The war years on Fosnøy, part one

Photo courtesy of Jon Lind Mikkal and his family photographed in 1947. Emma died at the age of 49 of a heart condition. Kåre, the youngest, died of the same inherited condition at the age of 35, leaving a young family behind. Ragnar (next to his mother) became a professor at the University of Bergen. We would always have spirited discussions during my trips back to Norway. He died of a heart attack the day before I arrived in Norway in 1994. He was 60 years old.

Photo courtesy of Jon Lind
Mikkal and his family photographed in 1947. Emma died at the age of 49 of a heart condition. Kåre, the youngest, died of the same inherited condition at the age of 35, leaving a young family behind. Ragnar (next to his mother) became a professor at the University of Bergen. We would always have spirited discussions during my trips back to Norway. He died of a heart attack the day before I arrived in Norway in 1994. He was 60 years old.

Jon Lind

The day the war ended, my father and mother were planting potatoes on our little farm on the island of Fosnøy. Suddenly, the church bell started to ring, which was very unusual for a weekday, and when they looked up, on a far hill called Årås, the house of Andreas Dåe was flying the Norwegian flag.

They knew then that the war was finally over. They put away their implements and ran to the house, because tonight there would be festivities. The first order of business was to hoist the Norwegian flag on the flagpoles that had stood bare for five years. It was decided that the gathering would be at the house of Mikkal Solheim who had returned from England a short time earlier. No one is sure how or when he did it, but that night Mikkal brought out a song he had composed (the melody was borrowed) about the people of our village. Each family had at least one verse and if he liked you, you got two. There were twenty verses in all. My mother, because of her beautiful voice, was selected to sing it. The two verses devoted to my father went as follows:

Johan er en snodig herre, går og lurer på mange ting
Snart som fiskar på en snekke, snart som admiral på “Trygg”
Som sin hobby driver han sitt gardsbruk, høyt på stand
Tobaksblad or gullerøtter, poppelstikklinger or rabarbarrøtter

Men han Johan, han har mere, han har en antikk-bo
En tysebe så ene, og på høsten en og to
Samt på Førland ein koloni, med badehotell of alt der i
Ja, der er liv med sommergjester, fra tidlig vår til lauvet detter.

The first verse describes my father as a clever man of many resources. He is a fisherman and admiral (captain) on a freighter named Trygg. He was also the only one in our community who grew tobacco leaves, as it was impossible to get cigarette or pipe tobacco during the war. Where he got the seeds from, I don’t know, but I do remember that his crop was not anything that would cause concern in North Carolina. He had also purchased a small piece of land and a barn next to a lake (Solevatnet). It is this that Mikkal characterized as a “bathing hotel” with summer guest arriving from “early spring ‘till the leaves fall.”

Mikkal, along with several other men from our island, was a contact person for people who wanted to flee to England. He, in turn, would pass your name to someone else and eventually travel arrangements would be made. He also had a short-wave radio that could pick up broadcasts from London. My father and Mikkal were good friends. We were also his closest neighbor. Mikkal and my father built a wooden compartment under the potato bin in his basement. The front was made of a spruce board with a big knot in it. The knot could be removed to access the radio controls. The idea was to keep this a secret because the Germans would imprison anyone caught in possession of a radio.

Of all of Mikkal’s virtues (and there were many) he had one gigantic fault. He was a terrible braggart. Within hours of its installation, people showed up from far and near to listen to Mikkal’s radio. One of the teachers on the island, Mikkal Hjærtås, who lived in a neighboring community, showed up late that night, carrying a kerosene lantern, because he had heard that Mikkal had a radio in his potato bin. Luckily, there were no Germans garrisoned on our island at that time. Earlier there had been a small contingent of about half a dozen, stationed several miles away on the other side of the island. It was, therefore, cause for alarm when, a few days later, a troop of Germans came marching up the road toward Mikkal’s house. Luckily, Mikkal saw them coming and ran out the basement door disguised as an old lady with black shawl over his head, a black coat on his back and one clog and one wooden shoe on his feet. The wooden shoe belonged to either his wife or his son, Ragnar. In either case, it gave him a natural limp. On his back he carried a peat basket as he headed away from the Germans toward the peat houses that were located about half a mile south of our village.

When the Germans entered his house and asked for him, his wife said he had gone to town (Bergen). It was obvious to the Germans that she was lying because his passport was laying, in full view, on the dining room table. In those days you didn’t go anywhere without your passport. They searched the house and, finding nothing, left.

The Germans obviously did not want to return empty handed, so they went then up the road to Fredrik Langøy and arrested him and his son Ingolf for having listened to the BBC. As described in a previous installment, they were returned after a few days, suffering no ill effects from their incarceration. Mikkal spent the evening in one of the peat houses. These were huts that had endured for centuries, most with rock walls and sod roofs. The peat houses were grouped about halfway between the peat fields and our village. Kasper Brügger owned a small coastal freighter, Kapp I, that had a deckload of lumber and happened to be moored at the local dock. That night they stacked Mikkal into the lumber and transported him to Bergen from where he was later shuttled to England by submarine.

This article is part of the column Long Ago & Far Away by John Lind.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 10, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.

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