The Shetland Bus

Today was given over to Shetland Bus day.

Having read about the Shetland Bus operation in David Howarth’s book after our visit last year, I wanted to visit the main places involved in the operation. Howarth himself was charged with organisation of the operation, which was an Special Operations Executive operation manned by Norwegians running a clandestine route between Shetland and Norway during World War 2.

The operation supplied Norwegian resistance with arms, sabotage specialists, and other resources, whilst evacuating from Norway men, women, and children who were in imminent danger. The Norwegian volunteers involved made the journey in small fishing boats in the worst sea conditions. Norwegian fishing boats were used to eliminate any suspicion on the part of the Germans. Many of the volunteers lost their lives in the process, more often due to conditions at sea than enemy action, but there are a few good stories around the whole operation and a film was made based on the story too.

Our initial destination was the first base for the operation in Lunna. Unfortunately, the house at Lunna which was used throughout the start of the operation was undergoing refurbishment, so we could only see it from the outside. However, we parked at the small nearby church, Lunna kirk, and found a couple of graves of the Norwegians who’d lost their lives as part of the operation, and a memorial to David Howarth, whose ashes were scattered on the waters of Lunna Bay after his death in 1991. We went inside the kirk too, which is a small, picturesque, and peaceful place of worship.

Having visited Lunna, we headed to Hillswick, hoping to get some lunch from the seal sanctuary there. Unfortunately, it was closed, so we headed instead to the lighthouse and cliffs at nearby Esha Ness.

Esha Ness lighthouse was designed by David Stevenson in 1929 and is unusual, having, as it does, a square tower – the idea being that it would be easier to source interior fittings.

Our next port of call on the way back south was Mavis Grind – a small piece of land, or isthmus, which was used by the Vikings as a short cut between the North Sea and the Atlantic. They used to drag their longships overland from one sea to the other, and it was a place that was visit on an annual basis by the Blue Peter team for a reconstruction of this event, until a local was rather rude to a member of the Blue Peter team, who haven’t been back since! It’s now used as a crossing place for otters.

Finally, we headed down to Shetland’s former capital, Scalloway, which is a pretty town on the western side of Mainland. Emma took quite a shine to the place. Scalloway was used as the base for the Shetland Bus operation once it outgrew Lunna. A slipway was built and a proper boathouse was used to maintain and repair the fishing boats involved in the operation. Eventually, later in the war, when the cover had pretty much been blown, the operation was given three ‘submarine chaser’ vessels by the U.S. navy and no more lives were lost as part of the operation. There is still a strong bond between the people of Scalloway in particular and Norway and there is now a permanent memorial to the brave individuals who took part in the Shetland Bus operation.