Reading telegrams, 1914. Shetland Museum.
...correspondence survives in archives and in private hands.

Shetland recruits to the Great War had benefitted from years of free state education. They were able to articulate a response to their circumstances. They wrote diaries, poetry, some memoirs, and at least one unpublished novel. Crucially, they wrote letters.

The war took place closer to home than previous conflicts. The army had a postal system and many servicemen made the use of it. Soldiers wrote in response to forthcoming action, and anticipated death. They also wrote in the aftermath of events, to reassure, and report on the fate of others. There’s a smaller correspondence from sailors, perhaps reflecting the greater difficulty of communicating at sea. And at sea, extinction could arrive without much anticipation.

Some of this correspondence survives in archives and in private hands. A good sample of it got printed in the local media, the Shetland Times and Shetland News. It represents the early part of the war rather better than the latter, possibly because greater care was being taken about publication. And it wasn’t only servicemen. By the end of the war there were a small number of highly articulate and thoughtful women serving.

Shetland was without one of the primary means of communicating about the war, however. Daily papers did not reach the islands. Some people subscribed by post, as did a small number of reading rooms and clubs. Information came by telegram, and by weeklies. And no doubt by what was heard. On the Shetland homefront most war communication came from the two local weekly newspapers. For most Shetland recruits, their first regular exposure to daily papers came when they went south.