This week marks the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the Norwegian Campaign during the Second World War, and we remember those Wellingtonians who were involved.
On 7th April 1940, German warships put to sea to begin the invasion of Norway; they were attacked by British Naval and RAF forces, but not deterred, and the next day German landings in Norway began. In the following few days the naval battles of Narvik took place and from 14th April onwards, British and French land forces arrived to aid the Norwegian defence. This was the first significant occasion in which the British and German armies engaged during WW2. The campaign continued throughout May 1940 but was ultimately unsuccessful and by early June it was over. Allied troops were evacuated and the Norwegian government went into exile.
One Old Wellingtonian lost his life in the campaign – Major Robert Walters of The York and Lancaster Regiment (Lynedoch 1915-17). He was reported as missing for several months, but eventually known to have been killed while attacking a machine-gun post near Kvam in central Norway, along with four volunteers, in April 1940. He was 38 and married. He is buried in Kvam churchyard alongside 53 other casualties of the campaign.
Flying Officer Michael Homer RAF, (Stanley 1933-36) was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his part in the Norwegian campaign. A report in The Times stated that “Homer was the pilot of an RAF aircraft carrying out a high-level bombing attack on two enemy cruisers anchored in Christiansand Bay, South Norway. In the face of intense anti-aircraft fire and attacks by enemy fighters, he successfully pressed home his attack, and his air gunner shot down an enemy fighter that burst into flames and fell into the sea. Although his aircraft had been damaged, P/O. Homer skilfully piloted it back to his base after a sea crossing of over 400 miles.” Sadly, Homer was himself shot down and killed during the Battle of Britain the following September, aged only 21.
Several more OWs are also known to have taken part in the campaign. Meanwhile, in June 1940, a dramatic short story called The Patriot appeared in the Wellingtonian. It imagines the conflicted feelings of a German soldier, partly brought up in Norway, when he is parachuted back there as part of the invasion. The author is given as ‘MEH’ – it is almost certain that this was Michael Eliot Howard, later a highly respected military historian and Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford. At the time Howard was in his final year at Wellington, shortly to become a School Prefect. Considering his later interests, perhaps it’s hardly surprising that this eventful early episode in the war sparked his creativity.