Shetland War Memorial

Shetland War Memorial

Communities and organisations in Shetland commemorated the lost with memorials and plaques. The main memorial in Lerwick was unveiled in 1924. There are some surprises in how it came about. It wasn’t without controversy or argument.

In July 1919 the then Zetland County Council and Lerwick Town Council appointed J W Robertson, a successful Lerwick businessman, to chair a committee to look into a war memorial. Some proposals were soon eliminated. A building was opposed, despite two suggestions being a sanatorium or hospital extension. A lot of people weren’t comfortable with it. The living shouldn’t benefit from the dead was one reason given. Fund raising was similar, there were some methods people didn’t think appropriate. Whist drives and dances were out. Subscription was settled on as a method.

In February 1920 J W Robertson headed a second committee, and there was a new appeal, this time including a house to house collection. By May 1921 they had £2,365, less than hoped for. Time was passing and country districts had started with their own memorials. There was always an element of town/country conflict in the procedure, despite it being a Shetland-wide memorial. At this time, many country people only rarely encountered Lerwick. Not surprisingly, they preferred more local focus for the fallen.

The design process had difficulties. One proposal from Robert Williamson incorporated a Viking figure. Despite how Norse imagery had embedded itself in Shetland, and especially Lerwick, in the decades leading up to the war, the Viking figure was opposed. The associations with glorying in slaughter, bloody domination, and simple foreigness, seem to have been the points of failure. Even so, when the Committee asked the designer of the Scottish National War Memorial, Sir Robert Lorimer, to design a memorial for them, he also incorporated a Viking. Testimony again, to how Shetland had come to be associated with this theme.

Sir Robert went back to the drawing board, and came up with the present memorial. It resembles his notable work for the Royal Navy at Chatham. Simple, clean-lined, dignified, and as people wanted, devoid of the Viking. It did include a Norse longship, along with the Scottish symbols of the St. Andrew's Cross, a Lion Rampant, and a Thistle. The committee decided that Shetland natives and residents would be on the memorial. It established eligibility criteria, unlike the Roll of Honour.

On 6 January 1924, Mrs Janet Hardy, who had lost three sons, Thomas, Charles, and William, in the course of the war, unveiled the memorial.

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Shetland War Memorial, Hillhead, Lerwick
Shetland War Memorial, Hillhead, Lerwick.