I Was There! - I Saw Norway in the Hour of Her Greatest Joy
Welcome which the people of Oslo gave to King Haakon when he arrived home from exile on June 7, 1945, came as a climax to four weeks of non-stop celebrations. These impressions of Norway during the Liberation were recorded by Sgt. A. J. Wilson, R.A.F., specially for “The War Illustrated.”
I flew to Oslo in a Sunderland flying boat of the Royal Norwegian Air Force, the crew of which were on there way home for the first time in five years. As the rugged coastline of the native land thrust itself through the blue of the North Sea, the Norwegian airmen exchanged congratulations and later, over the little fishing villages which hug the shelter of the mountains in creeks and fiords, the pilot waggled his wings in greeting to his countrymen. Below us, the shadow of the great flying boat leaped the fiords and flitted triumphantly over field and mountain, bringing children and old folks running out to wave.
After a perfect landing on the shimmering water of Oslo Fiord we drove through the gaily beflagged streets of the city where thousands had gathered outside the Royal Palace to welcome Crown Prince Olaf, who had arrived by cruiser a few hours earlier. British airborne troops and a few R.A.F. men were mingling with the crowds and everywhere they were being given a tremendous reception.
For several days the Norwegians in Oslo did little work. They thronged the streets and missed no opportunity for celebration. Allied troops were besieged by children for autographs, and wherever a crowd gathered they sang their national anthem and traditional songs. Just when things were beginning to return to normal, new events, such as Constitution Day on May 17, the Whitsun Bank Holiday, and the arrival by sea and air of notable Norwegian and Allied personalities, brought rejoicing crowds into the streets again.
Unfortunately, it will probably be some time before all Germans are out of Norway. The towns were cleared in the first few days after the liberation and the Germans have been collected—or have collected themselves—in reservation camps where they will await complete disarmament, when there are sufficient Allied troops to supervise the Job.
The roads leading out of Oslo have been packed with German convoys, nearly all of them unescorted by our troops but all flying the white flag of surrender. For the most part the Germans are docile and ready to co-operate. Later will come the problem of transport—when the Allied authorities in Germany signal that evacuation can start. Meanwhile, the last of the quislings are being enthusiastically hunted down by members of the Norwegian Home Front. Norway's Resistance Movement is now revealed as one of the best in Europe. It had many branches and its work was always well co-ordinated.
The R.A.F. Kept Them Supplied
I asked a Norwegian army officer, who had been sent home to organize a Resistance group, what would have happened if the German in Norway had decided to hold out. He smiled and said that such an eventuality had been foreseen and that everything had been taken care of. Everyone in the Resistance knew exactly what his job was to be; in every street of every town and village things were organized down to the last detail. As long as the R.A.F. kept them supplied and they had some airborne help, they would have beaten the Germans.
The Home Front in Norway was 50,000 strong and there would have been many more members but for the fact that for two years recruiting was stopped so that there should be no German infiltration into the Movement. Most colourful of the patriots are the big, blonde young men who took to the mountains to wage active warfare against the Germans with arms dropped to them by British supply planes. They ambushed convoys, made road-blocks and often fought pitched battles with the Germans.
Those who carried on the underground work in the cities and towns lived even more dangerously. Under the noses of the Gestapo they smuggled men out of the country to fight in the armies overseas and organized acts of sabotage. If they were caught they were “grilled” by the Gestapo and most of them disappeared for ever.
In the first fortnight after the liberation in Oslo every German building, every street and every office block was guarded by the patriots. When darkness fell they brought their Sten guns down to the ready and unslung their rifles. Going home after midnight, their Stens would follow you with every step; you would never be out of sight—or out of range—of a Resistance man.
“You must forgive us if we seem too warlike,” one of their leaders told me, “but we cannot take chances as long as there are quislings and Germans still about. The boys have been forced to fight underground for so long that it is strange to be able to come out into the open in their uniforms and armbands!”
All over Oslo there is evidence of the patriots' work of sabotage. Blocks of offices which housed German military and civil administration officials were blown sky-high. In one day last year no fewer than 30 explosions kept Nazi fire tenders and rescue squads dashing all over the city.
Many Norwegians still wear their concentration camp numbers on their civilian clothes. It was almost a matter of pride to be “concentrated,” despite the bad conditions which prevailed in the camps. I heard of one old woman of 70, who was a regular “customer” for repeatedly defying the Germans. She was serving her fifth term of imprisonment when freed by the Resistance on Liberation Day.
If there are any doubts about how the Norwegians feel towards their British and American liberators they can be quickly dispelled by the readiness of thousands of Norwegians to volunteer for the war against Japan. One patriot, just released from a German prison, asked me how soon it would be before he and his colleagues could be shipped to the Far East. I asked him why he was so anxious to fight the Japs—had he not had enough of war and suffering? He replied: “Are we not Allies? We should be failing in our duty if we did not go!”
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