June 7: why Norwegians honor it
Part 2 of the Ola Ljødal story, with connecting material by Barbara Rostad
Barbara K. Rostad
Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho
The first significant June 7 in Norwegian history was over a century ago. Imagine a referendum whose outcome is 368,208 to 184. In one of the most lopsided results ever recorded, Norwegians voted 99.5% in support of secession from Sweden. This was the voice of the people following up on the unanimous decision of the Storting on June 7, 1905. Thus, June 7 is seen by Norwegians as the date it regained the independence first formulated May 17, 1814, with the writing of the Norwegian Constitution.
By year’s end King Haakon VII, formerly Prince Carl of Denmark, had accepted the position of Norway’s new king following a favorable vote of 79% for keeping a monarch, a poll Haakon himself requested.
Thirty-five years later, this king found himself and his government fleeing the Nazis, gradually pushing northward as the Germans sought to destroy them.
They met in Hamar on the afternoon of April 9, continued to Elverum, on to Molde, then to Tromsø. Here they established a government on May 1. But barely a month later it was no longer safe to remain in Norway. On June 7, 1940, the king, Crown Prince Olav, and the rest of the government boarded England’s HMS Devonshire and were brought safely to London.
At this point June 7 acquired added significance, both for the king on a personal level, and for all Norwegians. Their king and government were in exile.
Life after liberation
Their struggle continued for just over five years; May 8, 1945, was Liberation Day. On that day, recalls Norwegian Ola Ljødal, the newspaper had a single page with huge letters: WE ARE FREE! Below it were the words to “Ja, Vi Elsker.”
On May 13 Crown Prince Olav returned to Norway, but his father waited another three weeks. Not because he wasn’t eager, but because he knew that a June 7 arrival would resonate in the hearts of Norwegians forever.
Though King Haakon’s departure from Norway was not popular at the time, there were throngs of cheering Norwegians on that special day, June 7, 1945. Ola Ljødal, whose WWII story, “We are not forgotten,” appeared in the Norwegian American Weekly April 15, 2016, was in Oslo that day. His memories about Liberation Day, the king’s return, and the subsequent life paths followed by him and his siblings constitute Part 2. His narrative is produced in italics while the connecting paragraphs are not.
The excitement engendered by the war’s end and their king’s promised return is recalled vividly by Ola. May 8th I didn’t eat all day—I was too full of joy. And no sleep that first night. I was too excited.
We floated on intoxicating waves of giddiness from May 8 until far into the summer. That initial period after the liberation was obviously the most feverish. Several enjoyable things occurred one after the other.
We stood up in the garden and could see in the clear air that Allied airplanes were releasing supplies in parachutes over Gardermoen Airport. Whether they were also dropping people, I don’t know. But in any case, it was something new and exciting to see.
Some English soldiers were housed at several of the schools. One of our neighbors that had lived in the U.S. awhile was called upon to be an interpreter. Some of us had to go see these soldiers we knew had fought for us out there but our information was extremely limited and had come to a standstill due to newspaper censorship. Several of the boys from Sundset that knew a little English made remarks to the soldiers who stood flirting with some giggling teenage girls.
Cigarettes became available and we enjoyed the glorious taste and smell of these Virginia cigarettes we bought. They were a vast improvement over the homemade tobacco leaves we were used to getting. What a satisfying smoke!
We were glad to learn that our neighbor’s two sons Arvid and Johan, who had sailed on Norwegian ships during the whole war, came home in good shape. Johan, my childhood hero, had been torpedoed two times and had participated in the Normandy invasion of the French coast in June 1944.
By late spring/early summer dances made a comeback. English dance orchestras played for huge crowds. It was fun to see and hear a big band in the flesh instead of just in American films we had seen before they were forbidden during the Occupation or now on theater posters advertising such films.
And how we hungered for American films! Especially after five lean years with Swedish, Danish, French, Hungarian, and Norwegian films. We especially enjoyed a charming little girl on the movie screen who brought us great joy in that era and who, of course, we boys fell in love with: Shirley Temple.
Things scarce or forbidden during the Occupation could once more be experienced—smoking cigarettes, dancing, and going to the movies all provided excitement for a young man in his late teens. Such small pleasures amid the heady joy of liberation provide treasured memories yet today for Ljødal. He recalls in particular a trip to Gardermoen with friends where he was fortunate enough to be allowed to go up in a Spitfire and seat himself in the cockpit.
Nothing like a Spitfire
This British fighter plane, developed in 1936, was known for its lightning speed; nothing could catch it until 1949 when swept-wing jets were invented. Some Spitfires were equipped with a Rolls-Royce Griffin Engine, making them so fast and agile they could actually overcome German V1 rockets by closing in to tip the rocket’s wings, causing it to crash. They were so lethal that German General Adolf Galland noted, “The best thing about them is there are so few of them.”
In later years one British pilot who flew with the RAF during the Battle of Britain recalled, “She really was the perfect flying machine… I’ve flown jets right up to the Venom, but nothing, nothing like her. Nothing like a Spitfire.”
And there in mid-1945 Ola Ljødal, nearly 18, sits in the cockpit of a Spitfire, almost breathless as he imagines all the possibilities.
The King’s Return
Crown Prince Olav returned to his native land May 13. But when was the king coming? We found out he would come on a date that held great significance both for him and for Norway: June 7! That was the date I looked forward to with extra happiness and excitement, for that day I would go to Oslo and be part of the Welcome Reception.
At last June 7 arrived. I took the train from Eidsvoll as early in the day as possible with my destination Oslo, 112 English miles away. When I arrived, I went over Jernbanetorvet and up Skippergaten toward Karl Johan because I thought that when the king came with a car, surely they would take Karl Johan up to the palace. So I wanted to stand at the end of Skippergaten and have a fine view.
