26th May 2018
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Fond return for woman born in Unst during horrendous blizzard

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From left, Anne Murray, Carrie Jamieson and Bill Murray. Front, the "baby" Karen Murray. Click on image to enlarge.

From left, Anne Murray, Carrie Jamieson and Bill Murray. Front, the "baby" Karen Murray. Click on image to enlarge.

The woman who was the last person to be born in Unst before the GP decided all deliveries should be in Lerwick revisited the island recently for the first time since she was a baby – and was amazed to meet the nurse, now 87, who helped deliver her 43 years ago.

Karen Murray, who lives in Southmoor, Oxfordshire, arrived during a blizzard on Boxing Day, 1965. She was delivered by Dr Bobby Robertson and district nurse at the time Carrie Jamieson, but only just.

Owing to the bad weather, she was almost born without any medical assistance at Quoys, which is situated quarter of a mile off the Burrafirth road.

Dr Robertson got the call late at night and went to pick up nurse Jamieson. Although they were helped by a snow plough and Land Rover, the snow was so deep that it took them five hours to reach the house.

The arduous task prompted Dr Robertson to take the decision that from then and on all babies should be born in Ler­wick, although some babies have been born in the island since.

Karen’s parents, Bill, who was a fireman with the RAF and stationed at Saxa Vord at the time, and Anne, lived in Unst for about two and a half years during the 1960s. Karen was their first baby.

This was the family’s first trip back to Shetland since the 1960s and Mr and Mrs Murray, who now live in Spain, said they hadn’t seen many changes to the isle.

They made a trip to see the house at Quoys, which unfortunately now lies derelict. Karen said: “It was in a poor state but we were really pleased to see it.”

The family were also happy to learn that Dr Robertson is still alive and well. The incident is in fact mentioned in his recent book – Bombs, Boils and Brushes, an account of his life working as a rural doctor. The family was unable to meet him during their trip.

They did however meet with Mrs Jamieson, who still lives in the isle. The octagenarian said she could remember the night well. She said: “It was some night, I’m telling you!”

Mrs Jamieson said she had seen the young couple a few days previously and had told Mrs Murray that she would be due to give birth soon.

She said: “It was so thick with snow. We’d just had tea and we were in the sitting room when the young man called to ask advice as his wife thought she had indigestion, but I said no, she would be in labour, and we would have to try and get to them.”

She rang the doctor’s house but he was out on another call, and his wife told Mrs Jamieson he would be back soon.

She said: “At 11 o’clock he came to pick me up and we got to Quoys at two o’clock when the baby was appearing.”

After struggling to get to the couple for so long, they then had the task of getting home again, which was no mean feat: even with the help of a snow plough, at one point they had to dig the Land Rover out of a snow drift and had to walk about three miles in the deep snow.

Mrs Jamieson said: “I’d love to see the whole thing in a film, it was amusing in a sense. You don’t get adventures like that any­more and I thoroughly enjoyed it!”

Karen said it was “amazing” to finally meet the woman who helped deliver her all those years ago: “She looked so well and she was really pleased to see us – she remembered my mum and dad well.

“It was our first time back and it couldn’t have been better, we had lovely accommodation and met lovely people, so it went really well.”

Mrs Jamieson said she was shocked but pleased to see the family again: “I could not believe it! It was just splendid; everything had turned out fine. It was some night but it was fine to see them.”

* * * * * * * * *

Clarification

21.08.09: In our story last week about Karen Murray revisiting her birthplace in Unst, we stated that she was the last person to be born in Unst, in 1965. This was incorrect. Many babies have been born in the isle since then. Although Dr Bobby Robertson decided that it would be easier for babies to be born in Lerwick, this was never made compulsory according to director of public health Dr Sarah Taylor. We apologise for the annoyance this has caused in Unst this week and are happy to set the record straight.

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About Adam Civico

The Shetland Times editor since October 2012. Born and bred in South Yorkshire, before moving to Shetland I was assistant editor at the Barnsley Chronicle, where my journalism career began. When not editing The Shetland Times I can be found walking or (occasionally) running, enjoying good food, or trying to find the latest Sheffield Wednesday result. Contact me with your news and views about Shetland – a.civico@shetlandtimes.co.uk, on Twitter @adamcivico or telephone 01595 746715.

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