Was Bestefar in England during the war?
Find out by searching the National Archival Services of Norway’s digitized archives
Important parts of the exciting history of Norwegians in Great Britain during World War II have been digitized. Anyone who wants to can now search for relatives by name.
The National Archival Services of Norway opened newly digitized archives on April 9. Now the public can search the persons registry for Norwegians who were in Great Britain during the war years.
In addition to the persons registry, the archives also include digitized documents from the same period that until recently were confidential. This includes diaries of meaningful people and participants in the government in exile who were involved in internal mudslinging, letters from King Haakon in which he is concerned with protecting Crown Princess Märtha in the United States, and dramatic flight reports from bombing raids.
Not the king
“We decided early on to have Norway in Great Britain as a theme because the Norwegian presence in Britain was very clear, big, and important,” said division leader and historian at the Archival Services Øyvind Ødegaard.
The arrivals registry that has been opened encompasses all those who came to Great Britain from just before 1941, when the Intake Center was established by the Defense Department. In total, 14,187 Norwegian citizens are listed in the registry. Among them are 1,037 women and 413 children.
“If you cannot find a person, that doesn’t mean that they weren’t in Great Britain during the war. You can’t, for example, find people like the king and prime minister, because they had already arrived in June of 1940,” said Ødegaard.
It is assumed that about 20,000 Norwegians were there during the war.
What the public will find when they open the arrival register is a traditional registry of people. There is one archival card per person with details such as name, birth date, home address, and, ideally, a back side, which is often but not always empty. Nevertheless, the information on the cards is often limited.
“But one can confirm whether people came, when they came, and one can find out a little more about what happened to them,” said Ødegaard.
What is very exciting is that for many, the so-called “interrogation archive” is also available. Almost all of those who eventually arrived in Great Britain during the war were interrogated by Norwegian authorities.
“That means that if you find an adult person in the registry, there is also likely an interrogation. That means that more can be found out about each person,” he said.
The authorities wanted to find out who you were, what you did, and why you came during the war. They wanted to ensure that there were not spies, double agents, or people with unwanted attitudes arriving. Norwegians came because they were entering military service or other important positions.
The interrogation archive has so far not been digitized. But the hope is that those who want to see more, such as an interrogation of one’s grandfather, might be able to see these details digitally over time and save a trip to the archives in Oslo.
Bars for torpedoes
There are also three other persons archives connected to the war years that have been digitized and made available at the archives this spring.
The Defense Department’s decorations register for those who received commendations for their efforts on behalf of Norway, covering in total seven decorations and honors. In addition, there is a registry for war medals and torpedo pins that were given to sailors, and the registers of missing Norwegian and foreign sailors who died in shipwrecks or other causes. War sailors could receive up to three bars, “Once,” “Twice,” and “Thrice” if they survived torpedo attacks. The archives for sailors were run by the Norwegian state shipping line, Nortraship.
National archivist Inga Bolstad said that all the persons archives and the historical documents that are now digitized and made available are important historical sources that are protected.
“When we now publish this in the Digital Archive, everyone will get the opportunity to make themselves familiar with an important part of Norwegian history, right from the original sources, at home in one’s own living room. One of the Archival Services’ most important goals is to make the archives digitally available for everyone, regardless of where they are or whether they can visit the archives’ reading rooms,” said Bolstad.
She emphasized that ensuring the same access to the national memory is important from a democratic perspective.
Translated by Andy Meyer
Do you know where your Norwegian grandparents were during the war? Send their photos and stories to Editor-in-chief Lori Ann Reinall at firstname.lastname@example.org, so we can share their stories with our readers.
This article originally appeared in the May 7, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.