It was a historic, moving and above all celebratory day for the people of Scalloway as Norway’s Prime Minister graced the village to officially declare its brand new museum open.
Nine years after the Scalloway History Group and Shetland Bus Friendship Society (SBFS) teamed up to develop the new building, and 70 years since the Shetland Bus operation base was established in Scalloway, Jens Stoltenberg carried out the ceremonial honours in front of hundreds of happy villagers and visitors.
The morning saw a succession of poignant tributes to the Norwegians who lost their lives while taking part in the heroic Shetland Bus operations, a vital part of the fight against Nazi Germany’s occupation of Norway during World War II.
The clandestine special operations group’s activities form a major part of the new, larger and modern museum’s permanent exhibition. There are wooden replicas of some of the ships used to transport people and equipment to contribute to sabotage and other resistance activities.
Also exhibited is one of the lifeboats carried on a Shetland Bus boat, one of several made by local boat builder Walter Duncan of Hamnavoe and brought here aboard the Heland last year. Shetland Amenity Trust has built a wooden replica wheelhouse, named Skalavag, featuring the same design as that found on the Shetland Bus vessels.
In a short speech outside the new museum’s entrance – which sits in the shadow Scalloway Castle – Mr Stoltenberg said it was a “pleasure” and an “honour” to open the building.
Paying tribute to the assistance Shetlanders provided between 1941 and 1945, Mr Stoltenberg said: “Today we commemorate an important part of our common history: that of the fight against Nazi German occupation during the Second World War.
“Here in Scalloway, and before that in Lunna, Norwegians were treated with outstanding generosity and hospitality. Without your active support, neither the Shetland Bus nor the Norwegian air operation from Sullom Voe and Sumburgh could have taken place.
“Seventy years ago, the base of Shetland Bus operations was established here in Scalloway. Today we mark a proud part of our war history by establishing this permanent exhibition at the Scalloway Museum.
“The exhibition will tell the stories of hardship, hospitality, bravery and solidarity between Shetland and Norway. A number of individuals and organisations have made a tremendous contribution to make this important project a reality. I thank you all for your efforts to keep this proud and common history alive for future generations.”
To warm applause and cheers from those gathered to witness the momentous event, Mr Stoltenberg announced: “It is also in profound gratitude for Shetland’s support to Norway during the Second World War that I now have the pleasure of declaring the new Scalloway Museum officially opened.”
A short poetry reading was followed by an impromptu flyover by coastguard helicopter Oscar Charlie.
Young girls Sarah and Emma Anderson then proudly presented a Shetland shawl to Ingrid Stoltenberg, the prime minister’s wife, who thanked them kindly for the beautiful gift.
Following the opening, a community party at Scalloway Harbour’s Muckle Yard began, with a line-up of live music including Jenna Reid, Maggie Adamson and Sheila Henderson. Among the attractions were a barbecue selling local fish and meat products, locally produced cakes and a variety of side stalls and two kubb courts providing some Viking-style entertainment.
Shetland Bus boats the Hitra and Heland, floating Norwegian museums Nybakk and Haugefisk, Norwegian Coastguard vessel Bergen and local vessels the Swan and Aith lifeboat were alongside the harbour and open to the public.
SBFS secretary John Nicolson described the day as a “momentous occasion” for the whole community. He said the society was “absolutely thrilled” to have attracted Prime Minister Stoltenberg to open the museum.
“It has taken almost a decade of dedicated hard work to bring this project to life, and the museum truly is a wonderful asset for our community,” he said.
“It’s been a long, long process and it’s really a very happy moment for everybody to see it all coming together,” Mr Nicolson continued. “It’s not just what it can do for Shetland-Norwegian relations, it’s what it can do in pulling the community together too. It’s really been a tremendous force for uniting, bringing folk together.”
Earlier, the visiting dignitaries began the day with a sombre wreath-laying ceremony at the Norwegian war graves in the Knab cemetery. On a sunny but breezy and decidedly cool morning, Mr Stoltenberg and his wife were joined by multi-linguist Derick Herning of the Norwegian Shetland Friendship Society and a trio of pipers during the short, dignified observance.
Mr Stoltenberg said those who established the Shetland Bus risked their lives with “each and every journey”, and he felt privileged “to be here to honour those who lost their young lives in the name of freedom and democracy”. He said the Norwegian people would be “eternally grateful for those who made the ultimate sacrifice”.
The VIP guests had an action-packed schedule, with barely a minute to spare during their 24-hour visit. Within 20 minutes they were being greeted by hooting horns from grinning pupils at Scalloway School, where head teacher Morag Fox, her staff and the bairns pulled out all the stops for the special visitors.
In the school’s packed assembly hall, Norway’s first couple were met with a sea of miniature Norwegian and Shetland flags waved by the delighted, impeccably well-behaved children. They were treated to a whistle-stop cultural tour which, though condensed into 12 minutes, still managed to encompass Norwegian fiddle tunes, Shetland dancing and Guinean drumbeats performed by the pupils.
Mr Stoltenberg thanked the school for the lovely reception, saying he had thoroughly enjoyed the “beautiful music” and was especially taken with the display of flag-waving.
After being sent on their way with three hearty cheers, the Stoltenbergs joined 250 school pupils, members of the local community and Norwegian visitors for a civic parade through the streets of Scalloway and down to the Shetland Bus memorial at the village’s picturesque seafront.
Arriving on Main Street in a black Mercedes, the Prime Minister was one of several dignitaries to lay wreaths at the foot of the memorial. Jack Burgess of the Shetland Bus Friendship Society and the captain of the Hitra were also among those laying garlands.
The Rev Magnus Williamson then gave a short, impassioned sermon marking the sacrifices made by those who lost their lives, before overseeing a well-observed minute’s silence in remembrance of the fallen.
SIC chief executive Alistair Buchan described it as a “very special and very moving day”, while Mr Stoltenberg complimented the warm embraces his countrymen had received during the war from people first in Lunna, then in Scalloway.
He singled out for special tributes the surviving veteran who was present, Sverre Syversen, and the late, highly-decorated Leif Larsen, whose adventures have become the stuff of legend and are known to most Norwegians through a popular film about the Shetland Bus.