One of the highlights of working for the Smith family at Berry Farm that first year, 1967, and subsequent years was the meals prepared by Mrs Smith. After a morning in the fields, taking in the harvest, I could not believe my luck when lunch time came I was to eat with the family in the Berry kitchen. I was, and still am not blessed with culinary skills so my solitary life living in my caravan was quite basic on the food front to say the least. The food served up to me at lunch and tea in the Berry kitchen was a god send, lunch was always three courses and the finest cuisine, (after all they did own the village butcher shop). After lunch I was invited into the front room to rest from all the food! Jim would often tell me his stories about Berry, his inventions, and in particular his war years. Jim was fourteen when war broke out in 1939 and promptly joined the war effort by joining the local home guard. Some of his stories of this time resembled the television programme Dad’s Army. One such story was about a retired army major, I have forgotten his name. Their military exercises, naturally, took place around Berry as there was an army camp on the farm so it was a fitting venue. One particular manoeuvre involved taking an artillery piece on wheels up to the top of Berry Hill. Jim volunteered one of the Berry Shetland ponies for the job and they successfully reached the summit. On completion of their exercise, the descent proved more difficult Jim suggested they could go down at an angle using the pony however, the major disagreed and ordered that the artillery piece should free wheel down the hill. This it did, despite protests from Jim, and the gun took up speed and ended up in the small loch at the base of the hill!
In the early years after the outbreak of war Jim volunteered for the Royal Air Force and eventually was posted to the Far East, Singapore if my memory is correct. While in Singapore Jim built a single valve wireless and would tune in to the local radio stations and listen to their music. Jim told me his job was mainly transport related; driving a mobile crane and picking up aircraft parts. On one journey in the middle of a busy town and at a crossroads, Jim became aware of the locals shouting and waving at the mobile crane. He glanced in his mirror and to his horror saw a traffic policeman hanging from the end of the crane’s jib. The policemen normally stood on barrels at busy thoroughfares and Jim had hooked this one off the barrel!
Jim returned home to work on Berry Farm and what would have been complete peace after his war time exploits in the Far East. His mind was always in overdrive, it was if he needed a greater challenge than basic farm work, building his speed boat and such like. He built a rickshaw which he and his friends would travel around in, he would tell me of chatting up the ladies and taken them for a run.
He told me he always had an interest in flying; this was only natural after his work in the Royal Air Force and the war years. I forget the exact date, it could have been early 1950 when he built a plane at Berry Farm, using basic tools and equipment; I think it was powered by a Volkswagen engine. I asked “Did it fly?” “Yes,” he replied, “but only for a short time as I misjudged the height of a fence which I hooked and crashed!” I am pleased to say it has been restored and his now in the Scalloway Museum.
I remember Jim once asking me out to Berry Farm as he had something interesting to show me. Arriving there I thought it would be possibly one of his gun collection. He had shown me some interesting antique pieces, a colt .45 handgun, a Mauser rifle from the Boer war. He told me the story of the Sten gun he had in his possession. In the early hours on a lovely summer’s morning returning home from a country dance and a few drams, he was trying to sleep but this crow sitting outside his bedroom window was making a terrible racket. Jim opened the window aimed at the crow, missed and the whole magazine of ammunition emptied down over Scalloway, he had forgotten to put it on single shot. Jim said come into the barn, I felt it hard to believe, and in all my years at Berry I had never seen that barn empty of rubbish and clean. Only one item of note remained, up against a wall was the remains of his first plane!
Jim explained about how he built and fashioned the propeller and other parts, he talked about his crash which of course did not meet with approval from his family however this did not deter him. It was unfinished business; Jim successfully built another plane, again at Berry Farm. After a few years of construction it was transported to Sumburgh Airport, and was first flown and tested by one of the commercial pilots from British Airways. After gaining his pilot’s licence Jim would often fly from Sumburgh Airport. Jim told me he sold the plane on to one of the British Airways pilots who flew passenger flights into Shetland.
I was frequently called to Berry usually to help out on the farm. One summons in the early 1970s, he asked their farm labourer and me to come to the workshop. We had to lift these two rusty axles onto wooden supports. I asked, “What’s this?” “It is the remains of my 1953 M.G. car which I allowed to rust away. I am now going to rebuild it,” and true to his word he did, he even allowed me to take it for a drive.
Another visit was to see another maritime invention, this time a request from a shell fish farmer to see if Jim could make a machine that could take the arduous work out of opening ropes and inserting plastic pins about a foot long and a distance apart on the vertical rope. The machine successfully opened the rope and inserted the pins, and I believe the machine is still now successfully manufactured.
There were other lesser inventions, he almost finished a greasy wool press for packing wool, but he received one from a wool merchant before his was completed. He built a working lift in the wool store as well as yarn winding aids. Another favourite hobby was restoring old engines; he had a fairly extensive collection each with a story to tell.
I could go further, however my next blog will be about the Berry Shetland Pony Stud and involves both Jim and Eva.