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Les Wilson – The Drowned and the Saved

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This meticulously researched book brings to the reader a different focus to The Great War and the first major loss of US troops at sea.

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Published to commemorate the centenary of the sinking of the Tuscania in 1918 off the Hebridean island of Islay, this meticulously researched book brings to the reader a different focus to The Great War and the first major loss of US troops.

Two British ships crammed with American soldiers bound for the trenches were sunk of the coast of Islay. First the Tuscania troop ship by a German U-Boat, and eight months later the Otranto, an armed merchant cruiser in a collision with The Kashmir as part of a convoy. Both were wrecked off the notoriously perilous coast of Islay during violent storms where men drowned in the turbulent seas or were smashed by the sinking ships or the rocks.

Drawing on the personal recollections of survivors, rescuers, newspaper reports, and research, Les Wilson tells a riveting story of these tragic events. Recounting the dreadful conditions that the untested American ‘doughboys’ endured, with influenza rife in the holds and lack of knowledge of the ocean, the reader begins to understand the terrible experience of these young men, some only fourteen years old.

Les Wilson pays tribute to the bravery and stoicism of the islanders who risked their lives pulling men from the sea, the kindness of the women who cared for them, and the grim business of identification and burial. From the Tuscania more than two hundred had to be buried and of the 600 men on the Otranto just 19 survived. The rest were drowned or crushed by the wreckage. Particularly poignant is the photo of a funeral procession in the driving rain passing through Port Charlotte, giving a snapshot of the dignity with which the islanders coped with these two dreadful events on their shores.

For those interested in Scottish historical subjects this is a definite good read. For the lay reader it is an insight into an unknown story of immense importance to our understanding of the horrors of war on a different front.


Mary-Ann has had a very long and varied career in show business. Her professional journey has taken her from west end dancer and TV actress to air stewardess, business woman, secondary school teacher, cultural project officer, founding a site specific theatre company to award winning producer. Amazingly she still enjoys sitting in the stalls and enjoying a good show.

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