Shetlanders in the Air

Shetlanders in the Air

Britain began World War One with two air services, one for the navy, the Royal Naval Air Service, and the other for the army, the Royal Flying Corps. Both services expanded rapidly. The air combat that evolved over the Western Front had a high rate of attrition. For the aircrew, it certainly wasn’t safer than the trenches, whatever other benefits the air services had. Both services were intense rivals for resources and were amalgamated into the Royal Air Force on the first of April 1918.

Shetland had little to do with the air war, although by the end of the war the RNAS was establishing a seaplane base at Catfirth, for maritime reconnaissance. The Shetland Times reported in August 1914 that aircraft lights had been seen at night, almost certainly an illusion. In general, Shetlanders didn’t encounter aeroplanes. Unless they went south to see them, they enlivened the imagination via the media.

Despite this, the Roll of Honour and Roll of Service shows 51 Shetlanders at war in the RAF. It wasn’t a very large contribution, but it shows that a small body of people from here engaging with the then new machinery of flight. A few of them were directly involved in the new methods of combat that went with it. The exploits of those who’d joined the new service were noted in the local newspapers.

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Avro 504 at Boscombe Down. Shetland Museum.