All posts by Shetland Life

Triumphant Dawn

I see the TR6 coming close in behind – its circular headlamps glowing bright and filling the reflection in my door mirror.

Later on I’ll be in that car, too, the wind buffeting my face and the cold March air filled with that lovely deep growl of an engine note.

Down in the engine room the six-cylinder power-house will be carrying out its duties without even a hint of fuss, helping this car surge her way along the A-roads.

Getting the TR6 going after her long hibernation has taken time, energy and a few choice words best described as post-watershed. But she is ready for the task and is eating up the miles.

For now, though, I’m with Mark Fuller in the rather pert-looking TR4A. Conditions here are … cosy – in part because we have a roof over our heads. Mark is smiling as we look over the wood-clad dashboard, once so much the in-thing for British cars, and at the road ahead which the little TR is soaking up with bags of enthusiasm.

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Still in the shed is the grand-daddy of the bunch – the little TR3. Among this trio of Triumphs, she is perhaps wearing her years a little less convincingly than the other two. But, nonetheless, she is road legal and raring to go.

In fact, all three are performing well, considering they’ve been tucked up all winter. But now, with spring just about upon us, and the days getting longer, Shetland’s rich array of classics are beginning to get noticed again. And the TRs are out in force.

It’s time to throw off the covers.

I don’t know if Mark is known as Mr Triumph, but he probably should be. His love of TRs goes back to when he was 17. He has already had an example of Triumph’s much sought-after GT, the Stag.

“Having young kids it was great, because you could go about with the kids. But the kids get to a certain age where it’s not cool to be seen with Dad, so it was my excuse to get a two-seater.”
Time for a TR6, then. But the first one in Mark’s hands was not the stylish roadster you see here. He initially bought a car brought back to the UK from California. But on later getting his TR4, he found the smaller-engined car “ran rings” round the more powerful 6. Why?

“When I bought the TR4, she’d been breathed on a little bit, tuned and what-not, and she absolutely ran rings round the TR6, which shouldn’t have been the case.

“The American cars were seriously detuned to meet their emission regulations. I went looking for an original-spec, UK car, managed to find one and took the chance to buy it.”

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And who could argue against that? The new TR6, a 1970 car, is fitted with what Triumph termed as a PI, or petrol injection, 150 bhp engine of two and a half litres.

The TR6, says Mark, does not take kindly to sitting idle for lengthy periods, which makes the long, dark winter something of an inconvenience. But that’s all the more reason to celebrate the changing of the season.

“She needs a little bit more fettling. She needs to be used, and unfortunately our climate doesn’t let us use the cars as long as they do down south. Our season is pretty much March to September. We’ve got a constant battle with moisture and salt.

“It’s great fun, I just get a huge amount of enjoyment from it.”

Mark has had plenty of enjoyment from his 1967 TR4A, as well – and has even ventured into the continent with the dashing little sports car. It has been to Le Mans twice – home of the world’s oldest endurance race, the 24 Hours Le Mans.

But there are classic events there too, and it’s the TR4A that has taken Mark out to see the entertaining spectacle. He has plans to take her again this year, even if last year’s venture brought some unwanted overheating problems, which meant having to “nurse it round” for 1,500 miles.

“We got to France, there were very high temperatures, and I managed to blow a radiator hose.
“James Hutton, my co-pilot … there’s not much room in a TR4A cabin, and he spent the entire trip very up close and personal with a 25-litre tank of water.”

Nonetheless, driving a TR on the continent will get you an awful lot of attention.

“In France people will actually stop and wave, toot horns. Traffic lights are a hoot because everybody just claps, and asks about the cars. My French is rubbish so I’ve not got a clue what they are saying, but the general feeling is understood.”

The oldest in the trio is the 1960 TR3, and a “rolling restoration”. Mark is delighted that she is roadworthy, but is unsure just how far he should go in making her look new.

“If you go too far then you’re too scared to take them out. The car needs to be driven.”

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Of course, Triumph is just one of a host of British sports car manufacturers that flourished in the post-war years. But Triumph was hopelessly mismanaged after the company was sucked into the woeful British Leyland empire, and the marque was finally laid to rest in 1984, its bow-out model a mundane Honda-based saloon.

But even under BL, Triumph showed tremendous potential, even if very little of that opportunity was ever realised. Look up the still-born Lynx project, a promising Stag successor, or Google the proposed, but never produced, Dolomite replacement, the SD2, if you want to wallow in the world of what-might-have-beens.

Nowadays, the famous marque is owned by BMW – custodians of Triumph’s one-time stablemate, Mini. Talk emerges every few years of a possible resurrection of the Triumph name, although the Bavarians have never confirmed any relaunch plans. A separate enterprise has already seen Triumph motorbikes brought back into production. Is Triumph dead? Or does a new dawn await?

Photos: Dave Donaldson

Capturing Unst’s Spirit

The long-running BBC television series An Island Parish follows the lives of island communities and the local parish. In the past the programme has visited the Isles of Scilly, Barra in the Outer Hebrides, Sark in the Channel Islands and gone further afield to the Falkland Islands. For the eleventh series, producers headed to Unst, following the Rev. David Cooper and other island residents. The programme is a gentle observational documentary rooted in the community of the islands featured, with a particular focus on the church and the role it plays in island life. Production coordinator Rosie Patchett is one of the team who worked on the project and told Shetland Life how she found the experience on the ‘island above all others’.

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Shetland Life: When was the production team in Unst and how long were you based there?

Rosie Patchett: The production team were in Unst from mid-June until December last year for anywhere between two weeks and a month at a time. We tried to be there for as many key events in Unst as possible, as well as giving ourselves time to get to know the island and the local community.

SL: Which parts of the community did you get access to?

RP: We spoke to people from all parts of the community and everyone was incredibly helpful by putting us in touch with people when we wanted to explore an event or idea further. Being based in Unst over such a long period meant we had the opportunity to get to know people from local businesses like the Final Checkout and Baltasound Hotel, as well as the organisers of events, such as the brilliant UnstFest and the Norik Eela.

SL: Shetlanders are famed for their welcoming attitude, did you find that was the case in Unst?

RP: Absolutely. We were lucky enough to be able to take time off from filming to get to know people and found everyone eager to help. Alongside much-appreciated dinner invitations we received advice on anything we needed. Whether it was better ways to travel to Unst, local fishing spots or how to avoid being dive-bombed by disgruntled skuas, there was always someone more than willing to help out.

SL: What was the highlight of the time spent in the island?

RP: Stumbling across Victoria’s Vintage Tea Rooms after our first rather long journey to Unst and sitting down to afternoon tea is certainly one of the highlights. The Norik Eela was a really enjoyable event that stands out as a great example of how everyone in Unst gets into the spirit of things and pulls together to put an event on.

