A Stromness Hogmanay of 1945

” Sunday was clear and cold. Towards midnight it became overcast and a slight drizzle set in. Quiet reigned during the last hours of the dying year: respect for the Sabbath bred in every British bone restrained any wild outbreaks of feeling.

The pious section of the population took in the New Year in church; all other sections, the vast majority, welcomed it wherever they were standing; in dance hall, canteen, home or open street.

The whisky famine had been mourned far and wide between Christmas and the New Year. Soon after midnight however, a surprising number of bottles made an appearance – the result as someone suggested, of hoarding all through the spring and summer.

We observed nobody however, who could be described as hopelessly drunk, and anyone who was inebriated reached that state in a sober dignified fashion, which was quite commendable.

Stromness and Kirkwall have recently been described as the modern ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’ and certainly to anyone unacquainted with the rites of Hogmanay in Orkney, the streets and bylaws of Stromness during the early hours of 1945 must have seem inhabited by the depraved and the double damned denizens of the lowest circles of the underworld.

Intoxicated voices and the unsteady tramp of intoxicated feet kept honest citizens awake long after the usual hour. By seven in the morning most of the revellers had returned home, and the early morning light caught the last of them as they staggered, crawled, or were carried home to early breakfast.

New Years Day, of course, was spent in disgusting inaction by the sober citizens of Stromness and in sad attempts to regain sobriety by the swilling ones. Several of the latter category (by far the larger we fear) repented on January the first and swore never to touch drink again. But I quite agree with you, dear readers – we’ve heard that story before.

We wish our readers a very happy New Year, and join with them in the fervent hope that 1946 will dawn on a world at peace.”

From ‘Stromness News’, The Orkney Herald and Advertiser, January 9th 1945.

Stromness waterfront Image credit Martin Laird

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