Memories Of Wick - Connie Dunnet Sutherland - Part Four
23rd February 2014
Connie Dunnett Sutherland ( late of St Fergus Arms, Wick, now domiciled in Edinburgh).
Connie has sent us some of her memories of growing up in Wick.
‘The Shetland Bus’.
It was about this time that Norwegian ‘freedom fighters’ began taking fishing boats, rowing boats – anything they could get hold of and making a ‘run’ for the Orkney and Shetland islands. Ever heard of ‘the Shetland Bus’? Brave fighters but how many perished on the way through hypothermia, shooting and rough weather or drowning? I think of them every time Norwegian troops appear at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo – like the ‘Konigin’ guard! Caithness people are understood to be descended from Norwegians, as are Faeroese, Shetland and Orkney islanders who used to be under the Norwegian or Danish rule until two centuries ago. Years ago I was approached by two Norwegians collecting poste restante mail and was struck by their accents – very, very similar to the accent of the Canisbay people near John O’ Groats! Felt quite homesick at the time and kept them in conversation as long as I decently could.
Uncle Jimmy, civilian war effort.
Wick was designated a ‘protected zone’ or area. No-one was allowed to leave the County of Caithness or enter without a special permit as well as your identity card. My youngest uncle, Jimmy, worked in munitions in Coventry. He had never been one for writing letters. When questioned angrily he would always say ‘I was thinking of you’ – not entirely acceptable to his mother – my Grandmother. As Coventry was being reduced to rubble my Gran managed to get through by telephone, courtesy of our local Police station* to her eldest son, Jack, a Policeman in Liverpool, to see if he could get leave to look for Jimmy in Coventry. Fortunately he was allowed to go and look for him, The street where Jimmy lodged had almost been razed to the ground and Jack eventually found him sleeping on the platform of the underground railway.
* No-one today would believe how impossible things were then;for telephone, you had to be on a waiting list (-we got one in 1969, the year Jimmy died, in order to contact him in illness).
The only Civilians were elderly people or those who would fight if they were fit and healthy. There were many men in munitions or other heavy engineering works, skilled men in aircraft factories or Bevan Boys who, because they were in civilian clothes, were subjected to vile insults or beatings by those wearing the envied forces uniform who were quite happy to sit back and have an easy war while sitting in judgment on those whose situations they were ignorant of. Not all I hasten to add, but I have personal experience of the trials and insults endured by those fellow human beings through the experiences of my own uncle. His health was destroyed through years of rheumatic fever caused when only a laddie of 8years old. He had jumped into Wick inner harbour to save his pal who had fallen in. Dared to go near the harbour or the river to play, he was afraid to go home and confess he had disobeyed and so he stayed out until his clothes dried. Neither laddie could swim, but the crew of a seine netter fished them both out.
My Uncle had thrown a lifebelt to his chum but unfortunately had thrown himself in with it. My Gran only knew about it when the boy' s father told her that her boy had saved his son's life. I feel it unacceptable that people like him, living out the war working long hours at war work beyond their strength in cities undergoing the blitz were a target for ignorant bullies because of their civilian clothes. That is the unacceptable side of human nature that will never change. There were other examples. Many Italian families had settled in Britain before WWI even and in accordance with their custom of arranged marriages had brought wives over from Italy for their sons. The sons were born in this country but one of the sons wives was still an Italian citizen and when Italy entered the war on the side of Germany, it was too late to apply for British citizenship. She and her husband and the two children were sent to an internment camp for the duration of the war- and the bully element wrecked his shop. What would any of these wreckers have done.
The war in Europe ended on 8th May 1945, V.E. Day, amid great Countrywide Celebrations. The war in Asia continued until 14th August 1945 when Japan capitulated after the atomic bombs were dropped some months earlier.
Memories of Wick - Part One
Memories Of Wick - Part Two
Memories Of Wick - Part Three
Memories Of Wick - Part Four
Memories Of Wick - Part Five
Memories Of Wick - Part Six
Memories Of Wick - Part Seven
Other Wartime Related Items On Caithness.org
Wings Over Wick
A collection of memories on RAF Wick - World War Two compiled by Primary 7 Hillhead School (first published in 1993)