Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Queen Visits RAF Saxa Vord & Unst - 1960 (Updated 23 May 2010)

In 1960 The Royal Yacht Britannia arrived at Baltasound carrying the Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Princess Anne (if I'd had a choice I'd have taken the Britannia instead of the "Overland" too). The Royal couple officially visited Unst and RAF Saxa Vord before travelling on to other parts of Shetland. The weather was not great, wind and rain, so umbrellas and raincoats were much in evidence during the Royal families visit. The Station Commander at the time was Sqn Ldr STJ Hampson. Before leaving Unst the Queen was presented with a Shetland Pony which was named Valkyrie. The Royal Family then
sailed from Uyeasound to carry out further visits to Out Skerries, Whalsay, Lerwick , Scalloway and a number of other Shetland locations

As some of you may be aware a special pink loo was constructed in the Officer's Mess "just in case". In the event it wasn't required during the visit. Afterwards I suspect there may have been a race to conduct the first christening ceremony. However, knowing AMWD – Air Ministry Works Department – the equipment will have been thoroughly tested before the Queen arrived.

Sgt Savoury from the Drill Unit at RAF Uxbridge had been sent up long before the Royal Visit to ensure that all elements of the parade were well practiced. A number of extra servicemen were imported from south for the parade, as was the band. However, very late on the Station Commander noticed that the airmen’s uniforms were not uniform. The kit provided to national servicemen was of a very slightly different hue to that issued to the regulars. The CO decided that the national servicemen would be excluded from the formal part of the proceedings. I suspect that one or two Saxa personnel resented missing their moment of glory; 50 years ago respect for the Royal Family was far greater that it is today.

Most of the photos above were from David Goodall
and some were from Rita McMeechan (Carle)

The following colour photos were left on Unst by the RAF when the station closed:-

In Shetland the Royal visit to RAF Saxa Vord, Unst and various other parts of the islands was an extremely significant event, attitudes were very different - WWII, the Korean War, Suez and rationing were fairly recent memories for many. Queen Elizabeth had been on the throne for only 8 years and Prince Charles was approaching his 12th birthday. The event was covered by national newspapers and by the local “Shetland Times” in particular. This was in the days before digital cameras and the internet so “news” didn’t appear almost instantaneously. The “Shetland Times” devoted a number of pages to the visit; some of these are reproduced below. (Left click on pictures to enlarge, but because of the size of the pictures some “zooming” will be necessary)


Top Site Watch Change

The trip between the Domestic Site and the Top Site was very scenic in daylight & good weather. The distance of less that 3 miles was usually travelled by bus, Bedford or Landrover. However, when conditions were too bad for MT, more traditional methods were used. During my tour there was a long period of snow and strong crosswinds causing the watch system to be scrapped in favour of 24hr shifts (sometimes longer when the weather was really bad). A childs toboggan was hi-jacked to carry the rations. There was usually some discussion to see who could have the toboggan for the homeward leg. (Some photos from David Goodall, some mine)