Times Past

25 Years Ago

Leif Larsen, the Norwegian seaman whose exploits during the Shetland Bus operation made him one of the heroes of the Second World War, has made a nostalgic visit to the isles this week. Forty years after the hostilities there is renewed interest in those eventful years.

In Oslo, the weekly paper Allers is preparing a series of articles on Norway in the war, one of the most important articles is the Shetland Bus. Journalist Turid Beth Hansen hit on the idea of bringing Leif Larsen, now aged 79, back to Shetland to visit his war time haunts and meet old friends.

With a photographer from the magazine they arrived on Tuesday morning having flown from Bergen via Stavanger and Aberdeen. On Wednesday morning they visited Scalloway where they met Jack Moore, whose firm supplied the fishing boats that carried on the campaign in the early years of the war and the sub-chasers that replaced them in 1943.

Yesterday they visited Lunna where Mr Larsen was based before the operation moved to Scalloway. They fly home today after a memorable visit.

Mr Larsen still feels at home in old parts of Lerwick and Scalloway, but was bemused by all the changes that have occurred on the outskirts of these areas.

The visitors expressed surprise at the welcome they have received in Shetland. They expected interest from the older residents but did not realise that “Shetland Larsen” was well known here as he is in Norway.

50 Years Ago

A Lerwick Log: The “buroo” is 50 years old. On 1st February 1910, 62 employment agencies opened in Britain. That morning Mr Churchill, as president of the Board of Trade (in a Liberal government let it be noted!) visited three exchanges in London; “They are pieces of social mechanism and are, I believe, absolutely essential to any well ordered community”.

It took Shetland about 10 years to catch up with the rest of the country of course. The early history of the Shetland Employment Exchange is (perhaps mercifully) buried in the mists of time, but it appears to have started in Harrison Square with a lawyer, Mr Huggins, acting as agent. I can’t trace anyone who was behind the counter in those days, but I have chatted with a man who was on the other side of the counter. It would seem the buroo was helpful with emigration in an indirect way.

My informant is now a successful businessman in New Zealand and he might have not done so well for himself had it not been for the buroo. “My pal and I had just come back from the war. We had no jobs so we were advised to ‘sign on’. I stood in the long queue down there at the harbour, but when I eventually got to the counter I was told that I was in the wrong line and was told to tack onto the end of another lot. Before I could do so my pal came up to me and said ‘I’m shipping out on the next ship to Canada’, so I didn’t join the other line – I shipped out on the first boat for New Zealand.”

The buroo has had many homes. From Harrison Square it moved to a hut somewhere out the North Ness, then to the Garrison Theatre (the old “Drill Hall”), the north end of the Fish Mart, another office near Stove and Smith, up to where Halcrow’s café now is and then back to Harrison Square. After the Second World War it was housed at the Fort until it found, what should be, permanent headquarters at Harbour Street.

Unemployment figures from the early days are hard to trace too but July, 1929, saw 101 registered unemployed – far less than at present – but it should be remembered that many classes of people were not eligible for benefit in those days.

The whole character of the employment agency has changed for the better over the years. The shabby office in a back street has given way to modern premises, and the service goes far beyond the original buroo. At Harbour Street they can give advice to employer and employee in every profession.

100 Years Ago

Notes and Views – By the time these notes appear the election of a member to represent the constituency of Orkney and Shetland will be a thing of the past, and there is therefore not much good in commenting on things political. The time has arrived for reviewing the situation, and also for bidding farewell to politics and Mr T.W. Hemsley for a long time to come. Six years hence – who knows? – at the time of dissolution of the Liberal Government, I may have to deal with similar things again.

The most noticeable feature about this election, so far as the Tory side is concerned, has been, that it has not been fought on political questions at all. It was fought in the early part on The Shetland Times and later on the whaling. In both cases the attack was a notorious failure. One of the most disgraceful happenings in the whole election was that exposed by you a fortnight ago, where some contributor to your contemporary had attempted, by concealing information, to convey the impression that you had purposely omitted some very important words from a published report of the Whaling Bill, with the intention of misleading the Shetlanders. He has made no reply to your answer, not even a gentleman’s apology. He probably prefers to remain in safe anonymity. Such is a Shetland Tory!

And what shall I more say about the heroic efforts of the local Tories? Judged by their press, they are possessed of an unbounded spirit of optimistic enthusiasm, a large amount of bad taste, and a plentiful lack of knowledge of political affairs. Nor have such of them as have appeared in public, either in their news-sheet or otherwise, been at pains to conceal the two last. Curiously enough, they dealt little with the question of the House of Lords, little with the question of the Budget, little with political matters qua political matters, but with every irrelevant point that hard-wrought reason or imagination could supply.  : : : : : : : :   Rare fishes – Several time this week Scalloway and Burra fishermen have caught on their haddock lines specimens of the “Argentine” or “Silver Smelt”, and recently one of these was sent to Aberdeen to be identified. It is mostly found in deep water, and though there is no evidence that it takes bait readily, it occasionally takes a bare bright hook when fishermen are in the act of hauling their lines. Several of these were caught by Lerwick fishermen in recent years. This fish is about the length of a small herring, but thicker and not so broad or deep. It has large silvery scales, and they eyes are large for the size of the fish. Another very rare fish, of which a specimen was landed at Hillswick the other week is the “Lesser Forkbeard”.  It was sent on to the fishery board naturalists for identification. There is no record of any of these having been seen at Lerwick, but a “Greater Forkbeard” was landed there about a dozen years ago. The “Lesser Forkbeard” is in appearance something like a haddock, or greyish colour. It has fins on either side which stretch out to a long slender fork, hence its name.


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