SL: Did you find any challenges that were particular to filming in Unst, or do other island communities face similar difficulties?

RP: We’re usually prepared for some unpredictable weather when filming on islands and Unst was no different. We drank a lot of tea so the biggest challenge was probably running out of milk on a Sunday and knowing you’d have to ask a friendly neighbour if you wanted another cup of tea before the ferries came in on Monday.

SL: The first Shetland Reel Festival was held during your time filming in the island. Were you surprised to see so many visiting and local musicians coming together in such a way?

RP: We’d actually been fortunate enough to see some of the local talent before the festival so we knew it was going to be a great event, but to see various musicians from Shetland and America playing some of the sessions together, having never met each other before, really highlighted just how good the musical talent in Shetland is.

SL: Did you have time to enjoy the fantastic sights and attractions that Unst has to offer?

RP: Both when filming and in our time off we had the chance to explore the island. We managed to take time for walks to Hermaness to see the puffins and to explore the Viking ruins dotted all over the island, not to mention sampling the local food and drink.

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Fun Run in the Sun

Hundreds of walkers head north from the Cunningsburgh Hall towar

Hundreds of runners, walkers and even some in prams turned out in force to take part in the 10th annual Mind Your Head Fun Run and Walk.

More than 550 people took part setting off from outside Cunningsburgh Hall on Sunday 23rd August.

Dougie Macdonald (on left) and Dylan McDougall enjoy the fine we

The event has always been hailed as a way to promote mental health and wellbeing with participants asked to walk or run the 5k or 10k route.

And, as our selection of photos show, it has become a family affair with all ages taking part and celebrating their achievements with tea and cake in the hall afterwards.

The photographer is greeted by one of many dogs during the 2015

Mind Your Head chairwoman Shona Manson said: “It was superb to see so many folk supporting the event again and we have got the ‘real runners’ and you have the mams and dads and granddads and parents with pushchairs. It is a real family event.”

This year was also an opportunity for Mind Your Head to raise awareness of their proposed support service. Among the runners was Anouska Civico, who is working to develop services. She said: “It provides real proof that people are behind our proposed developments and support these important changes.”

In good spirits and waving for the camera are (from left): Leise

Photos: Kevin Jones

The Fabulous Baker Boy

Baker Stephen Thompson is living a dream – it’s just not quite the dream he set out to achieve.
He is the owner and master baker of Da Kitchen Bakery, based in Burravoe, Yell, supplying loaves and pies across a large part of Shetland.

Having moved to the isle from the built up northwest of England he lives in a renovated croft house and is happy to tell Shetland Life that he is content with his lot. The community, he says, is fantastic and supports his venture.

But running a bakery, something Stephen had done all his working life, was not quite the plan when he and his wife Sarah decided to take the plunge and start a new life in Yell.

They had a notion to set up a firm making cheese from the milk produced by Shetland ewes and to operate it from a newly-built house.

He says: “We originally wanted to do Shetland sheep’s cheese. They’re not a milking breed, but you can get grants if you supply off island. It would be a limited thing because the milk runs out at the end of summer.”

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Despite its limitations Stephen completed a course in cheese making and has not given up on the idea but, for now, his focus is firmly on the trade he knows best. And inspired by Shetland and its larder, he has launched several new lines recently. Chief among them is the lamb bridie – a variation on a well known theme.

He says: “Most bakers are doing a steak or beef bridie, I thought, ‘why not lamb, we are in Shetland?’. They’re going well.”

Another recent addition to his range are cream horns, using cream from Shetland Dairy. “Martin Lyth who works at the dairy drops the cream off,” says Stephen. “If you support the local businesses the money stays in Shetland, whether it’s paying their staff in wages, or paying the farmers that’s supplying the dairy it’s staying in Shetland.

“I don’t know whether people think about that, but I think you should support local where possible.”

Plus the dairy’s milk and cream is mighty fine, says Stephen , “it’s very rich”.

The cream horns seem to go down particularly well with customers at the Mossbank shop – “I think a lot of [workers] from Sella Ness pop in for their fags and they like cream buns.”

Of course, loaves and other bakery favourites like pies and buns are a stock in trade and Stephen also makes a cheese and onion pasty using Shetlandeli’s onion marmalade.

Like Shetlandeli in Skeld, Stephen’s enterprise operates out one of the network of local halls dotted across the isles. In his case it is the impressive Burravoe Hall that is home to his business.

When he first thought about launching a bakery he approached Lawrence Odie, who is a member of the Burravoe Hall Committee.

“They were pleased because although it’s used at night the hall is not used through the day. They don’t lose any bookings. I come in at 2.30am.”

It’s an arrangement that suits both parties – the hall gets additional income and Stephen gets a fully-equipped kitchen, although he did have to buy a pie blocker, pastry roller and food mixer. More recently he has also added a three-shelf bakery oven that should allow him to produce more produce, more efficiently.

With a wry smile he says: “The plan was to come in a bit later. It hasn’t materialised, I’ve just taken more work on.”

Originally from Lancashire Stephen had run several bakeries down south when he decided to seek a new challenge.

His last venture had been a shop in St Anne’s near Blackpool, which he said was “not a place I wanted to live”.

That sentiment prompted a Google search back in 2009 for “Scottish property and land for sale”. It identified a plot in Yell that was due to be auctioned and the couple “hopped on a plane”, visited the site and put in a bid that proved to be successful.

The rest, as they say, is history.

The idea was to build a house and plans were drawn up. But before that project got off the ground an “old house next door” at Cuppaster became available. It had belonged to “Old Merne”, said Stephen but needed a lot of work, meaning it was April 2011 before the couple could move in.

And the cost of renovation meant Stephen returned to the bakery business. “I wasn’t planning on doing that up here but I needed to do something after the house was done to get money in. I could do baking and thought I’ll do that for the moment. Three years on and I’m still doing it.”
Not that he has any regrets, though he has had to work out how to deal withw the logistical challenges of running a business in what is undeniably a remote location.

“Once you have got your head round the logistics and transport it’s the same [as running a bakery anywhere]. You have to make sure you don’t run low on your supplies.”

And like running a bakery anywhere you have to be prepared to get up in the middle of the night and get ready to put a hard shift in so the rest of us can enjoy our daily bread.

“You have got to enjoy your job to do it. If you didn’t enjoy it, you wouldn’t do it.”

It’s obvious that Stephen does enjoy it – and whatever the hours, it has to be easier than milking sheep.

Photos: Dave Donaldson

Shetlanders at the Battle of Loos

Some 26 men with Shetland connections served with the Black Watch during World War One. Two of them were killed at the Battle of Loos. Jon Sandison explains more.

A summer break in alluring and tranquil Perthshire provided harsh reminders of not so peaceful times, 100 years ago.

