A Present for the King

Photo by Mike Haupt

Icy winds and grey waves from the North Sea pounded the Lunna shore on Shetland Island off the east coast of Scotland. Fishing boats tied up at the dock bounced like corks. A small cutter called Blenda, contained extra gear, the kind not found on a fishing boat: weapons, ammunition, and a radio transmitter. The Blenda was Norwegian and the four men on board, including Captain Dag Haugen, were Norwegian members of the resistance against the German invaders of their country. They were to take a 200-mile trip from the Shetlands to Norway. The voyage was dangerous for many reasons—weather, rough seas, and patrols by German aircraft and patrol boats. Added to the danger was the insertion of agents and supplies to a Norwegian coastline bristling with German troops. Blenda was to rendezvous with members of the major resistance force in Norway, the Military Organization, or MILORG, which formed in May 1941 to coordinate activities such as intelligence gathering, sabotage, and agents.

Arne Sorensen, a lieutenant in the Norwegian Army, stepped onto the rolling deck of the Blenda. He and his men dressed as fishermen and titles like lieutenant cast aside. They also sported beards, having abandoned the clean-shaven appearance of the military. The only non-military person on board was the captain, and none could match his fiery red beard with streaks of white in it. The captain stood in the wheelhouse smoking his pipe and looked down as Arne greeted one of his men, Lars Haavik.

“All set with the radio and your gear, Lars?”

“Yes, Arnie. It will be good to set foot on Norwegian soil again. Tollefsen is below stowing the weapons and ammunition.”

“Fine. Thank you, Lars.”

Sorensen walked over to the hatch and climbed down the ladder to the hold.

“Good morning, Erik.”

Erik Tollefsen set the last crate of ammunition on the deck and secured it with the others.

“Hello, Arne. Are we set to go? The weather, as usual, isn’t promising.”

“The worse the weather, the better for us. And the Polar Night helps too, it’s dark early. Might keep prying German eyes from finding us.”

“Yes, but it still makes for a dangerous voyage,” Erik said.

“You are up for this, aren’t you?”

“Of course, but…” He looked sheepishly towards the deck of the hold. “I get seasick.”

Arne burst out laughing.

“If that is the worse of your worries, count yourself lucky. Finish here and then meet us on deck. Our English hosts will want to give us last-minute orders and see us off.”

At 4 pm two British officers, Major Mitchell and Lieutenant Howarth, arrived at the Blenda. They were with the Special Operations Executive, the organization that trained and inserted agents into Norway.

Major Mitchell looked over at the boat.

“I hope we trained them well, lieutenant.”

“They will be fine, major. There is always a bit of apprehension when we see a mission off.”

The major looked at his aide, nodded, and stepped onto the cutter.

Arne called to his men.

“Assemble on deck.”

Arne, Lars, and Erik lined up. Captain Dag Haugen came down from the wheelhouse in his own sweet time. He was a fisherman, not military.

He stood next to Arne, lit his pipe, and winked.

“Good afternoon, men,” said the major. “Captain, I have your maps for you. You will be familiar with your destination. You will go to Sunnfjord.”

“Lieutenant Sorensen, you will drop off your radio operator and weapons to the MILORG operatives that will meet you and pick up someone for the return trip.”

“Who is the person, major?”

“An agent with vital information that we need in England.”

“Yes, sir.” Arne knew he would not get any more than that, just in case a German patrol captured some or all of them.

Lieutenant Horwath looked at the assembled men.

“I believe we trained you well. The captain of course knows these seas like the back of his hand. Good luck, gentlemen.”

With that, the lieutenant and the major left the boat and walked back to their quarters at Fleming House to await its return.

“Well, that was short and sweet. Not even a peck on the cheek to see us off,” said Erik.

“What did you expect, Tollefsen? They send out boats like this all the time. Some don’t come back.”

“No need to remind me,” said Erik.

Captain Haugen had returned to the wheelhouse and started the boat’s engine. He laid the map out on his chart desk and turned on the small overhead light.

He called to the men.

‘Lars! Erik! Get ready to cast off the mooring lines. Arne! Everything stored away and secure?”

“All set, captain.”

“Cast off!” he yelled as he gripped the boat’s helm.

Lars and Erik removed the ropes that attached the boat to the pier. The boat’s engine emitted a chugging sound and Blenda moved away from the pier, gaining speed as it moved into the choppy North Sea.

