Sunday 29 August 2010

Trips to Lerwick & “Specials” – 1963/64

Well-mannered servicemen were almost invariably welcomed by the local community in Unst. However, many of the RAF lads had grown up in towns and cities and were used to a different social life. Apart from the base, the Springfield Hotel and the occasional do in the local halls there was an absence of some of the entertainment they had experienced previously. A lack of cafes, coffee bars, restaurants, pubs, dance halls, TV and, probably most importantly,  the reduced chance of meeting unattached females caused some to seek to getaway to the relative “fleshpots” of Lerwick at every opportunity. In the first 30+ years of its life Saxa had no females posted in. The small population of Unst was certainly out of balance with the introduction of large numbers of bachelors.

Up until the early 70’s getting to and from Lerwick was not as simple as it is now. Using the “overland” or the Earl of Zetland normally entailed a 3 day round trip. Nevertheless, transport difficulties did not stop the more adventurous from getting away occasionally. If by taking leave or by swapping watch-keeping duties one could fit trips in with scheduled transport all well and good. There was one other method of getting too & from Lerwick which was used to a great extent.

Specials”  The RAF often had need to commission special, non-scheduled overland trips for events like Battle of Britain and Remembrance Day Parades in Lerwick. There was also a budget for sports teams – if there was a soccer, basketball or badminton tournament in Lerwick a special overland would be arranged. By tying your social life around these events, you could either go up & down with a special or combine specials with scheduled services to make the round trip possible. Lerwick had a number of attractions to offer, a cinema, cafes, the Lounge Bar (plus other pubs) and a significant part of the Islands social history – The Planets. The Planets, a dance hall in Mounthooly St, was the focus of nightlife for many, live music and gatherings of young customers (both male & female).
An example of a “Special” as included in 1963 SROs (Station Routine Orders) and provided by Pete Brindley is shown below:-

I’m also grateful to Pete Brindley who sent me all the photos used in this section. He was posted to Saxa 3 times – 1963/64, 1973/74 and again in 1977. All of the pictures in this section were taken during his first tour. I have included pictures of him and his pals in transit through Lerwick either heading on Leave or returning to Saxa.
The first 3 Pictures may bring memories of inter-island transport (Left click on pictures to enlarge).

The next few pictures are of one particular trip. The lads gather in the Lounge Bar early on. On this trip the people involved have decided to present a Station Plaque to Stan Swanson, the owner of the Lounge in recognition of the fact that he has always been good to visitors from Saxa.

During the day the troops tended to gather in the downstairs bar in the Lounge but by evening they would head to the upstairs bar hoping to get a table near the window so that they could see who was heading uphill to the Planets. When the time was considered right an exodus to the dance hall ensued.

The following morning everyone met up again, usually in the Queens Cafe, to discuss the previous evening’s

After that it was a question of the overland or special back to Saxa. Alternatively, if lucky enough they would be heading south on leave, either with the bus to Sumburgh or waiting for the MV St Clair to sail for Aberdeen.


Thursday 26 August 2010

2006 Closure Presentations and Shetland Times Articles

Just before the station finally closed the CO, Sqn Ldr Phil Carpenter, made a number of presentations to MOD Civilian Employees who had worked for a long time on the base. An article from the Shetland Times is printed below and is followed by three photos of the occasion. The names of the people in the first 2 photos are in the same order as in the Shetland Times article. (Left click on pictures to enlarge).

The RAF Ensign was passed to the Lerwick Branch of RAFA for safekeeping in case the unit should ever be reopened. The Ensign was accepted by Ken Shaw and Kenny Duncan, two Shetland RAFA members. The next 2 photos show the Ensign, the 2 RAFA representatives, the CO, Pam Mouat (last Civilian Admin Officer), Leslie Spence (the Guizar Jarl from the Norwick Up Uphelly Aa), plus one other yet to be identified.

Below is an article from the Shetland Times about Ken Shaw, one of the RAFA representatives:-

The last 2 pictures are of a Shetland Times Article which contains interviews with the last Station Commander and with the last RAF Officer to Leave Saxa on its closure.

Sunday 22 August 2010

Saxa Regains Independent Status - 1 April 2004

With the planned closure of RAF Buchan it was decided to grant Saxa Vord the status of an independent station again after 3 years as RRH Saxa Vord – Remote Radar Head – in effect a detachment parented by RAF Buchan. The changeover was to be recognised by a ceremony to be attended by the Air Officer Scotland and Northern Island (AOSNI) and a flypast by a Nimrod. The formal proceedings were to be followed by suitable festivities. The planned activities for the day are laid out in the 2 page letter below. (Left click on pictures to enlarge)

The significance of the event was recognised in advance in the local press. The articles below are from the Shetland Times and the Shetland News.

The next 2 articles, from the Shetland News and the RAF News, report on the events of 1 April.

The final picture is of a page from the Unit F540 (The official Station History), which has since been declassified. As is not unusual bad weather and unserviceability caused one or two changes to the programme but I’m sure that they had little effect on the festivities.


Friday 20 August 2010

AOCs Inspection 1988 AVM RH Palin (updated 20 Jul 17)

The AOC’s Inspection in 1988 took place on 18 May and was carried out by Air Vice Marshal RH Palin OBE MA psc. The Station Commander was Sqn Ldr Peter Hunter. I have no other information about this event and only the 3 photos below. (Left click on pictures to enlarge).

Added 20 July 2017
Andrew Thorpe was the Station Photographer during his tour at Saxa Vord. He took many interesting pictures during his time on Unst and I hope to publish more in the future. He was the official photographer during the 1988 AOC's Inspection and probably took the three photos already used in this section, attributed to MOD. Fortunately, Andrew has more pictures of the  event and has allowed me to add them to the blog. All of the pictures below have come from Andrew:





My thanks to Andrew for allowing me to post these pictures on the blog.


Sunday 15 August 2010

Visit of AOC in C Strike Command Sir Michael Graydon and trip to Muckle Flugga

In 1992 the Unit was visited by Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon, who was accompanied by his wife Margaret. Sir Michael visited a number of sections on both the Domestic & Top Sites. His wife visited some parts of the lower site, including the Station Library and the Station Medical Centre. The Station Commander at the time of the visit was Sqn Ldr Nick (Flash) Gordon.
The AOC in C , his wife and the CO were lucky enough to have good weather and were able to make a visit to the Lighthouse on Muckle Flugga. By this time the lighthouse had 6 keepers, 3 on duty at any one time, working a month on and a month off. Watch changeover and resupply was normally done by helicopter.