The Search for Thor
Director V. revealed
by Randi Millman-Brown
Thor Jensen, 36, moves from Oslo to Hammerfest. He is promoted to bank manager, becomes engaged, and takes a one-month hiking trip through occupied Finnmark in 1941. By the end of the year, he is dead, leaving behind a mystery, a diary, and many questions. This column chronicles his great niece’s attempt to solve that mystery.
Last month I wrote about some of the details in my great-uncle Thor’s travel journal that left readers with more questions than answers. The main question was who was this mystery person, Director V., who shared secrets with Thor? His identity has been revealed.
I posted a query on the Facebook page “Hammerfest Historielags forum,” asking if anyone might be able to help me figure out who this “Director V.” was. I quickly received a reply with interesting information. A member of the Facebook group sent me a scan from a book with the director’s name and provided me with a link to the book.
Director V. was most likely Sverre Vaernø, who had been the head of the Finnmark Fylkesrederi og Ruteselskap AS shipping company in Hammerfest. He was also educated as captain in the Navy and led many rescue operations at sea. I was very excited to get this information and immediately wrote to a librarian at the National Library in Oslo asking for help accessing the book. The librarian was able to scan 14 pages from the book De grå skipene og de gule bussene (The Gray Ships and the Yellow Buses) by Leif A. Friberg, wherever Vaernø’s name appeared.
From here I learned that Vaernø had been arrested in 1944 for participating in a “Porsa” group. But now I was stuck because I had no information about this group. A Google search for “Porsa” didn’t get me anywhere. So I wrote another post to the Hammerfest Historielag forum and received additional information. A member had searched under “Porsasenderen,” which I hadn’t thought to do. It turns out Vaernø had been a member of this group and was also Thor’s friend in 1941. So it is possible Thor was working with or helping Vaernø with early Norwegian resistance intelligence during his time living in Hammerfest.
Here is a portion of the translated information about the radio transmitter stations called Ida and Lyra (no.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ida_og_Lyra):
“Ida and Lyra were two radio transmitter stations operated by resistance groups during World War II in the Alta fjord in Finnmark. The stations were operated on behalf of the British Secret Service Secret Intelligence Service (SIS). Lyra lay by Porsa power station, while Ida was located at Alta Airport in a barracks that belonged to NPRA.
“The groups consisted of local young men in the age of 20, in addition to SIS agent Torstein Raaby, who ran [as] business agent for the UK around the great German fleet in existence in Altafjorden and sidefjords. Especially battleships Tirpitz and Scharnhorst it was important for London to supervise. The German ships in Altafjorden were in such a large number that the Alta area was one of Europe’s largest harbors war during WWII.”
I am currently corresponding with Norway’s Resistance Museum in Oslo (Norsk Hjemmefrontmuseum) to find out if there is any additional information about the Porsa group, Mr. Vaernø, or Thor Jensen’s involvement.
In the previous article, I wrote about my research in Hammerfest. I spent six days there and then flew to Tromsø to search for materials in their archives, (www.arkivverket.no). While in Hammerfest I was told that any church records were no longer in their office archives and were sent to Tromsø, so I’d hoped to find them there. However, after some searching, the archivist in Tromsø determined that the church records were not there and were still in Hammerfest. When I contacted the Hammerfest church office, they told me that the records were missing. This was also the case with hospital and police records, both of which I tried finding when I was in Hammerfest. I was told maybe they were in the Tromsø archives. They weren’t. They were also missing.
The only thing I did find in the Tromsø archives was Thor’s bank records. I was the first person to open the ledgers (see photo) since they were put into storage. This was curious to me for several reasons. Why did the bank records survive? Why not the church or hospital or police records? I was able to see all the banking transactions that were recorded while he worked and lived in Hammerfest. Did it shed any light on what happened to him? Unfortunately, no. But it leaves me with hope that the information exists somewhere—I just have to find it.
Next stop: the archives in Trondheim.
Randi Millman-Brown is an art historian, photographer, part-time genealogist, and writer living in Ithaca, N.Y. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the Feb. 23, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.