Unst commemorates D-Day for SSAFA

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14 June 2024

Unst – the most northerly inhabited island in the UK, with a population of just over 600 people – held a series of events to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day.

More than £3,200 was raised for SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity on this Shetland Isle with activities included the lighting of a beacon on June 6, a social event at the local hall, and the now-popular activity of “knitted postbox toppers”.

The beacon lighting was, appropriately, a solemn event. The names of the beaches now etched in history – Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha, and Utah – where thousands of men from 13 nations took part in the landings, with many being wounded or dying, eighty years ago were displayed along with the flags of the UK, USA, and Canada. A moving tribute was read out to the gathered crowd.

The social event was a more light-hearted gathering, one perhaps more of celebration for the beginning of the liberation of Europe from Nazi tyranny. Some of the crowd – more than 200 people, a third of Unst’s population – were in 1940s’ costume or military uniform, and the hall was decorated with artwork and poems made by primary children at the local school, while the stage was set with a dramatic backdrop produced by islander Gina Ritch.

A range of entertainment was provided – including country and western music, a mandolin band, 1940s’ dancers, poetry recitals, and a local tribute band to keep the crowd entertained throughout the evening, and there was also a fitting supper of corned beef hash or vegetable soup.

The people of Unst – just 200 miles west of Norway (around 1,000 members of the exiled Norwegian military took part in the Normandy Landings), but 400 miles north of Edinburgh – batted well above their numbers in terms involvement and funds raised.

Claire Priest, Chair of Unst Community Council, commented: “While a committee, made up of two local community councillors and a number of ex-military personnel and their extended families – all former RAF – organised the events, it really was down to so many people of Unst coming together that made the events and commemoration such a success.

“This military connection, and that we were commemorating D-Day made SSAFA the perfect charity to donate the £3,220 funds raised to. Thank you to everyone who took part.”

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