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Shetland's War 1914-1918

During the centenary commemoration of the Great War the Library supported local history publications and events to bring Shetland's war history to a wider audience.

Much of our work was done in partnership with the Shetland Museum and Archives. Our work was supported by two generous grants from the Public Library Improvement Fund which is enabling us to publish some high quality local history books about Shetland's war. Free copies are being distributed to the community and to libraries across Scotland. They are available to borrow, or to buy for just £5. List of Library publications



The Gas War by Graham Johnston

In 1916, Shetland brothers Charlie and Willie Abernethy served together in the trenches at the Somme, part of a ‘Special Brigade’ unit that waged gas war against the German side. Willie met his end there, aged just 23, and his brother recorded the awful event in his trench diary on the day it happened. Over 100 years later, their story is told in a new book by Graham Johnston. The book is the first of four about Shetland’s war being published by Shetland Library in partnership with the Shetland Museum and Archives. The project is funded by the Scottish Government’s Public Library Improvement Fund and has encouraged local researchers and authors to bring their work on Shetland’s war to publication.

Graham Johnston has been doing a huge amount of research on the War, and the story of the Abernethy brothers was one that caught his attention because not much has been written about the British side in the gas war. The story of the brothers was also very interesting and poignant, particularly because of the existence of the original diary. In addition, Graham was able to consult with Charlie’s son, Charles Lindsay Abernethy, who visited Shetland with the original diary to meet Graham, and will speak at the book launch.

The other books due to be published in the coming months as part of this project are:
• Shetland Merchant Mariners in the Great War by J. Laughton Johnston;
• That Grim Red Dawn – Shetland’s sacrifice at the Ancre by Jon Sandison
• And Darkness Fell, a novel by Christian S. Tait


Shetlland's War events and highlights

And Darkness Fell book cover

That Grim Red Dawn book cover

Shetland's War double book launch

The culmination of our fascinating and fruitful Shetland's War project is this great double book launch at Lerwick Town Hall on Wednesday 21 November 2018, at 7pm in Lerwick Town Hall. With readings, music and poetry we will launch 'That Grim Red Dawn' by Jon Sandison and 'And Darkness Fell' by Christian S.Tait. The best of fact and fiction about how the First World War affected Shetland. There will also be book sales and signing. The event is free but booking is advised - news soon on how to get tickets.

Shetland Mariners book cover

Shetland Mariners book launch

Another fantastic local history event from our Shetland's War project - at 7pm in the Museum and Archives on Thursday, 1 November 2018 our partners there will host a lecture and book launch on 'Shetland Mariners in the Great War' by Laughton Johnston. The book is published by us and will be available to buy for only £5 (or to borrow from the Library of course!)

The Gas War book cover

The Gas War book launch

On 24 August 2018 we launched the first of four new books about Shetland's First World War, 'The Gas War' by Graham Johnston. The launch was at Shetland Museum and Archives and over 70 people attended. It featured talks by Charles Lindsay Abernethy (the son of the subject of the book), archivist Angus Johnson and curator Ian Tait, as well as music by Milford Georgeson, a book signing and Q & A session.

Dr Ignlis

Family Memories:

1 September 2018 - a library audience enjoyed an illustrated talk on Dr Elsie Inglis (1864-1917), surgeon, suffragist and founder of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals.
By the Rev. Hugh Maddox, with Marsali Taylor. The Rev. Hugh Maddox is the son of Dr Elsie Inglis’s beloved niece, and so has many family memories of this remarkable doctor, who led her band of Scottish Women to field hospitals in Serbia and on the Russian Front. Marsali Taylor edited Forgotten Heroines, the diaries of the intrepid Ysabel Birkbeck, who was one of Dr Inglis’s drivers in Roumania. Dr Inglis visited Shetland in 1913, and the Shetland Women’s Suffrage Society collected money towards her hospitals throughout the war.

Shetland Medals event

Shetland Medal Winners 1914-18:

A talk and discussion looking at artifacts, by Museum Curator Ian Tait. 23 March 2018, Shetland Museum and Archives

Jack Peterson

A Shetland Writer in the Trenches:

A talk by Dr Mark Smith of Shetland Archives, on Shetland's war poet Jack Peterson.. 6 February 2018, Shetland Library

Ancre Shetland event 131117

The Darkest Day:

A talk on Shetland's losses at the Ancre on 13/11/1916 by Jon Sandison + screening of Private Andrew Williamson by JJ Jamieson. 13 November, 2017, Shetland Museum and Archive.

Marsali Taylor event 15/11/2017

Women in the Front in the Great War:

A talk by Marsali Taylor. 15 November 2017, Shetland Library.

Erin sings at Our War In Words

Our War in Words:

An e vening of drama, poetry, readings and music marking Shetland's War, with Shetland Youth Theatre and local readers. 11 November 2017, Shetland Library.


A few useful links and resources associated with our projects:


In the Still of the Night have we Wept

This highly acclaimed 2017 production by Shetland Youth Theatre featured the work of Shetland's war poet Jack Peterson. We also hosted a talk about Jack Peterson in the Library in February 2018, delivered by Dr Mark Smith from Shetland Museum and Archives.


'Private Andrew Williamson'

This film by J.J. Jamieson was screened at Jon Sandison's talk about the Battle of Ancre in November 2017, and we gave it its online premiere. Also find here a list of over 20 Shetland men who died at Ancre on 'Shetland's Darkest Day', 13 November 1916. Ancre: list of casualties [PDF].


First World War - Local history online for young people

These are materials specially created by the Library to suit different age groups.


First World War Local Bibliography

Writing about the First World War began soon after the fighting started - everything from propaganda to oral history. Originally called the Great War, its centenary is seeing a barrage of new materials to provide modern analysis and interpretations for all ages. This is a short bibliography which concentrates on materials with useful Shetland content.



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