My research has focussed on the Great War in the Shetland Isles. I completed my PhD in 2012 with a thesis titled ‘Shetland and the Great War’ and my book of the same title (ISBN 978-1-90476-95-9) was published last year.
I had two key themes. One was how the effects of the war were determined by the islands’ geographical location; the other was how Shetlanders related the war to their local community as well as to themselves and their families. Their local identity had profound meaning for them.
Obviously, location was an important factor in how any community experienced the war but in Shetland, an archipelago to the far north of Britain, it was particularly important. Major naval activity took place in the surrounding waters and it provided the most northerly base for the blockade of Germany which was crucial to the eventual victory. Other aspects were also affected by location, such as the disruption to transport and to the economy and the pattern of volunteering for the services and it even resulted in a spurious suspicion by the naval authorities that the Islanders were likely to support Germany. The naval connection brought many servicemen and seamen to Shetland.
The experience of Shetlanders during the war was varied, having much in common with that of people in the UK and elsewhere but also had features which were specific and unusual. I examined the circumstances of different groups of people – men and women; civilians and servicemen; residents and visitors. Despite my very local focus, I investigated various aspects of wartime life both at home and at the battlefronts, including the effects on the economy and social conditions.
My research has wider implications for the study of the war in small localities and the importance of local history to understanding of the social history of the war. Other particular areas of interest are the naval war and commemoration; I am interested in the interplay between pride in local contribution to the war effort and solidarity with nation and Empire. I have written a forthcoming article on Scottish Rolls of Honour, which have been neglected as a source and which illustrate this theme as well as other social attitudes in the immediate post-war period.
I have published several articles including: ‘”The Great Invasion of 1910”: Alternative Versions of the Glorious Liberation of Lerwick’, in The New Shetlander, 251 (2010) 32 – 35; ‘Shetland’s Viking Identity; a Casualty of the First World War?’ in J. Matthews and D. Travers, Islands and Britishness: A Global Perspective (Newcastle, 2012) 134 –48; ‘Shetland Women and the Great War’ in History Scotland (March/April, 1914), 16 — 18 and ‘Blown to Atoms’ in Shetland Life (April 2015), 27 – 28.