The war years on Fosnøy, part two
At the outbreak of the war, my father was first mate on a coastal freighter named “Kilstraum,” captained by Alf Utkilen. The Germans requisitioned the vessel and its crew and sent it to Finnmark (in northern Norway) where it stayed mostly idle. Vessels could apply for release from the Germans to go fishing during herring season. “Kilstraum” applied for such a release and the request was granted. My mother still beams with excitement when she tells of hearing “Kilstraum” approaching after its long absence, blowing its whistle and lighting up the sky with its spotlight.
Many of the requisitioned ships were used by the Germans to freight sand and cement. The Germans paid exceptionally well and there were Norwegians who had never done a lick of work in their lives who all of a sudden got ambition and started working for the Germans, making more money than they had ever expected to. Farming expanded during the war as demand for farm goods increased due to the lack of any imports. Many town people moved to the country, living with relatives and helping out with the farming and fishing. Trading farm goods on the black market was quite profitable. Much new land was brought into production.
By the middle of the war my father was captain of his own vessel. Whenever he or the other captains in our community (Kasper Brügger and Ingolf Langøy) were forced to haul cargoes of construction materials for the Germans, they would, whenever possible, make an unscheduled stop at our island and unload some of the goods. By the end of the war they had liberated enough material to build their own dock, appropriately named the “German Dock.”
About a week after the war started a German two-engine bomber crash landed in our village. It had been damaged in a confrontation with the English further north and was trying to make it back to its base (Sola) in southern Norway. The plane first touched down about 200 feet behind our house and, heading northward, took out several fences until it came to rest behind our neighbors’ barn. At that time, our part of Norway was still under Norwegian control and the local constable (lendsmannen) was summoned to arrest the six Germans. It was reported that the Germans were seen burning documents and maps in anticipation of being arrested. One of the crew had been injured and was taken to the schoolhouse on Årås where he was cared for by the local midwife.
One of the crew tried to convince the locals (who had gathered around the plane) to hide him, as he was going to be married the following Saturday. He was probably lying but some of the locals were sympathetic. It is possible that the full impact of the German invasion had not been absorbed by all. Some may have thought back to Kaiser Wilhelm who used to vacation in western Norway prior to World War I and was a favorite of the Norwegian people. He would arrive off our island with what became known as the “Great White Fleet” and would head to either Bergen or Sogn where he would cause a minor wave of inflation in certain localities. Nobody offered shelter to the German flyer; they were arrested without violence and moved to Sogn for incarceration. They were released a few days later when Norway surrendered.
It had been a long five years and our island had been luckier than many similar islands along the west coast of Norway. We had lost seven of our islanders, but none died on Norwegian soil. Three died in English hospitals of wounds suffered during naval engagements with the Germans, one died during naval action in the English Channel, and another died when his merchant vessel was bombed in the North Atlantic. Maria Krossøy fled with her husband to the Shetland Islands even though she had been bedridden for a year prior to that time. She died in the hospital in Lerwick. The seventh death was the most tragic of all. It was that of a nine-year-old boy who had fled with his parents to England in December of 1944 as his father was sought by the Germans for “illegal activities.” On January 29, 1945, in London, the boy was struck by a truck and killed.
This article is part of the column Long Ago & Far Away by John Lind.
Norway has come a long way in a few decades. When Jon Lind was a child they still dug peat for fuel, carried water from a well, and lit their houses with kerosene. Lind was 11 when his family moved from Austrheim to Oregon, and considers America his home. Yet in memory the Norway of his childhood seems idyllic. In this column he shares some of those memories. Share your memories with him at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 24, 2014, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.