Perth is the home of the striking revamped Black Watch and Castle Museum. It was a fine warm July day, but it was hard not to get drawn inside.

The museum site contains historic and dramatic Balhousie Castle, set in its own grounds. It was established in 1952, and in 2013 reopened to the public following a major redevelopment project with extra visitor facilities and a new shop and cafe.

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The Black Watch is one of the most famous regiments of the British Army, having served the Crown in every major war for nearly three centuries. Almost anywhere you go across the globe their name can conjure up fond recognition, visions of bravery, valour, true Scottish grit and determination. Today, the spirit and record of the regiment is carried forward by the Royal Regiment of Scotland, created in 2006 by the amalgamation of all the Scottish infantry regiments.

With the 1715 Jacobite Rebellion, companies from loyal clans Campbell, Grant, Fraser and Munro were raised. In 1725, six companies were formed in order to stop fighting between the clans, clamp down on smuggling, cattle rustling, and to curtail the carrying of weapons. In 1739, George II agreed to the raising of more companies, and the first muster of the Black Watch took place near Aberfeldy.

The regiment saw action in Flanders in 1745, in North America during the mid to late 19th century, and during the Napoleonic Wars and India during the early to mid 19th century. Now, their birthplace is commemorated by a monument. From 1881 the regiment was officially known as The Black Watch.

A visit to Scone across the river in Perth was also a reminder that this was the location where the Shetland Territorials spent part of their time before embarking to the Western Front, 100 years ago.

As these Shetland men prepared for war, others were already in the thick of it. Walking around the Regimental Museum rooms, a poignant memorial section to the Great War stood in a blackened, sombre room with a memorial book at the front. On the wall were seamless white wall patterns.

Closer inspection revealed the more sobering realisation that in fact every set of white dots surrounding the wall were names of all of the Black Watch men killed during the Great War, including 14 Shetlanders.

A total of 26 men with Shetland connections are estimated to have served with the Black Watch during 1914-18. Although more Shetland men served with other regiments such as the Gordon and Seaforth Highlanders, the attrition among those who served with the Black Watch was higher. Two of them were killed during the Battle of Loos. Lance Sergeant Peter Tait Petrie, 8th Battalion, 9th Division, and Sergeant Charles Cowan Thomason, 9th Battalion,15th Division.

Upon the outbreak of war, there were seven Black Watch battalions – the 1st, 2nd and 3rd along with four territorial battalions. The1st Battalion was in action from the outset of the war, taking part in the retreat from Mons, the Marne and Aisne. As part of the 1st (Guards) Brigade, they took part in three separate battles which made up the First Battle of Ypres.

With a force of around 7,850, they held back the Kaiser’s elite Prussian Guard which numbered around 17,500. By 1915, the Territorial and newly formed “service battalions” were to see action.
By the end of the war, over 50,000 men served in 25 battalions. More than 8,000 were killed and over 20,000 wounded.

Britain was under pressure from France to play a more active part, and take over more of the Western Front line. In September, 1915, the British section of the Western Front reached from Ypres in the north, to Loos-en Gohelle, just to the north of Vimy Ridge further south. During April and May in 1915, the British Second Army had been engaged in a defensive battle in Belgium at the Second Battle of Ypres. This was a desperate struggle with the Germans almost breaking the British line, incurring significant loss.

The British First Army, commanded by Sir Douglas Haig began three efforts to break the German lines in northern France. Compared to what was to follow, these were comparatively small scale engagements.

The Battle of Loos was to be the largest and most ambitious British offensive to date and was a final effort by the French and the British to push the German army out of France before winter set in.

When the battle began on Saturday 25th, it was the largest involvement for the BEF in the war up to that time. In all, six divisions were to take part, amounting to 75,000 men in the initial attack. Some of Kitchener’s volunteer army would be involved in battle for the first time. At this stage, the BEF was unrecognisable from that which had arrived in the autumn of 1914, being a mixture of territorials, reservists, and individual volunteers, quickly trained and fast tracked to the front. Between May and September 1915 up to 15 divisions of Kitchener’s “New Army” landed in France and Belgium.

It is understandable that Loos is often referred to as the “Scottish Battle” given the large numbers of Scottish troops in action. The recent commemoration in Dundee in September is testament to that. It is estimated that 30,000 took part.

Of the 72 Infantry Battalions who in the initial phase of the battle, half were Scottish. Scottish losses were to be so severe that no part of Scotland was unaffected. Shetland was no different.
The date for the battle had been originally set for 8th September. Delays in preparing the Champagne sector for action resulted a postponement until the 25th.

A preliminary bombardment of four days was a sure sign that an attack was coming. Assaulting troops arrived into position on 23rd and 24th September. Shortly before soldiers went over the top at day break on the 25th, rum rations were served out. The infantry attacked at 6.30am. In response, the Germans moved up reserves. Their lines were strongly defended – and had hardly been touched by the British artillery.

9TH DIVISION

Loos was a battle that would be fought before artillery had had a full opportunity to churn up the landscape that we so equate with the Western Front. Troops would go into it wearing flat caps. The initial version of the Brodie steel helmet was only issued for active service in April 1916, and only regarded as standard issue by the summer of 1916. Going forward, men clutched on to rifles with bayonets, moving over wooded areas, the coal slag heaps and built up towns.

For the 9th Division, their objective was Hohenzollern Redoubt. It was a thousand yards south of Auchy, a coal mine with a high and strongly defended flat-topped spoil heap which had a strategic view.

This German position was nearly 500 yards in front of their lines and near the British front line. It provided a pivotal position for observation; a strong point dominating much of the northern sector. It was connected with their front by three communication trenches that led to the defences of Fosse 8 Trench.

The 9th Division, including Shetlander Peter Petrie and his battalion of the 8th Black Watch, was to capture the Hohenzollern Redoubt and then to push on to the buildings and dump of Fosse 8 Mining Area, where they would have to clear the miners’ houses, and the buildings of its pithead. Here Lance Sergeant Peter Tait Petrie, 8th Battalion, was killed on 27th September, aged 34.

A continual fascination with the Great War is how local links are tied to wider events. Peter was the son of James and Joan Petrie, of 4 Church Lane, Lerwick. His parents were originally from Snarburgh, Unst. He had five siblings, and had enlisted with the Black Watch in Lochgelly, Fife, where he lived. The Black Watch were his local regiment.

Prior to joining the Black Watch, Peter had formerly been a member of the local 7th Volunteer Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders. He enlisted in the first month or two and was possibly promoted to lance corporal due to previous military experience. It may have just been a temporary promotion. His medal card shows his rank as private when he first went to France.
In the same way he seems to have been again given a temporary promotion to lance sergeant which is mentioned in the article from the time of his death, while the medal card shows corporal.

He had been employed as a shoemaker with the Lochgelly Co-Operative Society.
Petrie’s battalion joined the 26th Brigade of the 9th Scottish Division, and was formed in Perth in August 1914. They mobilised for war and landed at Boulogne on 10th May, 1915. Peter was listed in The Shetland Times of 3rd October 3rd, 1914, as having been “appointed a lance-corporal in Lord Kitchener’s Army – 8th Black Watch”.

In early and mid-September, they had been in billets at Bethune. By 21st September they were in the trenches and witnessed the continuous bombardment on the German trenches by the British artillery. By the 24th, the 5th Cameron Highlanders relieved Peter’s battalion in the frontline and support trenches.

Containing around 10,000 men, the 9th Division was commanded by Major-General Thesiger and attacked with the 26th Brigade and 28th Brigade on a front of 1,500 yards towards their objective. As part of the division, Peter’s battalion, as well as the 8th Gordons, followed behind the 5th Camerons and 7th Seaforths.

A smokescreen would hide the advance, with Stokes mortars providing a covering barrage of smoke shells. New assembly trenches were dug close to the redoubt, and engineers led digging of shallow tunnels which stretched across no man’s land. During the darkness of the 24th, Peter’s division opened up these tunnels and dug out assembly trenches which helped to ensure a degree of surprise in the opening minutes. This was to cause problems for support troops as they were hampered by poorly formed trenches.

With the initial assault at 6.30am, and after 40 minutes of gas, artillery and machine gun bombardment, the 9th Division attack on the German high ground began, and then pushed on to their first objective.

A decision had been taken to use chlorine gas and smoke as there was a shortage of shells for the artillery. It is estimated that 140 tons of chlorine gas was released by the British from 5,000 cylinders placed on the front line.

The combined regiments continued forward, taking Dump Trench, just to the west of Fosse 8 Trench. Severe casualties were endured a result of heavy machine gun fire from a position further on the left hand side of the divisional attack, as well as Haisnes to the east.

The 8th Black Watch, who had waited in the rear of the 5th Camerons, were moving towards the Coron Houses. As they crossed one of the target trenches, they became hidden behind the contours of the ground. There was no other target to focus on.

German guns swung round to wait for them to come out. The advance over the top, rather than allowing the men to take a slower but safer route along the German trenches, cost the Black Watch dearly. Battalion bombers entered a maze of trenches, and began clearing dug outs. As they began clearing the houses, heavy machine gun fire swept through the streets, causing heavy casualties. The houses were in the battalion hands by 9.30am. This line contained a mixture of Black Watch and Camerons holding from the southeast corner of the Corons along the eastern face of the Redoubt.

The line was held until 1.30am, under heavy shell fire, and much rifle and machine gun fire from the east and southeast. Relief from the 73rd Brigade eventually came. But, just as this was in progress, a German counter attack on the right came, which was held back by machine gun and rifle fire. The regiment then retired to original lines after relief was completed. On the 26th, they took up their old position and got ready to resist any counterattack by the Germans.

This line was held all day and the following evening. On the day that Peter was killed, they had moved forward again.

On 28th September 1915, the battalion was withdrawn early in the morning to the reserve trench. Peter’s Medal Card notes date of death as being the 27th. His body was never found. He was awarded the 1915 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal. By the 29th, his battalion was back in billets at Bethune. Peter was noted as the first Co-Operative employee to be killed.

15TH DIVISION

The 9th Scottish Division, including Peter Petrie, had been fighting south of Auchy under heavy shell fire and counterattack from the Germans.

Meanwhile, further south, the 15th Scottish Division were to storm two German defensive lines and capture the village of Loos, taking Hill 70. Among them was Sergeant Charles Cowan Thomason, 9th Battalion Black Watch.

He was the eldest son of Thomas Thomason, a crofter and postman, and Helen Thomason, of Post Office House, South Dale, Fetlar. He had six siblings.

His battalion was formed at Perth as part of Kitchener’s Second New Army, K2, and moved to Aldershot to join the 44th Brigade, 15th Division. By early July, 1915, it mobilised for war and landed at Boulogne. Its involvement in the Battle of Loos was its first major engagement. Charles arrived in France on the 14th of July, 1915.

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Days before the Loos assault, the com­mand­ing officer had issued all details of impending operations. The battalion moving by companies, took up positions on their lines of trenches to the west of Lens Road Redoubt. Charles, with his battalion, was in position by midnight on 24th September. Being a sergeant, Charles would have been checking up on the men around him, providing instructions and most likely passing on words of encouragement.

At 5.05am, on 25th September, orders were received for the gas cylinders to be discharged. At this point, the Germans started a heavy bombardment of the battalion trenches. As the wind was not strong enough, a portion of the gas came back onto their own trenches.

At zero hour, the men climbed out of the trenches and formed up ready to advance. Two machine guns on the Lens road targeted across them. An observer gave note of their progress: “No one present will ever forget the attack. As one the leading two platoons of ‘A’ Company leapt on the parapet and, making their way through the British wire, steadily advanced toward the German front line, followed by the remainder of the battalion at regular intervals. It seemed impossible to realise that these lines of disciplined soldiers had been, 12 short months before, almost all civilians… The distance to be crossed varied from 80 to 200 yards and, despite the fierce fire, not a line wavered or stopped.”

They moved forward and captured the German first line of trenches. The 8th Seaforth Highlanders had been allotted the task of assaulting on the left, 7th Cameron Highlanders in support of both Black Watch and Seaforths, and 10th Gordon Highlanders in Reserve.

The 9th Battalion, and the Seaforths, had taken the second German lines and fought their way through the village of Loos. The brigade had entered the streets around 7am, and intense street fighting took place and many Germans surrendered.

Many of the Black Watch came into the village and separated into small groups, breaking into houses, taking further prisoners, and rescuing civilians; the majority of these were women and children.

By around 8.30am, the officer commanding the 9th Battalion received information that they had established a position on Hill 70. During this day and the night, the brigade held on and the
position was maintained. Remaining positions of the Battalion were scattered along this zone.
The familiar pattern developed – the division was now threatened with the counterattack, and during the afternoon became pinned down on the forward slope of Hill 70. At 9am on 26th September, the division, reinforced by the 21st Division was ordered to attack and recapture
Hill 70. But, no breakthrough could be achieved.

For Charles Thomason, this part of his Loos experience was over. His battalion, by early October, were in billets at Lillers and were undertaking a programme of training. On 25th October they were ordered to take over a new line of trenches. The 10th Gordon Highlanders and 7th Camerons were in the front line, with the 9th Black Watch and 8th Seaforths in support. That day, three men were killed by a German shell as they were taking over the line. This is the day Charles is recorded as being killed on his Medal Card.