Or so I thought.
My plan was brutally upended by reality. I had not gone far up Skippergaten before my striding tempo became slower and slower until finally it came entirely to a halt. Suddenly I stood facing a tightly packed wall of people.
There was no talk about some possibility to come near Karl Johan—and the king. I remained standing nearly to the back of the masses. People stood on step ladders, folding stools, chairs, even on ladders up against house walls far up, as high as possible, to get a view. Though I stood no more than 15-20 meters from Karl Johan, I just had to accept that I would not get to see my heroic king that day.
After quite a while there began to be movement by the crowds in front of me with shouts and noises of many kinds. First a little rumbling here and there, some flags lifted in the air and waved. Then the sound grew louder and louder until finally it reached a single crescendo and I realized that now the king was coming.
I rose on my toes and between heads in front of me actually could see the tops of some vehicles that crawled past. It was easy to realize from the cheers and hurrahs and waving of flags in front of me that now he was right there.
But as I said, I saw just some glimpse of the tops of the tallest cars. The throngs ahead of me began to loosen up, shouting subsided and I understood the event was over. King Haakon had gone past!
My desire to see him went unfulfilled. Likewise, in front of me stood a whole multitude of people that didn’t see him either—a small consolation. Just the same, I was quite satisfied with my adventure in an atmosphere of great joy. I was there when the king came!
A special Honor Guard
Serving as the returning King’s Honor Guard that day were members of the 99th Battalion, one of three in the 474th Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army. Known as the Norwegian-American Viking Battalion, the 99th was part of the special forces of the U.S. Army in WWII.
Sent to Norway to help disarm the 400,000 German soldiers still present and to show the Norwegian people the close cooperation between the U.S. and Norway, they were also given the privilege to be the Honor Guard for King Haakon’s homecoming.
Ljødals through the years
Ola wasn’t quite a teenager when his country was invaded. His coming of age years were during the Occupation.
Born in 1927, he got his first English lessons from his sister Thorbjørg. Not a staple in the schools at that time, it wasn’t until the fall of 1949 when he entered a teacher’s college that he learned the majority of his English.
After confirmation he took an “after-primary-school” course in 1942-43. In autumn of 1943 he started at a high school but once he understood that it was managed by the Nazis, he and several others quit. The following year he attended a trade school, after which he worked in a ceramic factory, then at a sports firm where he was employed when the war ended.
A folk high school took up his time in 1946-47, followed by military service 1948-49, when he served in the “Tyskelandsbrigade,” i.e. the German Brigade in Germany.
Four years at a teacher’s college set him on his career path as a primary school teacher. After positions in Vestfold, Aasnes, and Oslo, he settled in at Ringsaker for 33 years, including 12 as school principal.
There were seven children in the Ljødal family. Ola’s sister Thorbjørg became a high school language teacher, focusing on English, German, and French. Mari became a gardener, as did her husband. Two brothers studied electrical engineering: Knut, who conducted inspections at a power plant, and Neri, who spent many years in school administration. The fourth brother, Gunner, served as a priest and also taught at the teacher’s college. Being a housewife suited Kari.
At nearly 97, Thorbjørg is the oldest and currently lives in the Eidsvoll Health Center where she teaches English to some of her fellow residents. She was selected Citizen of Eidsvoll 2009.
She was a student at the University of Oslo during WWII and luckily was at home in Eidsvoll when hundreds of students and teachers at the university were arrested and sent to Germany sometime around 1942.
After the war Thorbjørg married her sweetheart Sverre, who, unbeknownst to her or anyone else, had fought in the Norwegian Resistance. They were married in 1947 and had three children before he died in 1951.
Highly independent, Thorbjørg determined to support her family so she attended a teacher’s college in Hamar for three years, during which time she placed her youngest child with her parents. From 1973-75 she taught Norwegian in London. Her other teaching years were spent in Norway.
Neri has written a book on Eidsvoll during WWII, edited by the Eidsvoll Historical Society. Gunner too has done a book; his is on the Langseth Church, prepared at the time of the church’s 150th Anniversary. Ola also is in print, having delved into the family tree of the Ørbæks.
Ola married Ruth Nancy Haakerrud Ostby, born in 1933 and trained as a nurse. She worked for some time at the Riks Hospital in Oslo where she and Ola met.
Ljødal and his siblings became well-educated and productive citizens with a strong bent toward teaching and writing. Five are still living. Knut died in 2014 at 91. Mari is also gone. Like many of their countrymen, the remaining five continue to be active well into their 80s and 90s.
More Weight to June 7
Many Norwegians were dismayed about their King’s June 7, 1940, departure to England, but as the war wore on it became apparent that this decision was part of what prevented Norway from surrendering to the Germans. The King met weekly with his cabinet and made regular broadcasts on the BBC.
During the Occupation many Norwegians surreptitiously wore clothing or jewelry with King Haakon’s monogram as a sign of resistance, also reproducing it on various surfaces.
King Haakon VII is now revered for his courage during the German invasion. He is buried at Akershus Fortress, Oslo. As noted earlier, he was elected king November 18, 1905. His coronation took place June 22, 1906, just over a year after the June 7 decision to end the union with Sweden.
A statue of King Haakon VII has stood in downtown Oslo for a number of years. Last year on June 7 King Harald V and his sister Astrid, both part of that Homecoming Parade in 1945, together unveiled a statue of their father, King Olav V, “the people’s king.” And so 110 years after independence, another link to June 7 further cemented the importance of that date in the minds of many.
Though June 7 is not a public holiday in Norway, it remains a special day and is an official Flag Day noted as such on many calendars. It reminds Norwegians, and all those with Norwegian ancestry, that freedom is not something to be taken for granted.
This article originally appeared in the June 3, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.