The war years on Fedje

Photo courtesy of Jon Lind In 1958, when my grandparents celebrated their 50th anniversary, their four children in the U.S. gave them a trip across as an anniversary present. The adults pictured are my grandparents, my mother, and my three uncles.

Photo courtesy of Jon Lind
In 1958, when my grandparents celebrated their 50th anniversary, their four children in the U.S. gave them a trip across as an anniversary present. The adults pictured are my grandparents, my mother, and my three uncles.

Jon Lind

I was only three years old when the war ended. What I am going to relate I was told by others, mostly my mother and father. I am told that German soldiers would search our house on occasion, looking for guns and radios. It was illegal to own either. They scared me, and when they came I would cry. One German soldier, at least on one occasion said to me: “Bare ikke bange,” which loosely translates into “There’s no need to cry.”

There were only about half a dozen German soldiers stationed on our island of Fosnøy, but there was a large garrison of around 400 on Fedje, a neighboring island where my mother was raised and where I spent a lot of time with my grandparents when we lived in Norway. Fedje is the westernmost inhabited point of land in Norway and sits by itself, surrounded on all sides by the North Sea. The boat trip between my island of Fosnøy and Fedje takes about 45 minutes and can be a real adventure in the winter months. Fedje is strategically located on the main shipping lane used by vessels traveling between the North Sea and Bergen. On the first day of the war, April 9, 1940, many German ships could be seen positioned around Fedje, including naval vessels.

The German garrison on Fedje constructed a tall radar mast on the highest hill, called Hesthaugen. By today’s standards it was a primitive affair, consisting of a massive center mast, to which was attached a stationary metal grid. They also constructed a listening post, which looked like a large metal dish pointing upward. They brought two large guns that were housed in concrete bunkers. They also built several barracks next to the radar station. There was no electricity on Fedje at the time, so the Germans brought in two large generators.

There was not much interaction between the Germans and the residents of Fedje. The local population was not mistreated as long as they followed the Germans’ rules. They were our friends, they said, and were merely here to protect us from the English. A curfew was strictly enforced and everyone was expected to have blackout curtains so no lights were visible at night. One of their rules banned the display of the Norwegian flag.

My parents were to be married on Fedje, at my grandfather’s house, in October of 1940. At this time almost everything was rationed and it was difficult to assemble enough food for a wedding party. My mother, however, worked at the local store and the proprietor promised her that he could supply enough food to feed 30 people, conditioned on the fact that he would be invited. The local church was being renovated so the local Christian center (bedehuset) served as a temporary church. Originally, this was where the ceremony was planned to take place.

It was the custom that when the wedding party returns from church, a large dinner is served. Because bedehuset was located less than a five-minute walk from my grandfather’s house, the cook complained that she would not have enough time to prepare the wedding dinner. It was then decided that the wedding ceremony would take place in the church on Fosnøy, which meant that the wedding party would walk from my grandparents’ house on Fedje to the ferry dock, take the boat to Austrheim, walk to the church and repeat the process on the way back.

A wedding party always walked to a particular protocol. In the lead was the flag bearer, followed by the accordion player, who was followed by the bride and groom. Behind the bride and groom came the rest of the wedding procession. Without the flag bearer, however, a major ingredient would be missing and its absence would only serve to reinforce the feeling that Norway was no longer free. Without telling anybody, my grandfather went to the commanding officer of the German garrison and explained the situation, and he must have been very convincing because he came back with permission to have the Norwegian flag carried at the head of the procession. The flag was carried by my mother’s 19-year-old brother Erling. As usual, the wedding lasted from Friday night till Sunday afternoon. That Friday and Saturday evening German soldiers patrolled the road in front of my grandfather’s house to make sure no lights were visible.

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

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 7, 2014, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

Norwegian American Logo

The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.