The Shetland News, of December 16th, 1915, reported: “Shetland Soldier Killed – Mr Thos. C Thomson, sub-postmaster at Fetlar, has received official intimation of the death of his son, Sergeant Charles Cullen Thomson, of the Black Watch. We understand that the deceased soldier has been reported missing for some time. Sergt Thomson was a fine young man, possessed of considerable ability, as is shown by the rank he held. The deepest sympathy is extended to his relatives in their sad bereavement.”

Charles obtained the Victory Medal, British War Medal and 1915 Star. His brother Thomas was in the Royal Engineers.

Before leaving for war, Charles was engaged to be married. His fiancée, Izzy Hutton, kept in touch with mother and sister for many years after. She came up to Fetlar to visit Charles’s mother after the war. Izzy never married, just like many women of that time.

The arguments raged then as now. This battle was meaningless in what was actually achieved. In all, there were an estimated 48,367 British casualties in the main Battle of Loos attack. German casualties were estimated at around 26,000. It is estimated that just over 6,300 were lost on the first day alone; the highest death rate in the 7th Division with 1,565 killed and 15th Scottish Division with 1,595 killed.

There are 20,598 names of officers and men on the Loos Memorial, who have no known grave. The Cemetery of Dud Corner is located just to the west of Loos. Surrounding the cemetery on three sides is the Loos Memorial. It is estimated that of the 20,598 names on the memorial, one-third are Scottish. Little wonder that the Loos Centenary commemoration was centred around Dundee in September.

Dundee’s Own, the 4th Battalion, part of the Meerut Division, arrived in France in February that year. Its strength came to 900. Out of 20 officers, 19 were killed or wounded. Out of the 430 men who took part in the attack, 230 were killed or wounded.

Two names on the memorial wall are Peter Petrie and Charles Cowan Thomason. Both on Panel Reference 78-83. The Memorial stands almost on the site of a German strong point, the Lens Road Redoubt, captured by the 15th Division on the first day of the Battle.

Overall, the Black Watch had significant casualties. The 9th Battalion were to lose 680 men, of which 20 were officers, in the first hours of the fighting as part of the first wave of the 44th Brigade.

For the 8th Black Watch, they were to lose 511 men of which 19 were officers, while being reserve reinforcements of the 26th Brigade.

In all, there are 829 Black Watch names alone on the Loos Memorial. The 15th Division lost 6,896,while the 9th Division lost 6,058.

Seven other Shetlanders died in this battle, and the diversionary attack at Bellewaarde east of Ypres. This attack on 25th September, on the trenches held by the Germans in the vicinity of Hooge and Bellewaarde Lake, was made with the object of distracting attention from a “full-dress” attempt to break through at Loos, to the south, and to contain the German’s reserves.

This Shetland list is a reminder that Shetland men served beyond just the Scottish Regiments.

  • James Blance, S/2200, 8th Gordon Highlanders, died 25th September, 1915
  • James Gifford, S/9655, 1st Gordon Highlanders, died 25th September, 1915
  • Lieutenant Walter Inkster, 4th Gordon Highlanders, died 25th September, 1915
  • Andrew John Blance/Blanch(e), 9039, 13th Northumberland Fusiliers, died 26th September, 1915
  • Lawrence Andrew Edgar, 26401, 1st King’s (Liverpool) Regiment, died 25th September, 1915
  • William Gibb, 9253, 1st Cameron Highlanders, died 28th September, 1915
  • John Omond, 12970, 12th Royal Scots, died 12th October, 1915.

Moving on from the 100th anniversary of Loos, and to other key dates, it is important to reflect on these men, and the others who fell during this month, on all sides. We can only wonder why war continues to blight our earth.

There is one other anecdote. In the fighting north of Loos, Rudyard Kipling’s only son John, a lieutenant in the Irish Guards, was reported missing, believed killed.

It was Rudyard Kipling who composed the wording used on the gravestones of soldiers who could not be identified at the time of burial: A Soldier of the Great War/Known unto God’. He also chose the line: “Their name liveth for evermore”, from Ecclesiasticus, which features on the Stone of Remembrance.

John had been in France for about six weeks when he was killed during the battle. Along with so many others, Kipling spent the remaining years of his life somehow trying to cope with his grief, while also looking to find his son’s remains.

His grave was formally identified in 1992. He is listed as being buried in St Mary’s Cemetery, Haisnes.

There was little further fighting after 14th October, although military operations did not officially stop until 4th November 1915. One of the main stumbling blocks in all fighting on the Western Front was the lack of proper communication in relation to the advanced technology of weaponry available.

Orders which came up the line were often too late, or not correct. Attacking divisions went in without accurate maps.

Also, too many attacks were carried out against well dug in machine guns which the British artillery bombardment had not destroyed.

The failure at Loos resulted in the departure of General John French from his position as commander-in-chief of the British Army. His replacement was General Douglas Haig on 19th December, 1915. Despite the severe knockbacks, volunteers continued to build the ranks of Kitchener’s New Army, which was fortunate because by March 1916 the British sector of the front extended from Ypres to the Somme, the French having abandoned Artois to fight in the infernal cauldron of Verdun.

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The mistakes made at the Battle were not learned and repetition of such loss was to be hauntingly mirrored on the Somme in 1916.

Back to last summer, and my visit to the Black Watch Museum in Perthshire – as we walked out the tea room was quiet, and the car park had emptied. It felt like we were the last ones to leave. It was time to head back to the holiday home.

We had missed the sun on that nice Perthshire day. It really was too warm to be inside. Somehow though, it didn’t seem to matter. We could only think back about standing in that darkened memorial room, looking at the names upon it, and reflecting that we’d hopefully have another day to see sunshine.

All those men never saw any more glorious summer days. The names of 1916 were to continue on a seamless white list in the museum.

At the going down of the sun
and in the morning
We will remember them.

Sources and Acknowledgements:

  • September 1915: Shetlanders and the Battle of Loos, by Graham Johnston
  • Emma Halford Forbes, museum manager, The Black Watch Museum
  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission
  • A History of the Black Watch, (Royal Highlanders in the Great War, 1914-1918). Vol 3, p133. Edt A.G. Wauchope.
  • Mimie Hughson and Sonya Gray for family information on Charles Cowan Thomason
  • The Shetland Times, 3rd October, 1914, The Shetland News, 16th December, 1915
  • Sir John French Despatch of 15th October, 1915, Pen and Sword Books, 2013, pp110-113
  • Dundee Courier of 7th December, 1915
  • Loos – Hohenzollern. By Andrew Rawson. Pen and Sword Books. 2003, p62
  • Loos – Hill 70 by Andrew Rawson. Pen and Sword Books. 2002.
  • The Battle of Loos, by Philip Warner. Wordsworth Military Library. 1976
  • The Western Front, by Richard Holmes.

