Sunday, 1 December 2013

Ray “Dickie” Dawson – 91 SU (Saxa Vord) 1957 to 59

A few RAF personnel, under the command of Flt Lt CA Davison DFM, had been on site in 1955 & 56 during the construction phase of Saxa Vord. However, the first large contingent of 66 airmen, who were to become part of the strength of 91SU, arrived on 20 Sep 57. A few days later a second party of 50 airmen arrived at Baltasound. This group included an MT Driver named Ray “Dickie” Dawson. It had not been a good trip from Lerwick and most of the lads had been very seasick. Unst must have seemed to be the end of the world. Ray stayed at 91 SU until late 1959, subsequently marrying an Unst girl. Fortunately he took a number of photos during his tour and has kindly allowed me to reproduce them.

The first Christmas must have been a bit of a make do affair – NAAFI didn’t arrive on Unst until 25 Jan 58. It is interesting to note that, even this early in the Units history, a party was laid on for local children. On 20 Dec 57 52 children were treated to a film show, games, food and a visit from Santa (complete with presents). With few cars and no public transport on Unst MT would have had to provide a taxi service.

The lads themselves entered into the festive spirit as can be seen in some of the photos taken inside one of the billet blocks over that first Christmas. (Left click on pictures to enlarge).

Ray worked in the MT Section and many of his photos reflect this. The next 2 pictures celebrate an important trophy. In 1957 a weekly magazine called Reveille released a picture of Bridget Bardot on its centre pages. The lady was issued in 3 sections so it was necessary to buy 3 consecutive magazines to make up the complete picture.


 For a while a copy of the picture was on the wall in the MT Section but one night, when none of the MT staff were about, it was purloined and later found to be hanging at the Radar Heads. After a short while the MT Section made a foray into the secret and supposedly secure top site and recovered the picture. Ray tells me that the picture was misappropriated more than once but was always recovered. The plaque at the bottom of the next photo records the travels made by the mademoiselle:

A few more pictures featuring MT & personnel:

Those of you who have been to Saxa will know that the driving conditions are not always perfect! It should also be remembered that in the 50's roads were narrower and less well maintained.

  Some of the incidents were more difficult to recover from than others, this Bedford water bowser being a case in point:

 There again, back in those days they had an interesting tradition which has been discontinued – to the disappointment of many :- 

And finally, there was always the odd beer or two in the evenings after a hard day at work:-
All of the photos above, apart from the Reveille thumbnail, belong to Ray Dawson. If anyone can add details (names etc) to any of them, it would be much appreciated.


Sunday, 3 November 2013

Midsummer Madness

The high latitude of Unst leads to long hours of daylight in the summer months – a period known locally as the “simmer dim”. Traditionally this period led to a certain amount of celebration and fun for those at Saxa Vord – every year there would be some form of midsummer activity, usually remembered by those who took part, long after they've left the islands. During my tour the activities included golf matches, sailing races and a Gala Day. Tales of Barbecues, Raft Races, Chariot Races and Sports Days abound and I would appreciate it if anyone has pictures of similar events they would be prepared to share – (replacing the AT with the usual symbol).
I have attached a few pictures from the late 70’s/early 80’s below and, at the end of this section put three links to other midsummer festivities covered previously in the blog.

Midsummer 1978
The 3 pictures here feature a Chariot Race and have come from Caroline & Maddy Madison. (Left click on pictures to enlarge):

Midsummer 1980
The next sequence of pictures is from George Keith and features another Chariot Race. There is also a shot of a rather dangerous looking egg-throwing competition at Burrafirth and an Officers’ Mess Barbecue on Balta.

Midsummer 1983
The main event in 1983 appears to have been a Raft Race at Norwick – these pictures have come from Stewart Dorward:

As mentioned earlier a few links to other sections featuring midsummer events:

Another Raft Race -
Another Chariot Race -

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Neale Bulbeck – Firefighter, Saxa 1998 – 2000

Neale Bulbeck did an 18 month tour at Saxa from 1998 to 2000 and has kindly allowed me to reproduce some of his photos and recollections. He obviously had a good time in Shetland –
I loved watching Shetland on the BBC a few months back. It brought back some great memories of Lerwick and the surrounding area. I think it was a pub called Captain Flints that we always headed for when we went to Lerwick. The weather may have been bleak at times on Unst but spirits were always high. I have never spent time in such a close knit community anywhere else in the world. The RAF personnel, their families and locals were so friendly with each other. Up Helly Aa, Burns night, the longest day etc were always great celebrations. I hope one day to return to The Shetlands with my wife.”

For those of you who remember Captain Flints – it’s still there and has its own Facebook Site here:  There are plenty of pictures on the site, one of which is reproduced below:
 The first 3 of his photos show some great winter scenery on Unst:

 The next 2 pictures are from Christmas 1999, the first of a rather cold looking Domestic Site and the second is a copy of the Fire Section Christmas card:
In common with all the emergency services the Saxa Fire section had frequent training sessions. The next 3 photos show Neale and another fireman in a BA (Breathing Apparatus) training exercise: 

Things are not always perfect and during an 18 month tour there is bound to be the odd mishap!
I had a photo (since lost) of the mountain range fire engine that I crashed into a ditch during high winds on the road that goes past the haunted house, I think it was called Lund House? Fortunately nobody was hurt. The boss wasn't amused when we had to hire a crane from P&O ferries to come up to lift it out of the ditch. I think filling the ditches with gravel to allow the crane to fit along the road and the crane price may have cost the RAF a small fortune”
As Neale says it was not his proudest moment, but a photo did appear in the Saxa Voice Magazine during the summer of 1999.

 What to firemen do when there are no fires too fight or training to do? It seems they hang around relaxing & drinking coffee – just like everyone else!

 My thanks to Neale Bulbeck for sharing some of his memories.
Links to a few more pieces in the blog about the Saxa Fire Section here: