World War II – Local Life
The Orkney Blast
During the war various small newspapers were produced by different units, aimed at a limited audience. By 1945 these included a WRNS magazine, Hoy Polloy.
The Orkney writer, Eric Linklater, who was serving as a Royal Engineer Major in Orkney and Shetland Defences (OSDef), had the idea of producing a Forces’ newspaper for all those serving in the area. The result was The Orkney Blast, launched on 17 January 1941.
Eric Linklater (Right)
He faced one major problem – the lack of paper. He resolved it with his usual style:
“…in a series of masterly letters I described the fearful hardships of service in Orkney – the appalling loneliness, the Arctic gloom, the incessan nerve-strain, the ceaseless gales, the monotonous local die of seaweed and dried dogfish – in such powerful and affecting language that, as one man, the Ministry of Supply burst into tears.”
Linklater was editor of the first issue, but was then posted to the Public Relations Department of the War Office in London. A young Fleet Street journalist Gerald Meyer, became co-editor of the paper until it ceased publication on 24 November 1944.
The office of The Orkney Blast was situated in the OSDef HQ at the Stromness Hotel. It was printed by the local newspaper, The Orcadian, which gave it a professional look, unlike some of the other small, home-made publications.
At first The Orkney Blast carried national news stories, war updates, and articles on Orkney. It later contained interviews with stars that came to Orkney to entertain the troops, humorous stories and articles, and photos of ‘pin up girls’, mostly Hollywood actresses.
It helped to unite the different Forces stationed in Orkney with its ‘we’re all in this together’ approach.
Gerry Meyer (right) and Geoffrey Halton (left), co-editor of The Blast.
George Formby, a leading wartime entertainer who performed in Orkney.
The Last Issue
Ann Stevenson (WRNS) and Wm Stevenson (RAF), Westray
The massive influx of service personnel had a huge impact on local life. The presence of the military brought improved facilities to the islands in the form of roads, piers, reservoirs, and airfields, and the Admiralty encouraged farmers to increase food production, stimulating the growth of agriculture.
By and large, local folk welcomed servicemen and women into their own homes, some of them forming lifelong friendships and marriages.
“The cinema was great fun because sometimes the fleet would come in, it was good dances then, and there was always concerts – there was ever so many concerts in Lyness …. in the staff mess they used to have a Saturday night hop, they called it a bob hop because it was a shilling to get in, so that was a bob.”
Although considerably scaled down from its WW2 heyday, Lyness, now designated HMS Pomona, continued to be a thriving Naval base until 1957. With wartime restrictions relaxed, local people enjoyed all the amenities the base had to offer.
The changing nature of warfare eventually made the base obsolete and it closed in March 1957. The site continued to be run as an Admiralty oil fuel depot until 1976, storing oil for the Royal Navy and Nato forces.
In 1980, Orkney Islands Council purchased the site from the Ministry of Defence and the pumphouse opened as a Visitor Centre in 1990, becoming part of the Museums’ Service in 2000.