THEY were within touching distance of home, battle-weary First World War survivors who would lose their lives in the raging waters that surrounded their beloved islands.

The naval yacht HMY Iolaire was just a few yards away from Stornoway in the early hours of January 1, 1919 – six weeks after the end of the Armistice – when it struck the rocks on its approach to the town’s harbour.

The disaster, which claimed the lives of 174 Lewis men and seven Harris men when the vessel bringing them back to the Western Isles sank after striking rocks known as the Beasts of Holm, was made all the more tragic as it was played out in front of distraught families waiting on the shore to greet them.

For generations, revisiting the traumatic event was too painful. But now a deeply moving hand-drawn animation that sensitively recalls the terror and loss of the Iolaire disaster a century ago, has been selected for the prestigious Cannes Short Film Festival.

Read more: Iolaire tragedy remembered 100 years on

The BBC ALBA short animation Tha thu air Aigeann m’ Inntinn (You are at the bottom of my mind) uses first-hand accounts from survivors and witnesses of the 1919 tragedy, along with a haunting musical score and thousands of charcoal drawings to create a powerful visual record of one of Britain’s worst maritime disasters. The film explores the impact of the disaster on the men’s communities and the challenge of coming to terms with what happened by those left mourning their loved ones.

At its heart is the moving poem of the same name by acclaimed Gaelic bard Iain Crichton Smith, which refers to the pain of loss. The film was commissioned for BBC ALBA’s Hogmanay schedule as part of commemorations for the 100th anniversary of the disaster.

Because of the sensitivity of the topic and decades of reluctance of among islanders to revisit the tragedy, the film was among the first attempts to bring the story to life. The short film was a labour of love for the Dutch-based Scottish animator Catrìona Black, who has described working on it as “humbling”.

Read more: Tragedy of the Iolaire to be in focus at Hebridean Book Festival

She said: “We have very little visual record of the Iolaire disaster and it was a deeply emotional experience to create one. I’m pleased that the film is finding its way out into the world to share this important story with as many people as possible.”

The animation involved 25 hand-drawn frames created on a graphics tablet for every second of film – 7,500 in all – and captured the poignant expressions of drowning sailors, witnesses and grieving relatives.

The Cannes Short Film Festival, a sister event to the glittering Cannes Film Festival, takes place from 5-8 September, and showcases films from around the world.