The war years on Fedje, part two
Fedje, because of its western location, was a popular point of departure for people wanting to flee to England, either because they were sought by the Germans or because they just wanted an opportunity to contribute to the war effort on Norway’s behalf. The nearest point of Great Britain was the Shetland Islands, and this is where those making a run for it would normally head. The vessels used were usually small fishing boats, 25 to 65 fet long, operated by local fisherman. One boat, “M/B Soløy,” was just 27 feet in length and carried 27 people across the North Sea to Shetland. When it arrived in Lerwick, Shetland, most of the rivets in the hull were popped due to heavy load and the heavy seas, and it sank at the dock right after discharging its passengers.
One early morning in 1942, my grandfather’s sister, Ulla, came knocking on his door. She was in a panic because her 18-year-old daughter, Alette, had not come home the night before. Ulla’s husband, Tines, has searched all night and had been stopped by the Germans several times for violating curfew. My grandfather calmed her fears by telling her that his son, Erling (the flag bearer from their wedding), had not come either. Erling had made the comment to his father earlier in the day that he shouldn’t worry if he didn’t come home that evening. My grandfather told Tines that he was certain that they were both on their way to England.
Alette joined the Norwegian army in England and served in various posts until the war was over. My uncle Erling became a merchant seaman and served on an ammunition ship at Normandy on D-Day. The ship was designed to beach itself and discharge its cargo through a large door in its bow. When the ship hit the beach it hit a mine, but even though it was fully loaded with ammunition it did not blow up and the mine did relatively little damage. Uncle Erling spent the rest of the war working on a coastal freighter in southern England.
My uncle Asbjørn was not so lucky. He was visiting his brothers in Oregon when the war broke out. He signed on with the U.S. merchant marine. On its way back from Iceland, his ship was torpedoed in the North Atlantic, but many of the crew made it to life rafts. It is not known if uncle Asbjørn was one of them. The submarine that sank them surfaced and took the captain and first engineer onboard. What happened to the rest of the crew is a mystery. The captain called on my uncle Carl (Asbjørn’s brother who lives in Portland, Oregon) after the war and told him what details he knew. For an account of what is known about the circumstances surrounding his death, see the segment to follow, called “Uncle Asbjørn.”
After the war, life on Fedje quickly returned to normal (except for those lingering ration cards). A memorial obelisk was placed in the church cemetery inscribed with the names of the 12 men lost during the war. None lost their life on Fedje. When my uncle Erling (the flag bearer) was married a few years later, the wedding reception was held in the German barracks.
This article is part of the column Long Ago & Far Away by John Lind.
This article originally appeared in the Nov. 21, 2014, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.