For the Love of the Game

Part of the reason Japan’s Rugby World Cup toppling of South Africa was so seismic is that rugby is a sport in which major upsets just don’t happen.

A motivated England side might just beat the All Blacks and a golden Scottish generation might cause a few Six Nations upsets, but this was much bigger than that. This was like Papua New Guinea beating Brazil’s footballers. This was the Albanian cricket team pitching up at Lord’s and gaining a hard-earned 10-run victory.

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Shetland’s rugby side are well used to coming up against incredible odds – and meeting them. Sometimes this can be in their favour, as with their recent 95-0 demolition of Ellon. While the scoreline indicates a total mismatch, Ellon had gamely made the journey up with only 11 players. Even with Shetland offering them the services of a couple of players, Ellon made the trip knowing they would lose, not even with a shred of hope of getting the result.

Frequently, Shetland are the ones encountering problems in giving themselves even passable odds of getting a result on their travels. At this level, rugby is not so much a game of putting out the strongest team possible as much as putting out whatever team is possible.

Last season saw Shetland’s campaign decimated by point deductions for failing to fulfil fixtures against Moray and RAF Lossiemouth, to the point where February’s victory over Moray dragged the team out from having a negative point total.

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In the summer, the inter-county in Orkney was essentially conceded to the neighbours from the start with Shetland unable to bring a full 15.

Rugby, it hardly needs saying, is a physically brutal and demanding game. The best teams in the world would struggle against the weight of numbers and without replacements to take the place of the players taking the brunt of the hits. For an entirely amateur team, the commitment necessary to compete in a league season involving a great deal of travelling and organising to ensure as full a squad as possible is significant.

So why do it? When in April, Shetland travelled to play RAF Lossiemouth, one of the league leading teams, they brought a squad of 12.

The final result was a 134-3 thumping, the only surprise being Shetland managed to get on the scoreboard with a penalty. In itself, this kind of fixture both raises and answers the question of why.

The rugby side are one of the only Shetland teams in any sport to field a side in a regular, mainland based league. In undertaking this, they are undertaking a great deal of challenges, but also a great deal of pride.

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Can’t get a full team out to take on one of the best teams in the league? That’s fine – front up, don’t shy away and take the defeat with the pride of knowing that you gave it your all. This appears to be the attitude, and that’s admirable and praiseworthy.

Plus when they’ve taken hit after hit and delivered the occasional thrashing to a team with problems they can entirely relate to, occasionally a game of rugby gets played that reminds all involved why they fell in love with the sport.

The rescheduled game against Moray in February was a prime example of this. A cracker of a match against the team that eventually finished third in the league, Shetland were able to pull off a formidable 15-10 victory. The week before that, they came agonisingly close to a rare away win, Lochaber just about coming out on top 19-18. Thrashing a team may provide some joy, being thrashed a strain of pride in having confronted the odds, but there’s nothing like a tight, competitive fixture to exemplify the thrill of sport.

This season, Shetland have had a predictably difficult start. Whitewashing of Ellon, and heavy defeats to Deeside and Ross Sutherland aside, however, they have been extremely combative and competitive.

This being rugby, and the odds being usually against them, the results haven’t tended to go their way. But where there’s pride, heart and determination, there’s always hope. One need only look at Japan to understand that the right cocktail of attitude and ability means there are no foregone conclusions.

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Photos: Kevin Jones

November Comment by Vaila Wishart

We are different from other parts of Scotland. There are aspects of our culture which are distinctive and we’re fortunate that people are passionate about keeping them.

Take knitting, for example. When it stopped being taught in our schools an army of (mainly) grannies took over to make sure the knowledge is passed on to the next generation. Dialect and fiddle are still taught in schools, and are also alive and thriving in our homes.

Our weather, an acquired taste if ever there was one, combined with wildlife, geography, geology, archaeology and history, gives this little archipelago a character of its own and we celebrate these differences with festivals and other events throughout the year.

Other areas have singular traditions too. Our next-door neighbour to the south, for example, has a completely different dialect and culture as well as landscape.

There are not many political differences with other parts of Scotland, but there have been attempts in the past to make it so. The Shetland Movement’s desire for more autonomy was all well and good, but some of us recollect that the lovers of all things Scandinavian over Scottish reduced the council’s reserves to almost nothing with rash investments and uncontrolled spending. Yet there are still folk around who quote the shining example of Faroe, conveniently forgetting that when it went bankrupt it had to be bailed out by Denmark.

Some use the Falklands as a good example of what could be achieved if we had more control over our own affairs. The Overseas Territory of the Falklands (population less than 3,000) does have millions in reserves from fishing rights yet pupils have to go to England to do their A levels and stay there if they want further or higher education. That’s a wee bit further than a trip from the Ness or the West Side into Lerwick.

If press reports are correct, the recently-launched Wir Shetland group believes we would be millions better off if we left the EU and became a British Overseas Territory, taking control not only of fishing rights and oil and gas, but the entire economy. Who exactly is going to relinquish those rights?

Overseas territories are often islands where people stash their cash to avoid paying tax or are strategic military bases. Neither of those options appeal. The mini-nationalists of Wir Shetland, one of whom thinks so much of the place that he doesn’t even live here, appear to be mainly of the Tory variety.

The kind of policies Tories pursue are currently apparent in Westminster: look after the wealthy and kick the poor. That’s not the kind of Shetland I want to live in.

Sharing knowledge and discussing mutual concerns with folk in other parts of the country is a good way of finding solutions to our current problems. We’re not so different from other areas in wanting more local control. Those involved in Our Islands Our Future are working on aspects of it, but it takes time and needs a good case to be made in a reasoned way with those who do hold power in order to make progress.

Playing Stop The World We Want To Get Off is not likely to hold much sway with the politicians in either Westminster, Holyrood or Brussels. Perhaps a better title for Wir Shetland would be Wir Fantasists.


Razor clams – spoots to thee and me – were once an occasional treat for us coastal dwellers. They have now become a delicacy prized by gourmets and fashionistas in posh city restaurants. A recent Sunday Herald article spelled out the consequences. Down the West Coast of Scotland spoots are threatened by overfishing; in some cases by electro-fishing, which is not permitted in Scottish waters.

Furthermore, illegal fishing, if done in waters which have not been classified as fit for consumption, can lead to food poisoning, but with shedloads of money to be made, that is not something that bothers illegal fishers.

There are calls for better policing of this lucrative trade. While there have been a few prosecutions, fisheries minister Richard Lochhead is quoted as saying the government is determined to enforce the law. And so it should.


