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Community / Event commemorates centenary of Shetland’s County War Memorial

Photo: Malcolm Younger/Millgaet Media

THE CENTENARY of the unveiling of the County War Memorial in Lerwick was marked with rededication event earlier today (Saturday).

A short service was held at the memorial before a wreath was laid by council convener Andrea Manson and Lord Lieutenant Bobby Hunter.

Meanwhile, Lerwick Town Hall was hosting an exhibition with photographs, personal stories of those lost in the two wars and documents from the time, with the convener, the Lord Lieutenant and history teacher Jon Sandison on hand to talk about Shetland’s involvement in the Great War.

The loss of life in the First World War deeply impacted local communities, and there is hardly a local family not affected by this. The County War Memorial lists the names of 624 men who never returned.

Almost 4,200 men from Shetland had served in the armed forces – around 35 percent of the male population of the islands.

The memorial at Hillhead in Lerwick was unveiled on 6 January 1924 by Janet Hardy in a solemn ceremony in front of a large crowd.

Lord lieutenant Bobby Hunter and SIC convener Andrea Manson after laying a wreath. Photo: Malcolm Younger/Millgaet Media

She and her husband Thomas had lost three sons in the war – Thomas Jr died of wounds in France in 1914; Charles died in 1916, his ship torpedoed; and William accidentally drowned in 1917.

The Lord Lieutenant said: “The huge loss of life experienced during the Great War had a lasting effect on many families and communities across Shetland. Mrs Hardy, having lost three sons, was among those who suffered the most.

“Since 1924, the County War Memorial has been a place where we as a community turn to for Remembrance and we must continue to preserve the memory of those of our own who have died in conflict.”

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From left to right: Jon Sandison, Andrea Manson and Bobby Hunter. Photo: Shetland News

The new memorial was the first opportunity since the Armistice in November 1918 for a public act of Remembrance of those lost in the war.

The County War Memorial was designed by Edinburgh-based architect Sir Robert Lorimer, who designed over 300 war memorials in Britain and overseas.

It features a cross-shaped base, a column above and a sword on the front, all made in Aberdeen-granite. Bronze panels arrived in November 2023 to complete the construction at a total cost of £2,547.

In 1995, the large side panels on the North and South side of the memorial were added, carrying 359 names of those who died in World War Two.

One hundred years after unveiling the memorial remains a focal point in the community and not just as the location for the annual Remembrance event.

Manson said the memorial is used on a daily basis by local people and visitors alike who read the messages on the wreaths and look for their ancestors’ names.

“I think it [building the memorial] was a fitting tribute for those who lost their lives at the time, and it remains so, it is held in reverence by the people,” she said.

“It is a focus for the community; (…) a focus and reminder to us all that so many people paid the ultimate sacrifice, and it is good that we still honour them now.”

Photo: Malcolm Younger/Millgaet Media

Looking ahead and acknowledging that the process of remembrance is constantly evolving, local historian Jon Sandison said the memorial reminds people of the danger of war.

“The memorial reminds the young people in Shetland, and all people, of the dangers of war; it reminds people of the loss that resulted from war, and also reminds people that we should do all we can to talk and ensure that war can be avoided in the future,” he said.

“The whole process of remembrance has changed in the past 100 years, and I would imagine that in the years to come it will evolve and change further.

“Messages have varied over the last 100 years, but underneath all that is the continuing message that we should always be on our guard, try to avoid war and learn lessons from it.

“We should never glorify war, but we should always take the human stories from it, and look how we could work together in the future to create a better and world.”

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