Past Life: A Boy Scout’s Wartime Diary

From Shetland Life, September 1985, No. 59

September 1914 and William Johnson’s diary records the stranding of the ss Oceanic at Foula, the loss of three British cruisers and, nearer home, an unexplained dispute at Walls.

1.    Tuesday….. Weather getting colder and more unsettled. Rainy all day. A torpedo boat came in North Mouth about 8 o’clock and anchored, not a light to be seen.

2.    Wednesday….. Fine day. Nothing much doing. An airship yesterday was said to have flown over Paris. No serious damage was done. Scout meeting 7.30pm.

3.    Thursday….. Was not at school owing to mother being ill in bed. Had to do all the housewifery. Nearly finished Harriet’s  bicycle.

4.    Friday….. Brass Band practising. Earl brought a mail from south. Plenty of news in the paper Shetland News.

5.    Saturday….. H.M.S. Bellona came in. H.M.S. Pathfinder was sunk by a mine. She was the sister ship to the Forward. St. Rognvald came at 11.30pm. Got papers about 12 midnight.

6.    Sunday….. Was on duty at 7.30pm off at the Forward, Bellona and S/S Grensha. Was off at the Oceanic. The Matua also came. Forward and two liners went out at night.

7.    Monday….. Not much news. There was a band practising at 8.30pm. Steamer went about 10.45pm. Splendid night. Bright moonlight. Picture Palace open again.

8.    Tuesday….. Fine day. Was off at torpedo boat ‘Bat’. The launch took 25 sailors and four of us equals 29. Nearly under. Spoke to one of the Col. Sergts. of the R.N.R.

9.    Wednesday….. Oceanic reported to be ashore at Foula. Forward stood by then the Alsatian. They say it’s doubtful to refloat her. Scout meeting. Management Com. formed. To get Swedish drill from the sergeant.

10.    Thursday….. Mother was not so well again. Our forces still on the offensive. Oceanic became a total loss.

11.    Friday….. Germany getting ‘crushed’. No physical drill yet. Supposed to be second night of it. Brass Band practising till 10pm. Fine night. Lerwick dull.

12.    Saturday…..Mother, Dorothy and Jimmy were at Scalloway with uncle Bob and aunt Maggie. Fine time. Was at Ander Hill. It was awful rough going across, had to land at the manse pier. Much the same coming back. Not much doing. Dutch drifter came in.

13.    Sunday….. Not much doing. Germans still retreating. Not a good day. Very rainy at night. Was at Sunday School as usual.

14.    Monday….. Day a little better. Getting separate science at school on Magnetism and Electricity. Was keeping guard down at the steamer. She sailed at 9.15pm. Harriet Stout  has some relations going to America.

15.    Tuesday…..Cleared Scouts belongings out of hall up to Coachhouse at the back of the hall. Torpedoes still in harbour. Star. Fairy. Flying Fish. Bat.

16.    Wednesday….. Fine day. Torpedo boats at Alexandra Wharf. No Scout meeting. R.N. Reserves formed a Reading Room at the hall.

17.     Thursday….. The Flying Fish was in at the Wharf. Was on board with Jim from 4.30 to 6.30pm. We made two or three acquaintances. We were shown all engines and stoke room. We were in the Junior Engineer’s apartment. He explained everything that was in his line. Going to Cromarty at 12 o’clock tonight not to return.

18.    Friday….. The Alsatian came in and landed a man suffering from appendicitis at the Gilbert Bain 5.15pm. Had a band practising. Got use of Scout drum and cymbals for a wonder. Practising every Friday.

19.    Saturday….. Did not go to Ander Hill because The Wireless is not there now. Some hopes of salving the Oceanic. Allies still progressing. Very cold at night. No ships in the harbour.

20.    Sunday….. Fine day. Steamer arrived this morning at 6 o’clock. Someone nearly murdered another person at Walls. Fine night but cold. Was out a walk with Charlie till 9. Mr Dixon  away owing to his father’s death.

21.    Monday….. Not much doing. Night school opened. Charlie and I had a night of it from 7-10 o’clock it being a fine night. Charlie had no class to go to at the night school.

22.    Tuesday….. The S.S. Mantua was lying between the Knab and Ham. When we came to school this morning she went out about 10.30am. Allies still progressing. British Naval Disaster. German submarine sank three First Class Cruisers.

23.    Wednesday….. Great excitement was when the news came. Bought new battery for flashlamp. Full news about sinking of British ships in War News. Was up at Fort at 7 o’clock till 9. Had a fine time. Gramophone was going, fiddle etc.

24.    Thursday….. Nothing much doing. No ships here yet. Delivered notices 4½d for Feuers and Heritors. Charlie at night school. Good news from the front. Weather colder. Mr Dixon came with the steamer.

25.    Friday….. Showery day. Mr Dixon commenced work this morning after being away for a week owing to his father’s death. Had band practising at 8.30. Bad night. Only about nine present.

26.    Saturday….. Showery again. Steamer came about 5 o’clock. Got papers describing destruction of Rheims Cathedral. Was with Charlie until passing nine.

27.    Sunday….. Was at church and Sunday school. It came such a bad day that I was not out at all. Was to  have been a walk with Charlie; but alas it was pouring.

28.    Monday….. Not much news from the front. Had an English examination. Not very hard. It was showery and moon light. Was with Charlie from 8-10 o’clock. Had a fine time.

29.    Tuesday….. Fine day but cold. Hardly any news. From what was was encouraging. Charlie was at night school. Had fun out over the roads.

30.    Wednesday….. Rainy. Charlie night school so I went to the pictures. It was special night to benefit P.O.W. Fund. Mrs and Mr Anderson and Mackie Scott sang.


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