HE was a soldier from a foreign army who sailed to fight for the Allies on the First World War battlefields of France, but lost his life before his ship ever made landfall.

Private Roy Muncaster and hundreds of his countrymen perished when their troopship the SS Tuscania was torpedoed off the coast of Scotland, floundering in the cold waters near the isle of Islay.

Now, nearly a century after the disaster, he remains the only US serviceman still buried on the island, and his final resting place has been chosen as the launching spot for a series of events to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the great conflict.

Lone piper Isobel Ferguson played beside Mr Muncaster’s grave yesterday as the programme was announced, the first of several ceremonies to mark the sinking of the Tuscania and the island’s war dead.

Carrying more than 2,000 US Army personnel to join the battlefields in Europe, the SS Tuscania was on its way from New Jersey to Liverpool when it was attacked by German submarine UB-77.

It had been an arduous voyage across the North Atlantic and most of those aboard, in sight of the Irish coast to starboard and the Scottish coast to port, believed the worst part of their journey is over.

But within hours the ship would slip beneath the waves as men fought for their lives in the surrounding waters, or clung to lifeboats tossed by the stormy seas.

Many lives were saved after heroic rescue missions, with the Royal Navy saving some 1,800 US servicemen.

However hundreds of American troops and British crew members still drowned, with many washing up on Islay’s shoreline.

After the war, the American bodies were reinterred at Brookwood American Cemetery and Memorial in Surrey or repatriated to the United States.

The American Monument, a lighthouse-like stone tower which sits atop the Mull of Oa, was commissioned by the American Red Cross in their honour.

Lord George Robertson of Port Ellen, whose maternal grandfather was the police sergeant on Islay at the time of the sinking, said: “My maternal grandfather, Malcolm MacNeill, had the distressing job of reporting what had happened and attempting to identify the bodies, noting any distinguishing marks that could help identify the drowned men.

“There were so many bodies that their descriptions filled 81 pages in his notebook. When they were finally buried, it fell to my grandfather to correspond with the families in the United States who were desperate to know more about the fate of their loved ones.

“They wrote with information which they hoped could be used to identify the bodies of their sons, husbands or brothers, and in an extraordinary example of compassionate public service, my grandfather replied to each letter, providing what information he could.”

Sadly, the sinking of the SS Tuscania on February 5, 1918, was not the only tragedy to mark Islay’s coast during the war.

Just seven months later a second sinking occurred, this time accidental, when the troop carrier HMS Otranto collided with a steamship near Machir Bay with the loss of 470 men.

As well as the valiant rescue efforts of the local community when the ships went down and its efforts to give the dead proper burials, the commemoration events will remember the Ileachs (Islay people) who served in the war, and those who did not return.

WW100 Islay chair, Jenni Minto, said: “Every village on Islay lost men in the Great War, but the SS Tuscania and HMS Otranto disasters brought the war directly to Islay’s shores.

“In addition to remembering the soldiers and crew who lost their lives in these two tragedies the Islay 100 programme recognises the contribution made by the local community to the rescue of survivors and its dedication to respectfully burying the casualties. It is also an important opportunity to reflect on the loss of Islay’s own throughout the war.”