Anthology of Shetland Poems
Shetland writers have returned to the war in recent decades

The Shetland that went to war in 1914 was fond of poetry, which was regularly seen in the Shetland newspapers. Some poets were popular enough to publish books.  J J Haldane Burgess, writing in Shetland dialect, had a great impact locally, and some abroad. He was Shetland’s blind poet, and Scranna, a story of an encounter with the devil, is still recited.

A number of others wrote about the war, and were printed in the Shetland Times and Shetland News. Not all mention the war.  Walter Shewan’s  Jeemie’s Geen  was published in the Shetland News, 29 March 1917. It is seven verses of loss and anguish being read by people enduring exactly that, without mention of an exact cause.  It made enough public impact to be entered in A Shetland Anthology (1998), edited by John and Laurence Graham in 1998.

More typical titles found in the Shetland News were Neglecting the Brave, of 5 April 1917, Sphagnum Moss, praising the powers thereof, 7 September 1916, and Hail, Anzac, Hail, of 2 November 1916. A number of the dead had poems written about them, for example, In Memoriam, dedicated to Corporal W Robertson, 8 November 1917. In the 25 October 1917 issue, the prolific Unst writer Jessie Saxby had a poem about the death of Captain David Gray. Sometimes the wry humour of the soldiers came through. Predictions from the Front, in the Shetland News of 30 November 1916, by Jamieson (J A), foresaw dugouts replacing  houses when the war was over.

The war cost Shetland at least one promising poet, Ollaberry man William Porteous. Others went to war and survived to write and think.  Jack Peterson and Benjamin Morrison were two successful poets like that. They had contrasting war experiences, lives, and poetry. Of the two, Jack Peterson had a lasting impact.

Shetland writers have returned to the war in recent decades. The late Jim Moncrieff’s (1947-2010) poem Remembrance is one (New Shetlander, 1995). Christian Tait produced a work, Stones in the Millpond (2001), inspired by the letters of her grandfather, Laurence Scott Gray.

The subject is by no means written out.

More info: