The Norwegian Connection

Norway and Dumfries may not seem to have much in common with each other but a special association exists between the people of Norway and the town, forged by the events of the Second World War, when Dumfries found itself the training centre of the Norwegian army in exile.

Germany invades Norway

Norway remained non-aligned throughout the First World War, and the Norwegian government again declared neutrality when the Second World War broke out in the autumn of 1939. During the first winter of the war, Norwegian authorities negotiated trade agreements with both Germany and Britain. In February 1940, these talks ended with Britain chartering part of the Norwegian merchant navy while Norway continued to trade with Germany.

Norwegian neutrality proved to be of little consequence. Strategic interests led both the Germans and the Allies to make plans which involved violations of Norwegian boundaries and military operations on Norwegian territory. One of the motives was the German navy's desire to have Norwegian bases for their warships - they had not forgotten how their fleet had been trapped in the Baltic during the First World War.

Nevertheless the Norwegians were surprised when the full military might of Germany attacked on 9 April 1940.

Early Actions

In December 1939, three ships carrying iron ore in British service were torpedoed by a German submarine off the Norwegian coast. The vessels had been transporting Swedish iron ore, shipped from the northern Norwegian town of Narvik.

Germany was also involved in iron ore transport from Narvik. The Allies were displeased with Norwegian and Swedish neutrality which allowed the Germans to ship ore through Norwegian waters. On 8 April 1940, the Allies announced that they had placed mines in Norwegian waters to stop the shipments of iron ore to Germany.

A German invasion of Norway was already underway. The entire German navy, six army divisions and a large air force contingent had left Germany. The first targets were eight Norwegian towns and cities along the country's lengthy coast. The Norwegian defence was tiny by comparison, and the eight targets of the attack were captured within 24 hours, as was the Norwegian naval base at Horten.

The Battle of Narvik

To the north, in the Narvik region, German forces were outnumbered and were driven back toward the Swedish border. Fierce battles broke out as British naval forces fought German units and both sides suffered large losses. On 13 April a British battle fleet lead by HMS Warspite sunk seven German destroyers in a sea battle off the port. On 24 April Norwegian and Allied troops established a bridgehead which held until 5 June when Allied forces were ordered to withdraw due to setbacks on the Western Front.

After 62 days, the German campaign succeeded. On 7 June 1940, King Haakon VII of Norway and the Nygaardsvold government boarded the British cruiser HMS Devonshire and left their country.

It would be five years before they could return.

The Norwegian Merchant Fleet

As in all the countries which they occupied, the Nazis profited from the support of local sympathisers. After the invasion the leader of the Norwegian National Socialist Party, Vidkun Quisling, proclaimed himself government leader and ordered the Norwegian armed forces to stop fighting. The Norwegian merchant fleet was still at sea and it too was instructed to proceed to neutral or German harbours.

Every ship sailed to Allied ports. Ironically, Quisling's actions had backfired and merely stimulated Norwegian resistance.

In all, 3,000 men arrived in Britain. About half went back to sea in British or Norwegian ships, and the remainder were sent to a transit camp set up in Troqueer Mill, Dumfries.

Norway's greatest contribution to the Allied war effort abroad was the often hazardous service of Norwegian seamen in the merchant navy. The Norwegian merchant fleet carried oil, munitions and food to soldiers and civilians all over the world and to all arenas of the Second World War.

Norwegian Resistance

At home the Nazification of Norwegian society was resisted, especially in churches and schools. The Norwegian government resumed its activities from London, recruiting an army, a navy and an air force. Throughout the war, a Norwegian naval detachment, popularly known as "the Shetland bus", provided a risky transport route between the Shetland Islands and occupied Norway. Underground military groups were established in parallel with civilian resistance, with the main aim of assisting Allied and Norwegian intelligence operations. They reported movements of German vessels and the transport of troops and munitions, and were provisioned by parachute drops from Allied aircraft and supplies from Shetland.

Daily life in Norway was marked by lack of food and other supplies during the occupation years. These problems were compounded by the 400,000 Germans on Norwegian soil.

Norway and Dumfries

After the invasion of Norway and the German controlled Quisling government's order to cease fighting, the Norwegian merchant fleet headed for Allied ports. 3,000 men arrived in Britain.

