The contribution of Norwegian sailors, who transported around 50% of Britain’s fuel and oil supplies during World War Two, is littleknown. Alex Bowers unravels the story of Camp Norway
The call went out on the radio. A little crackly, perhaps, the sound of the ocean drowning out the occasional word as waves crashed against the vessels. But the message conveyed was loud and clear.
All Norwegian ships, from the smaller craft to the larger whale catchers, should head to Allied ports. It was April 1940 and the Nazis had invaded their country; it was no longer safe to return. Of Norway's 1,100-strong merchant fleet – the third greatest in the world at that time – 1,024 were at sea when the collaborationist Quisling regime was installed. The new fascist government would go on to demand that every Norwegian sailor instead come back; not one obeyed.
The men, having finished the year's whaling season the month before and with most laid up in South America or South Africa, set a new course. They were distraught at the news of being effectively cut off from their families and friends, not knowing what would happen to them under the occupation, and yet they persevered. One by one, the vessels arrived in safe harbours across the world, including that of Halifax, Nova Scotia, on the east coast of Canada. It was here that upwards of 2,000 Norwegian sailors awaited orders in nearby Bedford Basin, gazing out at their unfamiliar surroundings some 5,000 miles away from home.