to right) Catherine McGregor, Jessie McLellan, John McDougall, Mary Cunningham and Mary Armour hand-stitched the flag

The stars and stripes were sewn in less than a day after the troopship SS Tuscania was struck by a German U-Boat around seven miles from Islay. Pictured, the American monument on the island

But it will returned to the island of Islay ahead of the WW100 Scotland National Day of Remembrance, which is held there on May 4.

Jenni Minto, of the Museum of Islay Life, said she is delighted the flag will return home for the 100 year commemorations.

‘Islay and Jura lost over 200 of their own men in WW1 and sadly those families never got the opportunity to bury their own,’ she said.

‘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.’

A traditional funeral was held on Islay for the men killed when the Tuscania was hit by a German torpedo seven miles off Islay

The funeral procession was led by the British Union flag and the handmade American flag

Richard Kurin, the Smithsonian’s Ambassador at Large, said the flag ’embodies an amazing story’ and he is ‘proud’ it is returning home to Islay.

He added: ‘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.’

And 100 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 later this month.

The original flag will be displayed in the Museum of Islay Life in Port Charlotte for the coming months before returning to the US.

Marian Senior, one of the Islay Quilters team which made the replica flag 100 years on, said it will be a ‘privilege’ to see the original flag.

She added: ‘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.’

Curator Jennifer Jones is pictured with the Islay Flag in the Conservation Lab at the National Museum of American History in Washington DC

The commemorative service on May 4 will remember the more than 200 Islay men who died during the war.

It will also pay tribute to the 700 US servicemen and British crew members who lost their lives in the sinkings of SS Tuscania and the HMS Otranto in October 1918.

The commemorations will be attended by HRH The Princess Royal and Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop.

Ms 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.’

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