Initially, the British authorities directed them to the town of Hamilton, near Glasgow, where Lt Col Carl Stenersen, who had escaped from Norway in a fishing boat, was the officer in charge. About half of those who arrived went back to sea in British or Norwegian ships, but a group of over three hundred men were instructed to travel to Dumfries.

The first men to arrive reached Dumfries on 28 May 1940. James Hutcheon, Town Clerk and Air Raid Protection Controller, recalled their demeanour on the sunny June afternoon,

"the train disgorged some hundreds of a most motley crew. Only those inhabitants of Dumfries who had been on service in the First World War had seen before the spectacle of men who had lost everything but the clothes they stood up in ..."

However, many of the men brought money with them, especially those from the Norwegian whaling fleet which had been at sea for eighteen months, and their appearance was soon remedied.

In the following days hundreds more Norwegians arrived. They came from all corners of the globe, including Africa, the Middle East and South America. Some even managed to escape from Norway, risking their lives crossing the North Sea in small boats.

A few weeks later, when the Norwegian government declared war on Germany, the Norwegians in Dumfries enlisted as soldiers. At one time there were a thousand men and over a hundred women training in the town.

This resulted in regular visits from Norwegian dignitaries. During the course of the Second World War the Norwegian Prime Minister, Crown Prince Olav and King Haakon VII all stayed in the town. James Hutcheon recalls that when the Prime Minister was scheduled to arrive he had organised a civic reception, but was unable to find the honoured guest,

"A wee stoutly built man carrying two well worn Gladstone bags came up to me as I stood at the end of the line and asked who was the VIP we were expecting, and when I answered the Prime Minister of Norway, he stunned me by saying "Good Heavens, I am the Prime Minister of Norway."

The Norwegian visitors soon became part of the community. An empty building in the High Street of Dumfries was converted, and part of it was used for workshops and stores, the rest for the newly formed Scottish Norwegian Society. Called Norges Hus, it also hosted regular exhibitions on Norwegian life.

Wartime travel restrictions meant that First Division football had to cease. Enthusiasm for the game was great in the town, especially as Queen of the South had a highly successful season during the previous year. A match was organised with the Norwegian visitors, who omitted to mention that nine members of their team had been Bronze medal winners in the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. This was the first of many defeats for Queen of the South in the months to come.

The Norwegians also worshipped in local churches, particularly Troqueer Church and St Michael's Church. They left behind memorials of thanks, in Troqueer a baptismal bowl, and in St Michael's a plaque and pulpit robes.

James Hutcheon concludes,

"They were never just a colony within a foreign town for they entered into the life of the community bringing a robust, self reliant vibrance to the stirring time of war."

The War ends …

When the end of the war came the German commander in chief in Norway, General Böhme, followed the orders which he received from his superiors in Germany on 7 May 1945 and surrendered. A day later, an Allied mission flew into Oslo, followed by Allied and Norwegian military detachments. The Government returned from London on 7 June 1945, and King Haakon VII followed.

When the cost of the war in Norway was counted, it was discovered that 10,262 Norwegians had been killed, including 3,670 seamen. There had been considerable material destruction. Towns and communities were damaged by bombings or burned by the retreating Germans.

… but the friendship continues

After the war the links between Norway and Dumfries continued. There have been many exchange visits, perhaps the most frequent of which are the tours of Norwegian youth football teams, and visits to Norway by Greystone Rovers, a local club. For many years Norway provided the town with its Christmas tree. In October 1962 King Olav V visited Dumfries. He was granted the freedom of the burgh in a ceremony held at the Lyceum Cinema.

In June 1990 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the arrival of Norwegians in Dumfries, the Royal British Legion and Nithsdale District Council organised a series of events for Norwegian veterans. This included a parade from Dumfries Museum to the Norwegian war graves at Troqueer Cemetery, and a moving graveside service there.

Over the years many people have presented archives, photographs and mementoes associated with Norway to Dumfries Museum. The museum often receives requests to view this material from Norwegian families spending time in Dumfries and local people who remember the Second World War. In this way a special friendship forged by the events of the Second World War continues today.

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