Thursday, 7 November 2019

Eshaness Look out post (LOP's)

Most of the WW2 coastal look outs (Coastal watching Service) are situated on the east side of Shetland facing what was occupied Norway so its a bit unusual to find a look out at Eshaness which is a remote spot out on the west side of Shetland mainland.

During WW2 it may have been a good few hours to get from Lerwick to Eshaness so this look out post would have been very important. The view from the hut covers a large area to the west and also to the south including the approach to Muckle Roe and Brae, possible landing sites.

This remote spot was manned by just a few men including Andrew Johnson, a local living down in Eshaness. Jeannie Johnson was a family member remembers him telling her that in summer the midges drove the men mad.

There is lots of wet peatland surrounding the lookout post.

One winter he was about to go on duty up on the hill, he and a couple of others arrived by lorry and parked up by the lighthouse it was snowing heavy and the wind made it difficult to see. They set off just as a blizzard hit and the men got separated, Andrew couldn't see very far and was using a staff to help him walk in terrible conditions.

He lost his sense of direction and nearly fell over the cliff,  he couldn't feel any ground in front of him using his staff. By luck he made his way back and found the lighthouse buildings , then the lorry where he stayed until the blizzard cleared. The other couple of men had decided to just sit it out and wait for the blizzard to ease.

Life in the hut was very basic and cold, room to make a brew and fire to keep them warm which made condition smoky. Close by a larger building was surrounded by a blast wall, it was here that the radio transmitted was housed

Remains of the supports to the antenna can still be seen and the base to the inner building . The look out post was made of reinforced concrete, thick enough to be bullet proof. Another small radio room was situated close to the mast.

Life here was at a slow pace and it was often difficult to concentrate. On a couple of occasions German planes flew over but other than that there was very little to talk about. Duties lasted for 8 hours and the observers felt this was more than enough on cold dark days and nights

Any sightings of military activity was recorded in a log book and reported via the radio

These observation posts were often constructed by the Observers themselves and this is possibly what happened at this remote outpost and well into 1940

These observers were more than likely were part of Shetland Defence Company which contained mostly  WW1 veterans , more than 1000 enrolled, it later changed to the Home Guard. (The Giving Years 1991. James W Irvine)

Eight defensive systems had been identified in May 1940 with the one at Mavis Grind the closest to Eshaness

Saturday, 17 August 2019

Gas Masks

 Gas poster

Gas masks were issued to all British civilians when war broke out, by September 1939 38 million Gas masks had been handed out to families

 The above gas mask was issued to Alistair Nicolson of Scalloway (Muckle to everyone who knew him) (Scalloway Museum)

Instructions on how to use the mask could be found on the inside of the box

Baby gas mask at the Cabin Museum
 even babies were issued with masks, just check out what had to be done on the photo below

  A lot of Shetland folk said that wearing gas masks made them feel sick as they were made of rubber and were hot and smelly

Baby gasmask at Cosford

The reason for all these precautions had more to do with World War 1 when mustard gas had been use to great effect and thousands of soldiers had died. This was odourless and took 12 hours to take effect, only a small amounts had to be used
See the source image

People feared that this would be used again, perhaps by bombing, everyone was expected to carry their gasmasks with them at all times

Schools had regular Gas mask drills and bairns would be punished if they left or lost their gas masks
Some at the Central school in Lerwick (now Islesburgh) used the gas mask boxes for goal posts

Lots of information leaflets were handed out

Various leaflets at Cosford Air museum

People would be warned about a gas attack by a warden using a rattle (Similar to a football rattle)

A close up view of a wooden gas warning rattle, as used by Air Raid Wardens Civil Defence organisations to alert citizens to the possibility of a gas attack.

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

D- Day, a stamp of dis-approval

Its been good to speak to Jessamine today about her father Jimmy Leisk, You can find out a lot more about Jimmy and D-day by going to a earlier blog dated 8 May 2018

Jimmy Leisk (bottom Left) from Sandwick, Shetland in the most iconic photo from D-day

Its 75 years since the D-Day landings and the few veterans that survive met up for the remembrance celebrations in Portsmouth and France on the 5 & 6 June this year.

Jessamine & the photo 

A lot of servicemen have now passed away but are not forgotten and are still remembered by family, friends and those interested in this period of history. The above photo taken a few minutes after Jimmy Leisk landed on Sword Beach at 8.30am on the 6 June 1944 , will always be considered by many as `The image' of the conflict.

It has been used extensively since that day, in various newspapers and magazines and was also used twice in the 75th remembrance service on TV.

Therefore it came as a big surprise to Jimmy's daughter, Jessamine, who still lives in Sandwick,  that a commemorative stamp issued by the Royal Mail had air bushed Jimmy out of the image and replaced him with the word 'Sword', one of the six beaches used for the landings.

Jessamine first found out about this when the Shetland Times phoned her up to tell her the news, she was and is not happy with this. To add insult to this she showed me a stamp commemorating the 50th D-day anniversary produced on Jersey showing the whole picture, including Jimmy.

