The war memorial on the island of Iona on the west coast of Scotland stands by the eastern shore near the ferry. At a passing glance it looks quite ordinary, but in fact it contains a surprise.
There are two panels bearing the names of 19 men who died in the Second World War and only one panel naming the 11 who died in the First World War. This is most unusual, for the total casualties in World War I far exceeded those of World War II.
We spoke to local people and asked at the Heritage Centre. People speculated but no one knew the answer. We then contacted Mrs Mairi MacArthur of the New Iona Press, whom the Heritage Centre had recommended as a historian of Iona. She said that she had never been asked about this before.
Mairi said that the census of April 1911 showed that the Iona population was 222, of whom 104 were male. A good proportion of them were either too young or too old to enlist for active service. Also, many of the people counted in the census, such as boarded-out children and teenagers, and farm servants or labourers, in fact came from the mainland, and so would not have been included on the war memorial. When it came to the Second World War, the island’s total population was a bit smaller but there were fewer boarded-out children and farm labourers so the pool of potential war-recruits had a bigger proportion of Iona natives.
Mairi hopes to do further research on this so I may provide more information in due course.
The war memorials on the front of Henley-on-Thames town hall show the more usual proportion, the First World War casualties are above the Second World War ones in these photos, and greatly outnumber them.
However, the Iona memorial has opened my eyes and when I was recently at Nobel House in Smith Square, London, for a meeting, I photographed the war memorials there. (The building is now occupied by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and was formerly the Ministry of Agriculture.) The memorials show 38 deaths in World War I and 43 in World War II. I haven’t worked out why and unfortunately there is no helpful Mairi MacArthur to whom I can put this question.