Lieutenant William Alexander McNeill, Royal Naval Reserve, born on 14 April 1881 at the Holm West United Free Church Manse, was the fourth son of Reverend Daniel McNeill, MD, United Free Church Minister, and Jessie Jane McNeill (nee Dewar), of Holm West Manse, Orkney.


His siblings were David, John, James, Patrick, Florence, Leila, Mary and Elizabeth.


He was educated at Holm Parish School, and Hillhead High School, Glasgow.


He was employed with the Anchor and Cunard Lines Steamship Companies, and on the outbreak of war was Third Officer on SS Lusitania. He had joined the Royal Naval Reserve in April 1901, and was called up for service in 1911.


On 5 July 1901 at Plymouth, he married Kathleen Florence Barry, of Devonport, and they had a daughter, Kathleen Mary, born on 27 October 1905.


He was lost at sea on HMS Laurentic on 25 January 1917, when the ship was torpedoed off the Irish coast.


On the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the White Star liner RMS Laurentic was requisitioned by the Admiralty as an armed merchant cruiser. On 25 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. HMS Laurentic was travelling to New York and her cargo included 43 tons of gold bullion. Most of the gold was later recovered in a series of daring diving operations that lasted until 1924. The 22 bars that were not recovered are worth about £2 million.


Lieutenant McNeill's body was washed up alone and 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. He was possibly identified by articles in his clothing or by his identification tags.


Hebridean sailors believed that if they drowned the sea would always carry their body home. A cairn on Ceann Iar marks the grave of Lieutenant McNeill where his body was washed up. Ceann Iar is part of the clan lands of the MacNeills.


William is commemorated on the Cunard Steam Ship Co. Roll of Honour, Cunard Steam Ship Co. Plaques, Merseyside Roll of Honour, and on the Holm War Memorial, which looks out over Scapa Flow.


The McNeill family made a significant contribution during the Great War. William and Patrick’s father returned to his medical career and relieved a Welsh doctor to serve in France. Their sister, Mary, served as a doctor in Serbia with Dr Elsie Inglis, brother, David, served as an officer in France, while sister, Leila, served as a Superintendent in a munitions factory.


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 Lieutenant William Alexander McNeill

RMS Laurentic.

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