During World War One, the Scottish Office introduced a number
of security measures to protect Scotland from enemy action.
Many of these are detailed in a series of First World War
files held by the National Archives of Scotland (NAS ref.
One set of files (NAS ref. HH31/17/1-6) records a particular incident which
occurred in the Shetland Islands at the start of the War. On Sunday
1 November 1914 the warder in charge of Lerwick prison was instructed
by order of the Commanding Officer of HM Forces based in Shetland
to receive the Postmaster and 39 other staff of Lerwick Post Office.
No information relating to any charges was given, and the Commanding
Officer, Lieutenant-Colonel H.C. Evans, indicated that he was "acting
on confidential Admiralty instructions".
© Shetland Museum and Archives
As there were only 11 free cells in the prison at the time, the
Post Office staff were kept in very crowded conditions. The prison
warder complained about the inadequate accommodation, but was told
that there was no other place in which the men could be housed.
Food and more comfortable bedding was brought to the prisoners by
friends and families, and they were allowed to smoke and play musical
instruments. They were detained in prison until 7 November, when
an order from the Admiralty finally came for their release.
On 9 November an inspector from the Prison Commissioners for
Scotland visited Lerwick to report on the situation. The files contain
both his official and confidential reports. The official report
details the circumstances of the Post Office workers' arrest,
detention and release. Colonel Evans had given instructions that
the men were "not to be treated as prisoners but as persons
under arrest", but it is clear that none of the men had any
idea of the charges being brought against them.
Copy extract from Shetland Prison Register, showing
the names of the arrested post office staff (NAS ref. HH31/17/6)
It is the inspector's confidential report which sheds more
light on the matter. Sunday 1 November was Communion Sunday, and
Colonel Evans was met after morning service with orders from the
Admiralty to arrest the Post Office staff. They were informed that
they were being detained under numbers 12 and 13 of the Defence
of the Realm Regulations, relating to the extinguishing of lamps
and the movement of citizens. Only the Postmaster was told that
there was a suspicion that secret correspondence passing through
Lerwick Post Office for the Fleet had been tampered with. The men
were taken to prison under an armed naval escort and their homes
The confidential report states that the Post Office staff were
very grateful to the staff of the prison for looking after them
so well, although the inspector himself was of the opinion that
they might have been better housed in some other location, such
as the Territorial Drill Hall or the Town Hall, and thus "spared
the indignity of having been sent to a common prison".
The details of their incarceration were entered into the prison
register separately, at the back, and the files contain copies of
these entries. After release the names were struck through. A request
was later made by the General Post Office in London that any records
which had been created at the prison relating to their wrongful
arrest should be destroyed. This suggestion was rejected by the
Prison Commissioners and the Scottish Office as evidenced by a letter
to the Under-Secretary for Scotland, dated 29 July 1915: "It
was [a] matter of notoriety that these Postal officials had been
arrested, and destroying any record of the fact will not alter the
fact". It was however agreed that a note should be inserted
at the bottom of the page to the effect that: "All the above
named men were released at the instance of the Admiralty who expressed
themselves satisfied that the charges against them were wholly unfounded".
Some further records relating to this incident can be found at
Shetland Archives (link on left-hand side of this page), and a book
on the subject is due to be published shortly.