The Submarine and the Bus Stop

Number two in my short series of posts based on last week’s holiday in Shetland…

Unst is an absolute must for visitors. As Britain’s most northerly inhabited island, it racks up the superlatives literally every few hundred yards, the further north you go – the most northerly roads, the most northerly shop (splendidly named ‘The Final Checkout’), the most northerly museums, the most northerly castle (Muness – a real gem), the most northerly brewery, the most northerly public loo…formerly the most northerly defence site, too, but RAF Saxa Vord closed a decade ago, and its buildings have now become the unlikely home of, yes, the most northerly holiday resort. But in World War I, Unst had another claim to fame, as the most northerly naval ‘base’ (of sorts) in the British Isles. During the early months of 1917, the submarines E49 and G13 used Baltasound, in the north-east of Unst, as their base for patrolling the seas off the island. On 12 March, though, the E49 struck a mine as she passed between the islands of Balta and Huney, just after leaving harbour. The mine had been planted by UC76, which had left Heligoland on 3 March. The three officers and twenty eight men of E49 were lost, including her commanding officer, Edinburgh-born Lieutenant Reay Parkinson RN, who, despite being only twenty-four, was a knight of the Order of the Crown of Italy for his part in rescuing the crew of the Italian battleship Benedetto Brin after its destruction by an explosion in Brindisi harbour on 27 September 1915. A new memorial to the crew of E49 was unveiled only in March of this year, and looks out over Baltasound to the site where the wreck lies.

The E49 memorial. The wreck lies off the lighthouse at the southern (right) end of the lighthouse in the distance

In something of a bizarre juxtaposition – or, more likely, an astute piece of placement by those responsible – the E49 memorial sits right next to one of the most famous tourist attractions on Unst, Bobby’s bus shelter, probably the only bus stop in the world to have its own website.

It’s a bus stop, Jim, but not as we know it

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