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by Jim Carchrie - December 2nd 2019

Norway/Sweden during WWII - Fact, Fiction of Friction by John Gilmour 13th November

John is an Honorary Fellow at the University of Edinburgh and is an acknowledged expert in Scandinavian Studies. He was introduced to a good turnout of members by President Ken Kristoffersen and his subject was titled Fact/Fiction/Friction which dealt with the relationship between Norway and Sweden during and after the Second World War. Ken established John’s credentials by giving an impressive list of his published books, research papers and other interests.

John began his talk by leading us all up the garden path with a fictional history of the events around the invasion of Norway by Germany in 1940 which resulted in the Swedish army, navy and air force being totally destroyed in six weeks, concentration camps being sited in Northern Sweden and the combined Norwegian, Swedish and Danish Nazi forces under German control invading Finland in 1943! The eventual outcome of this fictional scenario was that Russian forces would have eventually taken over all of the Scandinavian countries and Russia would remain in control for many years in a similar way as the unfortunate conquered Eastern European countries that were annexed during the war.

Thankfully the actual history as it happened was not as terrible as the above fiction. Norway and Sweden before 1939 had spent many years trying to find a diplomatic treaty of mutual support but due to political positioning no agreement was reached before it was too late.

After the German invasion King Gustav of Sweden offered asylum to the Norwegian Royal Family but anybody wearing uniform would be interned. He also suggested that Princess Marta would not be permitted to travel to America. King Haakon was absolutely furious with what he saw as Swedish/German interference and relations became frosty. The Germans requested that transit through Sweden be allowed for humanitarian reasons such as medical goods, nurses and refugees. This was refused at first but various pressures were brought to bear so that when Norway surrendered on the 11th June 1940, Sweden capitulated to the German demands. The evidence from diaries, letters and communications examined after the war show that many high positioned Swedes such as the Prime Minister were very unhappy with the situation but felt they had been forced into it by the Germans under threat of invasion. The first transit of Swedish Territory was on the 18th June 1940 and continued until the tide of war swung in the Allies favour in 1943.

There after the Swedish government opened relations with the Norwegian Government in Exile.

The final word was from the British Ambassador in Sweden during the war.

After a period of interesting questions from the audience a vote of thanks was given to the speaker by Margaret Thompson to loud applause.

Jim Carchrie.

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October 12th, 2022. Livingstone Tower Room LT420. Norway Rescue & Neilston Sanctuary by Matt Drennan - Neilston War Memorial Association.

This was the long awaited talk by Matt, and the wait was very worthwhile! Matt’s talk was about the incredible evacuation of Norwegians from Sørøya Island in the north of Norway, to Neilston in Scotland between 14th February and 28th February 1945. The presentation can be found in this PDF... Norway Rescue & Neilston Sanctuary

Ken Kristoffersen also made a summary of the talk below...

Norway Rescue & Neilston Sanctuary by Matt Drennan - Neilston War Memorial Association.

This was the long awaited talk by Matt, and the wait was very worthwhile! Matt’s talk was about the incredible evacuation of Norwegians from Sørøya Island in the north of Norway, to Neilston in Scotland between 14th February and 28th February 1945. There is not enough space here to cover the full story, so I have summarised a few of the memorable & unforgettable points which I took from Matt’s talk, which I’ve put in bullet-form :-

  • Over 500 Norwegians evacuated , mainly children and older adults.

  • Nazi Germany was losing this particular theatre of war, so Hitler decreed a razed earth policy be carried out. Yes, everything was to be burned to the ground!

  • Residents took to the hills to escape, hiding in the mountains in dreadful conditions.

  • Allies and the Norwegian government in exile had to decide - to rescue or leave the population to die?

  • The Royal Navy and Allied warships, as well as merchant ships, were sent to evacuate as many Norwegians as possible, including HMS Zambezi and three other destroyers.

  • This rescue mission “Open Door” was done 60 miles behind Nazi lines!

  • The convoy of ships set sail for the Kola Inlet in Russia to pickup Norwegians, regroup and obtain supplies. However, no assistance was offered or provided by Russia. In fact, neither the rescued Norwegians, or Naval crew were allowed to set a foot on Russian soil!

  • The convoy then set sail for Scotland, leaving Murmansk in atrocious weather conditions.

  • Indeed, Churchill described it as “the worst journey in the world”.

  • The convoy was at risk of attack from the Nazi submarine wolf pack and the Luffwaffe.

  • HMS Bluebell was sunk by a U-boat with the loss of 90 lives. HMS Zest searched for survivors but only one sailor was found alive.

  • On 20th February the convoy regrouped, and by this time it had to contend with hurricane force winds - can you imagine how much the Norwegians on board the various ships suffered?

  • On 23rd February, the US ship SS Henry Bacon was attacked and sunk by Nazi Torpedo bombers, and was the last Allied ship to be sunk by the Luffwaffe in WWII.

  • 19 Norwegians were on board, and the crew of the Henry Bacon ensured all of them were put on board the only two serviceable lifeboats, and eventually Captain Carini, the last man on board, ordered “abandon ship”.

  • The chief engineer gave up his seat to a 17-year-old mess boy - just one of the many, many, sacrifices made by Allied sailors.

  • Richard Burbine was picked up after 3 hours in the sea and survived! Today, he is the last remaining survivor of the SS Henry Bacon.

  • The convoy finally arrived and the rescued disembarked at Gourock on the Firth of Clyde, with the crew of HMS Onslaught giving a hearty rendition of “Sailing up the Clyde” - not sure if the Norwegians on board understood the song!

  • The Norwegians were transferred to Neilston Kingston Camp (50 brick buildings) - where, during their stay, they were afforded every kindness from the “locals” - similar to that given in Dumfries, Wormit and other locations in Scotland.

  • King Håkon VII visited the camp and met the baby boy, named Le Barron Olsen, who was born on board the American Libertyship during the crossing from Russia.

  • Anthony Eden, the then Foreign Secretary (and subsequently Prime Minister) also visited the camp in March 1945..

  • From 27th September, most of the Norwegians began to head back home (some stayed to marry and make a home in Scotland), after their many ordeals and hardships, but also with lots of Scottish kindness in their hearts.

  • Our speaker, Matt, was at the forefront of establishing Neilston War Memorials - a large Memorial on Main Street, and to the Sørøya islanders and seamen who perished, a number of beautiful customised memorial benches in Kingston Park, along with a row of Norwegian Silver Birch trees.

  • Yes, Neilston & Kingston Park are well worth a visit.

Thank you, Matt, and thanks for the considerable effort you have made to bring this important story to our attention, and good luck with the planned booklet! Ken Kristoffersen

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Little Norway

October 2021 This is a presentation given by Professor Peter Reid, about Little Norway and Buckie on the Moray Coast. You can find his presentation here in this PDF... Little Norway

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