Fashion is hard to avoid in any aspects of “lifestyle” (dreadful word) and food is one of the casualties of this fickle industry. Over the decades changing fashions can leave us bemused.
We have been urged, for the good of our health of course, 
to go to work on an egg, to 
drink milk, then semi-skimmed, then skimmed, to avoid dairy products and eat margarine, eat cereal for breakfast, eat a Mediterranean diet (in this climate!), eat raw vegetables, avoid red meat, eat berries because they are superfoods, drink more red wine, avoid alcohol – it’s all fashion mixed with pseudo-science.

Best to ignore it and just stick to a balanced diet. You won’t catch me falling for any of that nonsense. Now where did I put 
my yuzu juice and the chia seeds…

Eamonn Watt: The Virtual Conductor

Sandwick composer Eamonn Watt has already produced a prolific back catalogue in just four years of music releases.

Mostly working from home Eamonn produces his tracks using Cubase music software. He favours this method of composition because it allows him to produce intricate compositions with only a computer keyboard and “mouse clicks.”

Appropriately he releases his music under his nom de plume, The Virtual Conductor. His love of virtually composed music began early in life with a video game called Music 2000: Music Creation.

Music 2000 was a Playstation One game which was designed to simulate a music studio. Players were given the opportunity to produce tracks using samples pre-programmed into the game.

Eamonn was re-introduced to the concept of virtually composed music later in life when he started to study music. He was introduced to Cubase at Secondary School during his Higher and Advanced Higher music courses.

After Secondary School Eamonn continued to study music further, graduating from music courses offered by Mareel. From there Eamonn enrolled in an applied music course with the University of the Highlands and Islands.

He favours Cubase because it allows him to “experiment and play about with sounds.”
“It is a great way to compose an entirely new piece of music and it’s a lot of fun.” He added.
The Cubase database gives Eamonn access to a “lot of virtual instruments which have a very realistic sound.”

The 23 year old musician does not just sit behind a computer when pursuing his love of music. He is also the drummer for star of The Voice Lisa Ward, with her band The XYY.

With three solo albums and an EP to his name Eamonn has already compiled an extensive archive of music. He will also be providing drums and electronica samples for Lisa Ward and the XYY’s upcoming album.

Recently Eamonn has been experiencing success on a wider level as a finalist in this year’s online International Songwriting Competition (ISC).

For this competition Eamonn put forward his western-inspired composition The Tale of Buckaroo Bill. This track, from his second album Haar, was competing in the instrumental category of the competition and is in with a chance of winning the People’s Choice Award.

In order to win this award Eamonn had to count on votes from the public, who could give their favourite composition a ‘thumbs up’ via the ISC’s website. In this category Eamonn was competing against musicians from around the world, and during one update from the ISC he was sitting in the top 5.

Voting closed on the 15th April with the winner due to be announced in late April or early May. If successful Eamonn could take home a grand prize of $25,000 (approximately £17,500) plus a package of musical equipment and services.

The song which Eamonn put forward is an orchestral piece which blends the music of old Westerns films with Shetland reel style music.

Eamonn chose this song because he said it was the composition he had the most faith in. He describes it as “high speed and very progressive” adding that composing the track was the “most fun [he] ever had making music.”

On the success of his track Eamonn says he is “absolutely surprised to have made it this far in such a prestigious competition.”

Despite his surprise, this is not the first time Eamonn has had success in a songwriting competition. In 2012 he entered his track Raconteur into the UK Songwriting Contest and ended up as a finalist.

As evidenced in the musical blend that made up The Tale of Buckaroo Bill, Eamonn’s influences are wide and varied while his albums are often developed down thematic lines. The La Mariposa EP, for example, is a release made up of flamenco guitar style compositions, inspired by the musical style of Spain.

Eamonn’s most recent release Pianissimo takes its name from the Italian word for music which is very quiet. It is composed of 22 peaceful and hushed virtual piano compositions.

A key musical influence for the album was the Italian composer Ludovico Einaudi. Eamonn also lists Claude Debussy and the minimalist piano compositions of Max Richter as sources of inspiration

It is not just classical pianists who inspire Eamonn but also pianists who lean towards the jazzy end of the spectrum. George Gershwin is one such influence on his work. Eamonn’s track Broadway in Blue was a tribute to Gershwin, and takes its name from his piece Rhapsody in Blue.

Haar, Eamonn’s second album, is named for the title track which was originally composed by his sister Jenny. Eamonn enjoyed the piece and asked if he could adapt it for his own musical project.

Eamonn has grown up in a musical house, with all three of his siblings playing a different instrument. Eamonn says, however, that there is little chance of a family album in the near future, joking that his Mum always says “you all play music but you never play together.”

His releases are not always inspired by other musicians but sometimes also by imagery. His track What If? was inspired by Film Noir cinema in the same way that The Tale of Buckaroo Bill was influenced by Westerns.

Eamonn also lists animated films as a major influence and says that sometimes he composes music to accompany “animated pictures running through [his] head.” Some of his quirkier compositions have their roots in old Looney Tunes cartoons, which he says inspire him to write “weird and wacky” music.

Primarily Eamonn says that it is his orchestral compositions that are inspired by imagery, with his piano tracks tending to evolve from music popping into his head.

After completing his music course with the University of the Highlands and Islands Eamonn hopes to move into music composition full time. He also hopes to learn the piano which will allow him to perform some of his Pianissimo tracks live.

Another album idea is currently gestating in his head which he says could be a successor to Pianissimo it is called Pianissimo Grande.

Where the former used the sounds of an upright piano, the latter would be composed using the larger and richer tones of a grand piano.

It seems certain, then, that Eamonn will remain a staple fixture in the Shetland music scene for some time.

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Photos: Dave Donaldson

Laughs You Can’t Predict

Marjolein Robertson stumbled into improvised comedy when she was living in Amsterdam. She’s now adept at the art form and is passing on her knowledge to others with a view to setting up a monthly comedy night. She explains more about “improv”.

From a young age I would always sit down to watch Whose Line Is It Anyway? with the family. I used to prefer the dry humour of the British series, yet adored the improvisers from the American show.

In 2013 I moved to Amsterdam and I found myself at a loss for interest groups, having been previously in Shetland and surrounded by music clubs, the Heavy Metal Buffet and Maddrim Media.

In a new city, with another language, my favourite haunt was a metal pub. Unfortunately it was right in the middle of the red light district and was frequented by myself, tourists and bikers (both of the latter only ever in town for a night at a time). I felt at a loss for hobbies and making new friends. It was then I came across English speaking comedy group Easylaughs who taught improv – improvised comedy – and hosted a weekly show.

There is something about improv which draws people together quickly, perhaps you learn who someone is faster the more masks they don in front of you. However, through Easylaughs I found friends in a new city and a love for improvised comedy.

In essence, improvised comedy is performing to the audience, most often in pairs or groups of three, a completely on the spot sketch using suggestions from the audience to kick you off. This can be in long form (an entire 45 minute play from one word) or short form (akin to that of the sketches from Whose Line Is It Anyway?).

