I Was There! - How We Spent The Last Days on Spitzbergen

The War Illustrated, Volume 5, No. 108, Page 190-191, October 10, 1941.

Among the Norwegians who came to England from Spitzbergen was Mrs. Mary Olsen, with her husband, Andor, and their 13-year-old daughter. Mrs. Olsen gave the following account of their last days in their Arctic home to a "Daily Mail" reporter.

Warm sunshine bathed the little Arctic town where we lived. I was at work in my timber-built cottage, my daughter Marie was playing outside with our pet "husky" dog Kiki.

Suddenly a neighbour cried out, "There are warships in the bay!"

I took Marie by the hand and we ran to the sea, Kiki galloping at our heels. The lifting mist revealed a great fleet of ships at the entrance to the fiord.

Ship's boats packed with soldiers were coming towards the quay. As the first boat scraped alongside an officer in uniform sprang ashore.

"Good-morning", he called in Norwegian. No one in the little knot of people, mostly women and children, who had gathered to watch, answered him. We did not know who they were. We were suspicious.

Soldiers in khaki climbed out of the boat smiling soldiers who stood smartly to attention and winked at the children clinging to our hands.

Then someone noticed the flag of Norway on the officer's shoulder. There was an audible sigh of relief. It was all right. These were British soldiers not Germans.

Spitzbergen was being occupied. I listened uncomprehendingly to my English-speaking countrymen who were now chatting with the newcomers. I watched, wondering, until Marie suddenly said that she was hungry. We went back home. Then an excited friend told me "The Canadians have come to take us away. They are going to free our beloved Norway."

The news was a shock. I love my home. Andor my husband, is a foreman in the mines. All our life was here. This was a big decision. Sad thoughts ran through my mind. "This is my dear Spitzbergen. This is our home. Andor and I have a beautiful home and a beautiful child. Oh God, why should there be Nazis..."

I went on with my household work. Late in the afternoon Andor came in from the mines. We had tea.

The Canadians were busy. Everything was to go on normally; there would be more news tomorrow.

I took out the last letter I had received from my mother months ago. There was very little in it. Away in Roros, near Trondheim, the Nazis were in possession. All the letter contained were little family details. But it did let us know that food was scarce, queues long.

Spitzbergen was beyond the war. We listened to the radio, some to Oslo, but most of us to the Norwegian news from London. We did not always believe the news from London. But we never believed the news from Oslo. That was Hitler talking. So we were often puzzled.

Days passed. The Canadians went about their own affairs and we carried on as usual went shopping, even had one or two little house parties.

Then came the day we were told we were to sail for Britain. We could each bring 50 kilos of luggage. Fifty kilos! What could I do with all our treasures, the home we had built, and our lovely furniture?

I was so sad, but my Marie was in great excitement... "Going to England! What fun!"

Andor and I talked it over. There was nothing else to talk about. "It is for freedom and right", he would reassure me. He said it over and over again.

Then the last day. There were more explosions as the Canadians went about destroying mines and machinery around Longyear.

One big explosion I welcomed. It drowned the crack of a gunshot. That was the end of poor Kiki. He had to be destroyed. One of Andor's friends did it for us. Poor Marie wept as Kiki was led away.

Mid-afternoon, Andor placed our luggage outside the door. I had one last look round. All the things I left. Little treasures I had carried from Norway. Andor locked the door and took the key. I never looked back. Now I am glad to be here. What we did was right. We know it.

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