Then the war came and the balance quickly reversed with the first of the R.A.F. and Navy arriving in the island. With workmen putting up the camps and masts at Skaw and making and improving the roads to Saxa Vord and Skaw, Unst was a very busy place indeed. The Navy moved into Hamarsgarth and Springfield. The R.A.F. took over the reading room and the hotel at Nord and a detachment of Marines were camped at the pier. Any local men who had not been called up, or gone back to sea, were in the Home Guard. Shetland was right in the front line at this time. German planes often came over and sprayed machine gun fire at whatever they fancied, even the hens out in the rigs. I think they wanted to show us how vulnerable we really were. I was postmistress in Baltasound at the time and one morning, when getting ready to open the Post office, there was a roar of a plane over the house and an awful bang. This proved to be a cannon shell entering the roof! When I got to the Post Office there was a machine gun bullet lying on my writing table and windows and partitions with holes in them. Next door at Sandison's shop, windows had been riddled too. It was very lucky that the hit-and-run attack has been before shop opening time. The Postmaster at Gutcher was not as lucky as I was that morning, he had gone to look at his boat and was machine gunned and his arm was badly broken.
That year we had many Norwegian folk who came across in fishing boats and small boats, to escape from the Nazis, who had occupied Norway. We also gave hospitality to quite a number of British soldiers who had been sent to Norway as an expeditionary force, but were too late to stem the Nazi advance. Boats with seamen whose ships had been torpedoed off our islands arrived with their often tragic cargoes. About this time there was a Red Alert in Unst, which meant that invasion by the enemy was imminent. A curfew had been set for all Shetland, which meant that no one could be on the roads between the hours of 11pm and 5am unless they had a police pass. I had a pass as I had to be out early three mornings a week to despatch the mails. I had to go to the Post Office at all times for urgent telephone messages too and I had to carry my pass to get through the Home Guard who were sometimes on duty at the C.O.'s office. It gave me quite a jolt, the first time I heard that gruff, "Halt! Who goes there?"
harbour was a busy place once more with all the Navy vessels, MTB's, MLs and supply drifters
and sometimes a flying boat. A Walrus Seaplane, which acted as Postman for the
Navy, came daily from
Lerwick with mail and dispatches. Once it failed to stop and ran aground on the Bight of Dale. A big
Estonian freighter, the "Valva" had run aground there
in February 1940, the story of which is extremely well told by Adam Robson in "The Saga of a Ship".
One of the things that really aggravated us at that time was the broadcasts from Germany by the traitor we knew as Lord Haw-Haw. On the day after the steamer left Baltasound for Aberdeen with Unst cattle, he told the crofters in the North Isles that they should have kept their cattle to eat when they were blockaded.