The original photo was carried around Europe and finally into Germany by Jimmy and to preserve it, it was mounted on cardboard. He brought it back to Sandwick and its stayed in the family ever since

The photo has been used many, many times and Jessamine says her Dad `is nearly as good as a film star now '.

Jessamine has a number of historically important items as shown below

#WW2, #WW2 Shetland, #Sandwick, #Jimmy Leisk, #D-Day, #Sword beach, #Iconic D-day Photo ,#D-Day landings

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Shetland Bren Carriers the `Puddle Jumpers'

The Universal carrier, also known as the Bren Carrier was introduced in 1940 and used widely by the British army

It was a 4.5t, 12 feet long and 7feet wide and carried three people 

It was the most produced armoured vehicle in history with an estimated 200,000 produced. It was classed as a light armoured tracked vehicle built on the basis of the Carden- Lloyd  tankettes. The main role of the Bren carrier was to transport weapons or materials or used as infantry support and could traverse most types of terrain in Shetland up to 30mph.

Tanks and Afvs of the British Army 1939-45 Universal carrier Mk II

WW2 manoeuvres with a Bren carrier in Shetland

Bren Carriers had been selected as the best vehicle to use in Shetland due to the lack of  a suitable road system and that most the land was moorland, although  at least a couple were lost due to extreme boggy conditions in places

These deep boggy conditions get even worse in winter 

Churchill Tank (Tanks not considered essential by Antony Eden)

On 3 July 1940, concerns about an attack from German troops in Norway reached one of their peaks. A  large force of parachutists had concentrated at Stavanger and Trondheim as well as a fleet of boats.

The newly appointed Lord Cork asked for an increase in the garrison for Shetland and for the provision of tanks among other things but Antony Eden, Secretary of State for War said he already had adequate resources. In addition a vast amount of equipment had been lost at Dunkirk the month before .

The garrison of Shetland, reported to the CSC on 11 August 1940 that amongst the resources that they had 6 Bren carriers.  By 1942 the Commanding officer of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders said that Shetland was unsuitable for normal operations because of generally boggy conditions and that Bren carriers had little chance to leave the roads. No doubt just before this at least two Bren Carriers had been lost in these bogs

Shetland Lost Military Vehicles on facebook are trying to find these `Lost' Bren Carriers a group well worth joining

join my facebook group at Shetland WW2 stories

#brencarriers, #Shetland, #ShetlandWW2, #Dunkirk, #British Army

Monday, 25 March 2019

Ww2 Mines in Shetland

Mines were deposited in the sea and left until they came in contact with an vessel or land. Contact mines usually tethered by a cable just below the surface of the water but later on mines were developed that could be dropped  from aircraft and float on the surface.

A total of 46,158 mines were laid by RAF Home Command, a further 20,000 mines were laid by surface ships and submarines all these in enemy waters. Another 170,000 were laid in a protective fields by surface ships mainly around Iceland and Faroe but also east towards Norway which only resulted in the sinking of one U-boat.

The Northern Barrage was being discussed in July 1939 but mine laying ships were not available at the time. The plan was to lay mines from Orkney, including Shetland , Faroe to Iceland. When Germany invaded Norway the plan was accelerated and five ships were requisitioned to be converted to minelayers.

In October 1940 a total of  10,300 mines were laid south of the Faroe Islands and by the end of 1942  92,083 mines had places in the Northern Barrage (35% of all British Mines), but the passage of U-Boats had not really been affected.

Mines were just not a problem for those at sea, they would break free and get washed a shore and cause problems to civilians and the forces alike.

I was talking to Gracie Laurenson , just before she passed away and she told me her brother was blown up by a mine washed ashore at Meal beach on Burra. He was trying to pull it to a safe area when it went off, the explosion was heard in Scalloway.

Storms from the west always had a `Banks alerts'  so trying to collect drift wood was always going to be hazardous as mines we brought ashore as well.

Down at Sumburgh explosions could be heard on a regular basis, this was often down to the Construction teams but occasionally a mine would hit the rocks and there was bombings as well, the German dropped delayed action bombs which went off well after the Luftwaffe had left.

A short distance away a mine was literally thrown up among the rocks at Grutness but failed to explode. A team was deployed and the mine deactivated but left in position where it can still be seen today. It was in the 1950's that it was decided to set fire to it but even after years of rust it survives

Allen Ferguson Laurenson , Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve,  Killed 24 November 1941 aged 38 at the Knab when a mine exploded

British mine washed up at Sandwick in Unst

Walter Jamieson was killed on the 24 January 1942. He was repairing damage caused by a mine explosion at the Sletts in Lerwick on the 23 January when another mine blew up

Photo Brian Duncan
This mine was moved next to the Fort Chippy before eventually disappearing


Eshaness Look out post (LOP's)

Most of the WW2 coastal look outs (Coastal watching Service) are situated on the east side of Shetland facing what was occupied Norway s...