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Community / Shetland marks WW1 armistice

The Festival of remembrance at the Clickimin was a joint endeavour of local history groups. Photos: Alex Garrick-Wright

A SERIES of events in Shetland to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War are under way in Lerwick, writes Alex Garrick-Wright.

The first part of the Festival of Remembrance was a free exhibition in the Clickimin Leisure Centre. A joint endeavour by local history and family research groups from across the isles, schools, history enthusiasts and the Cabin Museum, the exhibition’s main focus is putting the First World War into a local context.

Refered to at the time as The Great Warand The War to End All Wars, the First World war lasted from July 1914 to November 1918, when the German government signed the Armistice and officially ended hostilities. Up to 19 million servicemen from all involved nations lost their lives during the conflict.

Hundreds of men and boys from the isles voluntarily enlisted in land and sea forces to fight in the war; over 600 did not return.

Photographs and personal stories of Shetlanders, their contributions to the war, and the effect on their communities were the heart of the wide-ranging and impressively researched exhibition, which was the product of almost four years’ work by the various groups.

The exhibition was also raising money for a variety of charities including The Royal British Legion (Scotland), the Erskine Hospital, the RAF Association, The Merchant Navy Association and the British Limbless Ex-Servicemen’s Association,

One of the most impressive contributions was the detailed information about the lives of former Anderson Institute pupils who fought in the war. History teacher Jon Sandison, who was instrumental in research over the last four year, explained the level of work that went into the exhibition.

“They’re been looking at building up information on where [the soldiers] came from,” Mr Sandison said, “where they were killed, what their family background was, and also making links between the different communities of Shetland. Because all of the 49 who are on the Anderson Educational Institute memorial; all of the 49 are from different parts of Shetland.

“So, this is very much the story of the Anderson Institute memorial, but it’s also about the wider story of Shetland, and the pupils who were at the school at the time,” he said.

The volunteers and organisers were kept busy with a steady stream of visitors keen to learn more about the lives of local folk in the war. The small exhibition space was sometimes too packed to freely move through, as people chatted to the history group researchers, read the life stories and exploits of the Shetland men, and examined an array of curios and artefacts that included medal collections, antique communication equipment and artillery casings.

The organisers and participants were pleased to see the exhibition being well-received:

 “I think it’s been excellent,” said Pat Christie, chair of the Cunningsburgh History Group. “I think it’s been a lovely buzz, when you get all these history groups together, and everybody speaking. And what an amount of amazing material! Really excellent.

“I think it’s been very successful,” said Andy Sandison of the Whalsay Heritage Centre. “The crowds continue to grow as the day has gone on… A lot of interest shown.”

The Festival of Remembrance continues on Saturday evening with a free concert in Clickimin, featuring poetry and music from acclaimed fiddle group Hjaltibonhoga, the Lerwick Pipe Band and the Lerwick Brass Band. There will also be a ‘drumhead service’, conducted at an altar made of drums, as it would have been made in the field during the war.

Sunday morning will see the annual Armistice Day memorial held at the Lerwick War Memorial, as well as an event at St Ninians’ Isle by Pages of the Sea, a nationwide art project which will see the images of fallen soldiers drawn in the sand on beaches up and down the UK.

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