Shetland Bus

The Scalloway Museum “A Time Of War” Section gives information about the first and second world wars and features an exhibit about The Shetland Bus Operation

In past conflicts, Shetland made a disproportionately large contribution of manpower to the armed services of the nation, and Scalloway has played a worthy part.

The First World War took a heavy toll of over 600 Shetland lives.  In the Scalloway district, 114 men enlisted to join the armed services; 22 men did not return.

Shetland was a vitally important strategic outpost of the United Kingdom in World War II.  It was declared a Restricted Area.  About 20,000 military personnel stationed in Shetland – almost one for every inhabitant!  Scalloway was a military garrison and subjected to even stricter regulations.

On 9 April 1940, German forces invaded Norway.  The Norwegians were unprepared and the country soon fell to the invaders.  King Haakon VII with the Norwegian Royal Family and government went into exile in London.   Thousands of Norwegians escaped to the west in order to continue the fight for a free Norway.  For the majority, Shetland was their landfall.

Large, disorganised resistance groups remained in Norway.  Their allegiance to their king was resolute.  The groups needed organisation, equipment and training.  If a regular transport system could be set up, it could also provide an escape life-line.   And so the ‘Shetland Bus’ was conceived and born.

The Shetland Bus provided a regular means of transporting supplies, arms, saboteurs and agents from Shetland to Norway, to help the Norwegian resistance movement.  It was also the main escape route for refugees and fugitives being sought by the Gestapo.  It ran continuously from 1940 until the end of the war in 1945.

For the first two years, the ‘Bus’ vehicles were Norwegian fishing boats with volunteer

crews of young Norwegian fishermen and seafarers who had escaped from Norway.  Most of the men were in their teens and 20s. The boats made long, hazardous trips in the depths of winter.  Many boats and lives were lost.

In 1942, David Howarth moved the Shetland Bus base from Lunna to Scalloway where it remained for the rest of the war.   Scalloway became ‘home’ for the crewmen.  They were welcomed wholeheartedly into the community and formed friendships which are still highly valued on both sides of the North Sea. In 1943, fast submarine-chasers took over from the fishing boats.

For more information you can also visit a dedicated partner site here:

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