Part Five - Careless talk costs lives

Charlotte: How did you celebrate the end of the war?

Bertha: I can’t remember. Strange, we were surely just quietly at home because I don’t remember that, but I remember what a relief it was and it was great when all the house lights came on. We just had a little wireless, you know, and we listened to the news on it. People didn’t have radios or TV in those days, but we had one of those old boxed wireless sets, and you had to get the accumulators charged up and bring them up from the shop. I carried one many a time. But we anxiously listened to every word on the news.

I remember some of the ships used to lie off, you know right opposite where our house is? Well, there were big ships in the voe there and they were anchored all over and the sea planes were up at the Graven end. Well, the sea planes were based there, the Catalinas and Sunderlands, and they were going out up the North Sea, etc and they were trying to sink the German submarines. (They left every day and returned at night, swooping down and landing on the voe and taxi-ing up to Graven, where they were based during the war.)

Charlotte: Did they succeed?

Bertha: Oh yes. It was all kept hush-hush but we heard bit and pieces. No-one told anybody anything in those days, because you were warned. Careless talk costs lives, they used to say.

Charlotte: Did the Germans ever get in?

Bertha: No, thank goodness! I remember one night, the man who lived next door, told us that they were on a call-out for the Home Guard and he was getting ready to go. And it was a most beautiful night, moonlight – a full moon blazing, and I remember worrying what would happen if the Germans were going to land in parachutes. They could have dropped them. And the Home Guard all had to go to the top of the hill somewhere on lookout. I think it was the same night that I happened to open the front door and to my amazement there was a whole mass of soldiers crawling along with guns in their hands. (All the troops were on guard.)

Charlotte: Like they had done at Gunnister?

Bertha: Yes, something the same, they were surely on patrol. So I quickly shut the door! But most days, there were so many ships in and some days the sailors would be set ashore and they were going walking out the road, till the roads were black with men of all nations and we could hear them chatting to each other.

Sullom Voe was full of Navy ships - cruisers, destroyers, etc, and all the ships for servicing the Navy with oil, etc. A ship called ‘Manilla’ was stationed at Graven, and a cruiser, ‘HMS Coventry’, with anti-aircraft guns to guard her as all the RAF men were accommodated on the ‘Manilla’ until the Graven camp was ready. One day there was a big raid on and the ‘Coventry’ had a near miss, as the bombs exploded in the sea very near to her, and we heard her guns were temporarily put out of action. Sometimes German reconnaissance planes came over and the ships fired at them. We got to know the sound of their planes, as they had a different sound from ours, a throbbing sound. 


Keep reading: Part Six - Scones, paper trails and iron ore