Sunday, 29 August 2010

Trips to Lerwick & “Specials” – 1963/64

Well-mannered servicemen were almost invariably welcomed by the local community in Unst. However, many of the RAF lads had grown up in towns and cities and were used to a different social life. Apart from the base, the Springfield Hotel and the occasional do in the local halls there was an absence of some of the entertainment they had experienced previously. A lack of cafes, coffee bars, restaurants, pubs, dance halls, TV and, probably most importantly,  the reduced chance of meeting unattached females caused some to seek to getaway to the relative “fleshpots” of Lerwick at every opportunity. In the first 30+ years of its life Saxa had no females posted in. The small population of Unst was certainly out of balance with the introduction of large numbers of bachelors.

Up until the early 70’s getting to and from Lerwick was not as simple as it is now. Using the “overland” or the Earl of Zetland normally entailed a 3 day round trip. Nevertheless, transport difficulties did not stop the more adventurous from getting away occasionally. If by taking leave or by swapping watch-keeping duties one could fit trips in with scheduled transport all well and good. There was one other method of getting too & from Lerwick which was used to a great extent.

Specials”  The RAF often had need to commission special, non-scheduled overland trips for events like Battle of Britain and Remembrance Day Parades in Lerwick. There was also a budget for sports teams – if there was a soccer, basketball or badminton tournament in Lerwick a special overland would be arranged. By tying your social life around these events, you could either go up & down with a special or combine specials with scheduled services to make the round trip possible. Lerwick had a number of attractions to offer, a cinema, cafes, the Lounge Bar (plus other pubs) and a significant part of the Islands social history – The Planets. The Planets, a dance hall in Mounthooly St, was the focus of nightlife for many, live music and gatherings of young customers (both male & female).
An example of a “Special” as included in 1963 SROs (Station Routine Orders) and provided by Pete Brindley is shown below:-

I’m also grateful to Pete Brindley who sent me all the photos used in this section. He was posted to Saxa 3 times – 1963/64, 1973/74 and again in 1977. All of the pictures in this section were taken during his first tour. I have included pictures of him and his pals in transit through Lerwick either heading on Leave or returning to Saxa.
The first 3 Pictures may bring memories of inter-island transport (Left click on pictures to enlarge).

The next few pictures are of one particular trip. The lads gather in the Lounge Bar early on. On this trip the people involved have decided to present a Station Plaque to Stan Swanson, the owner of the Lounge in recognition of the fact that he has always been good to visitors from Saxa.

During the day the troops tended to gather in the downstairs bar in the Lounge but by evening they would head to the upstairs bar hoping to get a table near the window so that they could see who was heading uphill to the Planets. When the time was considered right an exodus to the dance hall ensued.

The following morning everyone met up again, usually in the Queens Cafe, to discuss the previous evening’s

After that it was a question of the overland or special back to Saxa. Alternatively, if lucky enough they would be heading south on leave, either with the bus to Sumburgh or waiting for the MV St Clair to sail for Aberdeen.