June 1940: The Battle of Norway is over, but hundreds of whalers have made their way to London after an exceptionally good season in the Antarctic Seas. They have signed off, been paid wages and have plenty of pounds in their pockets. Now they are eager to return to Norway in order to fight against the Germans. That turns out to be impossible. Five years in the Norwegian Brigade on Scottish soil are waiting.

BJORN HOELSETH

First stop is the small town of Dumfries far south in Scotland. Still old people are living there who were eyewitnesses when the first 200 Norwegians fell out of the railway coaches at the station, where a band was playing and the Lord Provost welcomed to the town. Curiosity was great.

This was June 6. The initial goal for the voluntary soldier recruits was «The Mill», an abandoned wool spinning mill. It would be inaccurate to call their march to The Troqueer Mills for good, close formation. The whalers still had their special swaying gait after months on deck. They carried their duffelbags and trunks, some in shore kits, others in Fair Isle sweaters or casual clothes of the day. Some brought a wireless, a gramophone or an accordion. The footwear was extremely variable, to say the least.

«The Mills» offered cold, dirty, and windy premises. Two blankets per person and equipment to make straw mattresses for floor sleeping accommodation was standard. Hard wooden beds arrived later.

To the nearest furniture store

With pockets full of money, some of the whalers - mostly from the coastal town of Sandefjord and the surrounding inland villages (South-Eastern Norway) – very soon acquired proper bedding from the nearest furniture store. Others bought stately clothing. Everybody soon found out that the best pub in town was «Ye ol` Hole in the Wall». The whalers immediately changed the name to Norwegian slang «Hole in the Wall». The whalers became very popular in that pub as they often bought beer for anyone who stayed in the venue with their saved wages.

Marcus Myhre who after the war lived most of his life in Sandefjord, bought his own car, a Hillman. In the beginning of his British exile he stayed in the Norwegian collecting camp in Hamilton outside Glasgow, but moved to Dumfries shortly after.

- I was well off with money after the whaling season, and found out that a car was nice to have when we were on leave. The car was put at the disposal of the camp officers during day time for 15 shillings a day, but after daily service I used it myself, Myhre tells in the book «The History of the Norwegian Brigade in Scotland». He not only bought one Hillman during his stay, but three.

Not easy to adapt

It is said that the whalers found it difficult to adjust themselves to military drills and discipline. Many of them were adult, independent men who at first would not be bullied by young whippersnappers among non-commissioned or commissioned officers. However, when they realized that the drill could bring them home to Norway with guns in hand, they gradually gave in. Soon things got serious in instruction, training and excercises. After a few weeks they received uniforms and during the summer, handguns. Then heavy artillery came along.

Meanwhile they thought it best to live their new life fairly normally. But it took a while before the whalers and other sailors accepted military terms. Instead of «leave» they used their own Norwegian word «go ashore». The camp food was made by «the steward», who had his quarters in «the galley». Food was not made, but «messed». Instead of right and left they understood better terms like «port and starboard». Their legendary boss, Major Stenersen, was called «shipowner».

As more Norwegians fled from their home country to Britain via the Soviet Union or America in order to join the Brigade, these expressions quickly were somewhat diluted, and they bowed to common military language in the end.

Kind ladies and young girls

There was a surplus of women in Dumfries because so many young men were drafted into military service. The locals did what they could to prevent the Norwegians feeling homesick. In the beginning the whalers received cigarettes and even money stuck in the hand from well-meaning Scots. They did not know that the Norwegians were pretty well off.

One day a lady, driving a nice car, slowed down before the camp guard, who was a whaler, and gave him a ten-shilling note. He reacted a bit bewildered, then accepted the money but asked the lady out the next night. Then he brought her to the best hotel restaurant in Dumfries where he ordered delicate and expensive dishes, and lots of exclusive wine. After a while she became very concerned and thought she had to pay the bill. But no worry, when the bill arrived the whaler brought up a pile of ten-pound notes, ordered two bottles of champagne and gave five pounds in tips.

Wanted to improve the diet

A bit tipsy whaler from Sandefjord (for sure) on leave strolled one day back to The Mill with a cow, which he had bought in Dalbeattie not far away. The whalers were used to rich ship board and found the military canteen food somewhat poor. So now it should be at least large amounts of fresh milk daily instead of the little stingy drops that were only appropriate to have in one`s cup of tea!

The whaler insisted to the sceptics that he had made a bargain, and made a primitive byre in a nook in the camp`s auto repair shop. However, he had forgotten long fodder so that the animal could survive. Then he took a trip to town to see if he could find something for the cow. It is possible that he was distracted on the road, for instead of finding fodder he took a quick step inside «The Hole in the Wall», or maybe a place called by the Norwegians «The Dip in Hell». With two bottles of whisky he then went back to the garage byre, where he was found the day after next to a lowing cow with a half empty bottle in his hand.

The cow bargain was changed.

Friendship and Love

In those early days and throughout their stay in Scotland, friendship and love arose between Norwegians soldiers and Scots. The Norwegians were invited home for tea, cake and entertainment. In the «Plaza» dance hall in Dumfries men and women came close. From this arose lovers, engagements and marriages. Romance flourished in both the short and long run.

Quite many Norwegians, among them the whalers, brought their Scottish wives and fiancees to Norway after 1945, some of them turned back to Scotland with them. Some settled down in their new country. Therefore, there are currently many descendants of these couples. Especially in Dumfries town there are many people who want to keep in touch with Sandefjord and the county of Vestfold. Both local authorities, churches and volonteer committees want as many Norwegians as possible taking part in friendship markings and remembrance ceremonies this autumn.

Friday November 14, there will be the official hoisting of the Norwegian national flag in the main square of Dumfries, and on Sunday November 16 there will be sermons and worship connected to the years 1940-45 in St. Michael`s Church and in the Troqueer Cemetary, where several Norwegian soldiers are buried.

 

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Inspection: From the «barracks» in The Troqueer Mills summer 1940.

(Photo: A.O. Hauge)

 

 

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Excercise: The Norwegian Brigade took part in countless excercises.

 (Photo: The Defence Museum Norway)

 

 

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«Ye ol`Hole in the Wall»: This famous drawing was made by the wellknown

Norwegian artist «Pedro» while serving in Dumfries. Later he became one of the

«Green Devils» taking part in the Walcheren invasion.

(The drawing published by consent of the publishing house Cappelen-Damm)