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Lighthouse story one


Carol Tweedie


During WW2 both lighthouses were bombed, Fair Isle North sustaining 60 broken window panes and other small damage in March 1941 and extensive damage to accommodation blocks in April 1941.  On the 8th December 1941 four bombs missed South Light, but the accommodation block was machine-gunned, killing Mrs Sutherland, wife of one of the keepers and injuring her daughter.  This attack just missed the two assistant keepers who were deeply shocked, but after some treatment at the naval base sick bay, they were able to continue with their duties, Mr Craigie taking slightly longer to recover.  Roderick Macauley, Principal Lighthouse Keeper of North Light, took immediate charge of South Light, to ensure that it would be illuminated if the Admiralty sent notification.  During the war lighthouses were only illuminated “on demand”. 


Mr Sutherland was, naturally, devastated and his child deeply shocked, and although he was given immediate permission to leave with his child to take his wife home to be buried, the weather was dreadful with endless high winds, rain and snow.  Meanwhile, the Principal Keeper of South Light (William Smith) was stranded in Lerwick and  desperate to return to his post.  Neither Sutherland nor Smith could travel, due to the weather.  Then on the 11th December, the Army notified the lighthouses that there was an unexploded floating mine close to shore and South Light should be evacuated.  Due to the weather conditions, the experts were unable to travel to deal with it.  Non-essential personnel were re-housed, but the lighthouse men continued to work at the light, with Mr Macauley walking up and down the island between his two charges (a distance of about 3 miles each way).


The weather did not let up, so that seven days after the bombing, Mr Sutherland was still on the island, with his dead wife and traumatised daughter, while Smith was still in Lerwick.  The lifeboat in Lerwick was asked to make a trip to take them off, that vessel being the only one thought to be able to undertake the journey safely.  After consideration, the lifeboat management stated that the boat could only be launched if lives were in danger and Mr Sutherland’s daughter was not in danger.  On the 16th the bomb disposal officer phoned to ask for news on the bomb.


On the 17th, it was reported that Smith was still in Lerwick, but on the 18th December a boat was able to leave Lerwick to bring Smith and remove Mrs Sutherland and her family to Shetland.  The Lighthouse Board in Edinburgh received special permission by the Air Ministry and paid for Mr Smith and his daughter to fly from Sumburgh to Inverness on 24th December 1941.


Read on to find out what happened when the floating mine finally exploded.






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