The next day, we headed a little way up the coast and visited Burra Island (pretty place to live, conveniently close to Lerwick, but not much to do) and then Scalloway, the one-time capital of Lerwick and one of the few towns on the islands. The town was gearing up for its annual summer gala and there was a party atmosphere, but the highlight, for me, was the Shetland Bus.
What’s The Shetland Bus?
When Norway was occupied by the Germans in World War II, Shetland became the nearest place from which allied forces could operate. The burgeoning Norwegian resistance movement didn’t lack spirit but did need supplies and coordination. A sea route was established from Shetland to the Norwegian coast that allowed both people and supplies to be moved between the two countries whilst evading German capture. This became known as the Shetland Bus (find out more here and here or read the excellent book on the subject, The Shetland Bus).
The service was run primarily by the Royal Navy, but the ships used initially were Norwegian fishing boats, which were crewed by genuine Norwegian fishermen – the only people with both the seamanship and the cultural and linguistic knowledge required to complete these difficult missions and move around freely onshore in Norway.
For much of the war, Shetland Bus operations were based out of Scalloway and today a memorial exists to remember the 44 men who lost their lives while serving with the unit. I’d recently re-read The Shetland Bus by David Howarth, who was the naval officer in charge of the operational side of the Shetland Bus. Seeing the names of people he wrote about on the various plaques and memorials really brought the history to life – as did seeing the slipway that had been used to haul the fishing boats out of the water for vital maintenance between missions.