Seventy years ago Sidney and Jeannie Tong, my recently married parents, were waiting to hear where Sidney’s first ‘station’ as a Methodist Minister would be. It had been a long wait! In 1940, twenty year old Sidney registered as a conscientious objector in Hull. He was appointed to the Non-Combatant Corp and sent to Dalston near Carlisle to load and unload trucks for most of the war.
Sidney had been a Methodist Local Preacher for three years and had already discussed the possibility of ordination to the ministry. Whilst in Dalston he preached in the chapels in the local Methodist circuit and one day he was preaching at Upperby Methodist Chapel and Jeannie was in the congregation. Before long they were engaged but knew that they would not be able to marry until after Sidney had completed his training to be a minister and two years ‘on probation’ – and that process could not start until the war ended.
In 1945 Sidney was ‘demobbed’ and allowed to start training. Along with other couples in similar situations, he applied in 1946 for permission to marry and eventually this was given on condition that Jeannie lived with Sidney’s widowed mother in East Yorkshire whilst he studied in Manchester! Then in 1947 they waited for the Methodist Conference in July when they would be told where they would be sent for the first two years of ministry.
I would guess that their initial response to the letter telling them that they would be going to North Roe in the Shetland Islands would have been “Where..?” . The small white building in the photo above was to be their home and chapel for the next two years. This is an old photo of the eighteenth century Methodist Chapel with attached manse at the the most northerly inhabited part of the main island. It was (and still is) the end of the road. Forty miles from the only town on the island, Lerwick, with, then, two buses a week, North Roe was then a very small community with a shop, a Church of Scotland and a Methodist Chapel. Sidney was responsible for this and three other chapels. There was no electricity. They soon learnt that they would have to cut their own peat from the hillside behind the house for heating and cooking and would be lighting their tiny rooms with oil lamps.
I was born the following year and spent my first year or so in North Roe.
My parents returned for a couple of holidays, my father loved Shetland, my mother was not too keen! We holidayed there with them and our daughters in the eighties and then in a cottage in North Roe in 2009 shortly after my father’s death. This year we are returning for a bit more than a holiday and will be staying in Hillswick, about ten miles south of North Roe. We will have all the comforts we could wish for, including broadband and mobile phone signals – a bit different from the life facing my parents in 1947 but at least something of an experience of Shetland life today.