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I attended Easylaughs improv workshops weekly, also undertaking a long form improv course and stand up course, as well as a storytelling course through another organisation. After a time of studying I became part of a long form improv troupe performing Sherlock Holmes stories that had never been heard by human ears before (as we made them up on the spot). I performed around Amsterdam with the Holmes Troupe and in various improv shows and open mics.
After a time though I felt a longing for home, the salty air that never rests, the empty hills and redder cans.
In October of 2015 I headed for a journey to New York. I was severely missing the comedy I had grown to love, and, in many ways, depended on in Amsterdam. I travelled to an island, similar in size to Yell, and enrolled in New York’s Upright Citizen’s Brigade Improv 101 course, a week-long intensive in improv. During this time I rehearsed, read, watched, studied, performed and breathed improv.

It was great, and New York wasn’t at all as scary as 80s movies make it out to be. 
Now back and focused, my aim is to remain on my true love, Shetland, and set up a monthly comedy night with improv and stand up.

After sending the word out, I started up classes at the end of November. We rehearse every week, focusing on a different aspect of the artform each time. Practice includes warm ups, short exercises to focus the mind and learn how to set up then develop a sketch, as well as rehearsing the short form improv games we will be performing on the night.

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Anderson High School pupil Paul Sansom has been coming to the classes.

He says: “When I first heard about this improv I was apprehensive, I’ve always enjoyed acting and felt I had an alright sense of humour, but this seemed to take both to a new level.

“I was nervous as we started the first session, but with Marjolein’s great direction, the atmosphere soon warmed up! After that first day I was hooked. Every week we learned more about the elaborate world of improvisational comedy, and the more I learned, the more I loved it. Improv unlocked a whole new level of awesome self-expression that was unbeknown to me before. Most of all it’s just good fun, every part of it, and I’ve made some new friends to boot.”
The classes to date have been going great, with many participants new to improv, mastering techniques and creating hilarious sketches. The real test will come on the night, the audience is in and the nerves are on.

Contrary to what many people say before, and sometimes after, seeing an improvised show, there is nothing prepared. Even after receiving the suggestion from the audience, you may get an idea, turn to your partner to act it out then they come out with something completely different before you can speak your line. Improv is always changing and growing, it’s the role of the improviser to listen, accept and keep moving with the sketch.

The first night will be on Friday 22nd January in the Lerwick Legion, for all ages, although discretion is advised as words and themes may not be suitable for younger members. No censorship in comedy here.

After this first night we’ll take some time to regroup and focus.

My aim is to have a group of improvisers, and a name for said group, one that can host the monthly comedy night. Then as well as that, there will be weekly classes for those interested in taking up and trying their hand at improvising.

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Photos: Dave Donaldson

Strike Up the Band

Shetland’s many musical activities were recently added to with the formation of the Shetland Mandolin Band. Jenny Henry, who teaches the instrument 
‘aboot da night’ at the High Level Music Centre in Lerwick, got the group going – sooner rather than later, due to her incompetence with social media – 
and they met fortnightly during November.

Like many a fine musical idea it started with a session. But – unlike a lot of those ideas – the Shetland Mandolin Band was not forgotten once the music stopped.

Organiser Jenny Henry says: “The idea of a mandolin band, or ‘orchestra’ even, has been spoken about tentatively whenever a few players have got together at the folk festival or a session of some kind, but none of us ever got round to doing anything about it.

“Since I started teaching, and with pupil numbers increasing, it became fairly obvious a group of some sort would be a great help to new players. They could meet together, preferably with more experienced mandolinists, to share tunes, pick up tips, and just enjoy playing along with other folk rather than just sitting with me for half an hour at their lesson.

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“I thought I’d message a few folk I knew of who played and see what their thoughts were. After adding some names to a Facebook message I logged off thinking I’d write the actual ideas down later when I’d thought about it a bit more… then I got a couple of ‘pings’ asking what this empty message was about! Obviously Facebook doesn’t like you hanging about, so I said I thought it was time to get a mandolin group together and would they be interested?

“The response was very favourable, so I just went ahead and booked a hall, set a day and time, set up a group page on Facebook and invited lots of folk. I couldn’t believe it when player after player turned up on the first night – 30 in all, plus a double bass player. It was a great night and the consensus was to meet fortnightly.”

The first meeting of the group was informal, but plans have quickly developed to help the less experienced to learn from accomplished players – including some of the isles’ most famous musicians.

Jenny says: “We just played tunes off the cuff, trying to do some of them a bit slower so beginners could join in where they could, and there wasn’t any structure to it. But you forget how intimidating things can be for a learner, whatever the subject, and we’ve now decided that the first half-hour or so of our sessions will be planned beforehand and aimed at the less experienced players, so they can learn up the tunes between times.

“The band’s lucky to have the likes of Gary Peterson – of Hom Bru fame and probably one of the main reasons there are so many mandolin players in the islands – along with accomplished players like Christine Hughson, Grant Nicol, Trevor Jamieson and Terry Irvine to name a few, coming along.

“That’s a great boost to those who are newer to the instrument, maybe playing it as a second instrument or even those who’ve played in the house for a long time but haven’t played much along with other folk.

“The biggest challenge, I think, is going to be making sure the experienced players don’t get too bored and the beginners don’t get too scared! But everybody seems keen to make it work as an inclusive group, and the idea is that we’ll arrange the music to suit all levels so that everybody can play a part in whatever tune we’re playing.

“It would be great if there were more mandolas or other bigger mandolin-family instruments, but it’s mostly mandolins at the moment, accompanied by May Gair’s excellent bass playing, and we’ve had a couple of guitarists along too which is splendid; it makes a big odds having the accompaniment.

“Much of what we’ve played so far is ‘traditional’, but we’re planning to branch out and play a selection of musical styles. And there are some great ideas being suggested, so if we ever make a public appearance there should be something to suit everybody, and some surprises for the audience as well.”

As well as getting more involved with playing and teaching lately, and getting the ball rolling with the band, Jenny would like to find out more about the history of mandolin playing in Shetland, with a view to producing a publication in the future.

She is looking for stories and photos relating to local players, visiting artists, instruments, concerts, concert programmes, in fact anything to do with the instrument, even shop or makers’ receipts and records.

Having played since the 
mid-70s, she knows a bit 
about the recent history, but anything previous to that 
era would be particularly welcomed.

“I’ve found a few bits and pieces in the museum and archive’s online collections, 
but I’m sure there has to be 
more out there and it would 
be most splendid if folk got in touch with even the peeriest 
bit of information,” Jenny 
said.

Contact Jenny via email on jenny.henry60@gmail.com;
by mail to 126 Sandveien, Lerwick, ZE1 0RW; or phone 
07787 344073.

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Photos: Kevin Jones