The voyage to Sunnfjord was uneventful except to Erik Tollefsen, who had turned green as soon as the Blenda pulled away from the pier. His head in a bucket, he looked a sorry sight.

“Erik, we will be at our destination soon. I need you to be ready.”

“Sorry, Arne.” He wiped his mouth with his coat sleeve. “I won’t disappoint you.”

Arne descended into the cargo hold to make sure everything was still secure. The sea had taken a turn for the worse. He gripped the railing of the iron ladder leading into the hold. Small incandescent lights shone over the cargo.

“We have to turn these off, Lars. We are getting near the coast and need to go dark.”

“Right, Arne. I have a battery torch here if I need it. Everything is secure.”

Arne next climbed up a metal stairway to the wheelhouse. Captain Haugen hunched over the helm, his pipe lit and puffing away.

“We should be at Sunnfjord soon, Arne. Are the men ready?”

“Tollefsen is a little under the weather, but he will be alright.”

“Look at the chart, Arne. See that little cove? That is where we are picking up our passenger and dropping off Lars and the supplies. It is deep there and the MILORG will have a small boat to take everything ashore and bring our passenger aboard.”

A half-hour later, the Blenda entered the Sunnfjord. The cove was a mile in and to the starboard side. A small light on the shore flashed the recognition signal. Arne with a small signal light flashed back the countersign as they pulled into the cove.

A small skiff with two men at the oars rowed out to meet them.

Arne kept his hand on his pistol and Erik stood by with a Sten gun, just in case.

The skiff came alongside the Blenda and a man in front of the boat whispered, “All for Norway”, the motto of the resistance. Arne replied the same.

“We have little time,” said the man. “Patrols are moving about. We must be quick.”

“Erik. Lars. Start loading the supplies into the skiff,” said Arne. “When loaded, I am going ashore with Lars to escort our passenger back to the Blenda.”

“Why risk it, Arne? The MILORG people can handle that.”

“I was ordered to, besides, I have some other business ashore. It won’t take me long.”

Bewildered, Erik and Lars looked at each other. Then they noticed the small hatchet Arne had in his hand.

Arne saw their faces and grinned.

“Everything is fine, Erik. I will be back.”

The skiff loaded, they rowed to the shore of the cove.

MILORG operatives hurried Lars and the supplies along the shore to a waiting horse-drawn wagon. 

Lars and Arne shook hands.

“I will see you again, Lars. Be careful. All for Norway.”

Lars climbed into the wagon and hid amongst the supplies hidden by pine firs.

Out of the woods came the man needed in London.

Arne took a deep breath. The scent of Norwegian Spruce filled his nostrils and made him nostalgic for his country.

A frantic whisper shook him from his reminiscence.

“Patrol coming this way!”

The head of the MILORG group pulled his men together.

“We need to hold this patrol off until the supplies and your radioman get away and the man London wants is aboard. You, Arne, is it? Do you know how to shoot?”

“Yes, I am a lieutenant in the Norwegian Army, but I need more than this pistol.”

The MILORG leader tossed Arne a rifle.

Arne and the others moved in silence among the trees, and flanked the oncoming German patrol.

The fight was quick and brutal. Gunfire echoed through the forest and cordite lingered in the crisp winter air. The Norwegians had the element of surprise and excellent cover. The five-man patrol of Germans lay bleeding in the Norwegian snow. They dispatched two with shots to the head. There was no remorse from the Norwegians. These were invaders.

Arne, the MILORG group, and the man wanted by London gathered by the shore ready to leave.

With the danger out of the way, Arne spoke up.

“Give me five minutes, friends. I have something I need to do.”

They chuckled, thinking that the excitement caused Arne’s bowels to become disturbed.

When they saw him pull the hatchet from his waistband, it confused them.

Arne came back in five minutes, as he promised. What he dragged behind him caused a MILORG man to be aghast.

“Are you daft, man?”

The others just smiled and shook their heads.

Arne said his goodbyes to the MILORG leader and explained the purpose of his trip into the woods.

The MILORG leader shook Arne’s hand, tears welled up in his eyes.

“It is a good thing you have done. Say to the King we here will fight until he comes home.”

The skiff pulled up to the Blenda. The man for London climbed on board.

Arne yelled up to Erik.

“Hey, you man of Norway! Give me a hand with this.”

Erik looked down and burst out laughing.

“You are crazy, Arne.”

Everyone and everything safe onboard, the Blenda sailed out of Sunnfjord and back to Shetland Island.

