Digest>Archives> April 2004

Light Reflections

Mrs. Miniver

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Looking at the Eshaness Light from WWII bunker.

The other night I watched a video of the MGM black and white classic Mrs. Miniver for the second time. The film was released in 1942 and won the academy award for Best Picture that year. If you have not seen it the following from the prologue to the film gives a summary of its content.

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This story of an average English middle-class family begins with the summer of 1939; when the sun shone down on a happy, carefree people, who worked and played, reared their children and tended their gardens in that happy, easy-going England that was so soon to be fighting desperately for her way of life and for life itself.

It started me thinking about World War II at our lighthouse. Outside Eshaness’ living room window you can see standing proudly at the top of a hill what remains of a World War II bunker. It is a small brick building with holes for windows, which is in remarkably good shape considering its age and being a part of a huge war. If you stand just right inside the bunker you can see through one of the holes a beautiful view of Eshaness Lighthouse perfectly framed.

Like most of the Scottish lighthouses Eshaness was painted grey during the war to protect it. But even with its camouflage it still would have stood out prominently in the daytime against the green of summer and the brown of winter. It was totally exposed to any kind of threat. It was vulnerable to air strikes but it was also possible for ships to get close enough to the shore to bombard it. There were lots of German ships in the seas around Shetland.

My experience watching Mrs. Miniver brought up a lot of questions. When the bombers came, where did the keeper and his family go for shelter? It is a one-story house with no basement. There truly is no place to take cover. There was someone sitting at the top of the hill in the bunker but he had no air raid siren to warn the inhabitants in the house. I truly wish some Eshaness keepers or members of their family who lived there during World War II were still alive so I could find out what it was actually like.

People in Shetland lighthouses were killed during World War II. This happened at both the Out Skerry lighthouse and one of the Fair Isle stations. The Out Skerry accommodations were built very similar to Eshaness with strong one-story concrete houses. If you visit the Out Skerry station today there are only two keeper’s houses and an outline of a third. The third one was bombed during the war and never rebuilt. It was in this strong Stevenson engineered house that one of its residents was killed. Right in the back yard of the Out Skerry lighthouse accommodations is a monument to a Canadian plane that was shot down there and all its crew killed.

I loved the film Mrs. Miniver the first time I saw it because it is so beautifully acted even though the story is incredibly sad. But, this time when I watched I was uncomfortable. It made me think about my lighthouse home and how lucky we were it was not a casualty of World War II. Most of all it reminded me how fortunate I am to be living there in 2004 instead of 1944.

P.S. Times have changed since Mrs.Miniver’s day as our friend Hans Stöteknuel, who is living at Eshaness while I am back in the United States took the photo that accompanies this story. Hans is German, a great person and wonderful friend.

This story appeared in the April 2004 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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