Charlotte: Did they ever shoot people?
Bertha: Well I was going to tell you that. There was another day later on after the first bomb, of course they kept coming back. And one Sunday morning we were in church, my friends and I – one or two of my friends and a younger one - and we were sitting out past in the church in the other end and there was a group of men and officers off one of the tankers. The tankers were called the ‘RFA War Diwan’ and the other one was the ‘RFA War Bharata’. Now these men came to the service occasionally in the Sullom Church which was no distance from the seashore from where the ships were lying off and the pier was there and the boats and everything.
So anyway, this day there were a few people at the kirk and all these sailors and then our minister was preaching and he was a small, sort of plump man and he had a very rosy smiling face and a head of snow white hair which stuck up – I never forgot how he looked that day. We had gone on a bit with the service but then suddenly we heard the rattle of machine guns that sounded on the roof of the kirk and the shooting started. And then the crew got up quickly, to go back to the ship I presume, but the minister never stopped preaching, he kept right on to the end of his sermon, and by that time the raid surely had finished.
We pushed the younger girls down and we sheltered under the seats and I hissed at them, “Keep away from the windows!” and then it sounded as if the bullets would come in the roof. But we heard later that there was a little cottage across from the church and there was a lady and her husband, she had three, or was it four, of the children staying there, but they must have gone to the other end of the house, because when it was all over, there were some bullet holes around the fireplace. If they’d been in the kitchen end they’d have been killed, because the bullet holes were around the fireplace.
Anyway, the next that happened when the shooting had died down you see, and the all-clear had arrived and we came out of the porch of the church and out onto the pavement. Now Graven was up at the other end of the road, across at the other side - there was a big RAF camp station and they had the guns for shooting, anti-aircraft guns, and we heard later they had shot down one of the German planes into the sea at Graven.
Charlotte: Did they survive?
Bertha: They got the men but they were both dead. I think there were two men, they got two anyway. I think they’re buried in the graveyard at Graven, across the other side of Delting. Poor fellows.
Charlotte: Did you have anything to do with the sailors?
Bertha: Well not really, but I was going to tell you the end of this story with that plane being lost, because my father had been out at the hill, the far hill, way up past our house and park, looking for sheep. When he came down over there was house near where he was coming to called Clothister and he decided to go in because the shooting was quite fierce. So the old man out of the house was a very fine old man called Andrew Henderson. He always went on two staffs as he was crippled and he said to my father, “ So so. This cratars (creatures) has come today again.” So they both went inside. But anyway, my father, when it all finished, came down towards our house and into our park. There was a huge crater and one of our yowes (ewes) had been killed and another was injured. I think she had to be put down.
There were two huge craters as two bombs had gone off in the raid and these craters filled with water because it was sort of marshy ground. So that was the end of that Sunday! (The bomb hole is still there!)
Oh yes, I was going to tell you also, Charlotte, that my mother was making the lunch while we were at church and when we came home she could tell us she heard this plane coming past low down and she went in the door to look. She looked right up and it was a German plane - she could see the swaztika and the crosses on it but they never shot her. So that was another day!
After the war started, for a while there was a lull. We never expected them to come to Sullom, and one lovely day I was out among the animals, the cattle and that outside in the lower park, and the sea was up and down opposite our crofts, when in over from Brae came beautiful Sunderlands and Catalinas, great big flying boats. They were silver and I thought, “How beautiful!” and I was looking and the cattle and animals were terrified.
My father was coming back from Brae with Princie, his white horse, and he was leading him home and Princie bolted on him when the flying boats came over, but he managed to stop and keep him on the road. So that was that incident.
When the ‘War Bharata’ (tanker) left at the end of the time in Sullom, they presented the Sullom church with a wooden book stand with a plaque –
“Presented to the Sullom Church, from the Officers and Men of the RFA War Bharata, 1941.”
Keep reading: Part Three - Parties, food and more food!