Exhibition tells soldier’s tragic story

A new exhibition case telling the story of a First World War soldier has been unveiled at Shetland Museum.

The First World War display at Shetland Museum.
The First World War display at Shetland Museum.

The display highlights the life of Private Karl Manson and the Battle of Arras, which claimed the lives of at least 20 Shetlanders.

On show is a Seaforth Highlander uniform as well as personal belongings and letters belonging to Private Manson, including a ring engraved with “ARRAS”. The letters, to his mother, are especially poignant, showing a bright and intelligent young man whose life, like thousands of others, was cut short by war.

Born in 1897, Karl was killed, aged 19. He had signed up into army service straight out of school. On Friday, May 15th, 1916 he completed his education at the Anderson Institute and the following Monday he was bound south for army training.

Keen to “do his bit” he explains in a letter to his father that he should like to “get a taste of war before it is all over”.

His division were sent over the parapet on 9th April, 1917, faced by driving sleet and steady machine-gun and sniper fire, Karl paused to dress a friend’s hand who had been wounded before carrying on towards his objective.

This objective was never met. He was shot outright by a bullet through the heart.
Once the gunfire had settled down, Willie Irvine, another Shetlander, discovered Karl’s body and recognised him as another Shetlander. He took Karl’s pay book, ring and family photos to return to his mother.

The exhibition also highlights the Roll of Honour & Service for Shetland which was compiled by Karl’s father, Thomas Manson. Thomas Manson was the then editor of the Shetland News and as the war progressed he kept islanders up to date with news of casualties.

Following the war he painstakingly visited every home throughout the isles and collated a list of those who were killed and those who served. A copy of the Roll of Honour is available to browse.

The exhibition will run throughout 2016 in the upper galleries of the museum.


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