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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 book cover

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

Family Memories: A Shetland's War event

Dr Ignlis

1 September 2018 - 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


More information: 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.


Shetlland's War events and highlights

Shetland Medals event Shetland Medal Winners 1914-18: a talk by Ian Tait. 23 March 2018, Shetland Museum and Archives
Jack Peterson A Shetland Writer in the Trenches: a talk by Dr Mark Smith. 6 February 2018, Shetland Library
Ancre Shetland event 131117

The Darkest Day: 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: and evening 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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