King Haakon V11 of Norway watched the snow fall on the Berkshire countryside in England from the warmth of a stately country house called Bowden. A melancholy welled up. He thought back to those cold early April days of 1940 when the Germans invaded his country. They drove him and his family from Oslo and hunted them from Hamar to Molde like snarling wolves. He thought more than once that the Nazi’s with their army and Luftwaffe had him dead in their sights. Thankfully, he and his entourage were spirited away by the British cruiser HMS Glasgow as the city of Molde crumbled around them from German bombs.

Now, instead of celebrating Christmas 1941 in Norway, he is here at Bowden, in a foreign land. He isn’t alone. The Norwegian Government in Exile is here, set up at the Norwegian Legation in Kensington. The former heads of state and monarchs of German-occupied countries are here too, scattered at different country estates on this “Last Hope Island”. His son, Crown Prince Olav, is at Bowden. The Prince had sent his wife and children to the safety of America. England was holding on, but attacks by the German air force were persistent and danger was everywhere.

The King turned away from the window, stretched his chronically sore back, and walked to the fireplace to warm his long frame. A knock on the door interrupted his thoughts as his son walked in.

“Good morning, father. We have been requested to attend a meeting at the Legation before your cabinet meeting with our representatives. I have been told it is to discuss details of the Shetland Bus route.”

The King smiled. “What a strange thing to call the smuggling of agents into Norway. Well, we must not keep our hosts waiting. Have Berge tell the driver to bring the car around.”

The King and Prince stepped out of the car and walked into the Norwegian Legation. The secretary greeted them and escorted them to the room where they would confer with the British liaison to the government in exile.

“In here, your majesties. The fireplace is lit, and I will have coffee sent up. Please be comfortable.”

They set themselves down in plush chairs near the warmth of the fireplace as voices were heard outside the door.

As the door opened, King Haakon and Prince Olav stood to greet their guests.

Two men stepped in, a British liaison to the government in exile, named Morris and a British Army officer.

“Your majesties, thank you for coming early. We have some matters to discuss on the latest insertion of agents into Norway and a special surprise. This officer is Major Mitchell from our operation at Shetland.”

The King and his son looked quizzically at each other.

They all moved to the large oak table and sat down.

“Major Mitchell, will you be so kind as to give the report,” said Morris.

“The latest operation was successful. There was a brief firefight with a German patrol. Our side did not suffer any casualties. The Germans were all killed.”

The King nodded stoically. He had heard these reports before. Sometimes the Norwegians weren’t so lucky. Boats lost in heavy seas or strafed by German planes. At other times the Germans executed agents as soon as they landed.

“We brought one other guest here today,” said Morris. “Major Mitchell, will you show in Lieutenant Sorensen?”

The major walked to the door, spoke a few words, and Arne Sorensen entered. He brought in what he acquired at the cove in Sunnfjord.

It was a little unwieldy, but a Norwegian Spruce barely fitting through a door can be.

Arne Sorensen leaned the tree against the wall, made a sharp turn, and marched ever so dignified to the oak table as all the men stood up.

Arne saluted the King and Prince Olav smartly.

“Your majesties. All for Norway!”

He then stood at attention.

The King came around the table, saluted Arne, and grinned.

“Have you been out in the forest, lieutenant?”

“Your majesty, this is the only true Norwegian Spruce in all of England. You can still smell the Sunnfjord on it. It is my honor to present this to you and Prince Olav so you can have a real Norwegian Christmas here in England.”

The King reached out and shook Arne’s hand.

“Your majesty, the lieutenant took a bit of a risk getting that tree and I have reprimanded him… slightly. Not to be done again, right, Lieutenant Sorenson?”

“Yes sir, Major Mitchell.”

Arne noted the major was smiling.

King Haakon V11 went over to the tree.

“This is a nice specimen of the Norwegian Spruce; don’t you think Olav? But it needs to be dressed up with decorations. Lieutenant Sorensen, if you are able, I would like you to come to Bowden House to see it when it is finished if Major Mitchell allows that.”

“As you wish your majesty. I think the lieutenant has some leave coming up.”

“Fine major, and lieutenant, you and I can have a nice Norwegian Christmas dinner and drink some Akvavit to celebrate the holiday.”

The King turned towards his son.

“We have some time before the cabinet meeting. Let us sit by the fire with the good lieutenant and talk about when Norway will be free again.”

The major and Morris left the room as the three Norwegians began speaking in their own language on this island so far from home.