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Sørøya Rescue, & Solace

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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