Norway was an occupied country during the dark days of World War II but played an official role nonetheless in the pivotal D-Day invasion that led to the liberation of Europe and Norway, too. A delegation of Norwegian war veterans and officials were back in Normandy this week to mark D-Day’s 70th anniversary on Friday.
Most of Norway’s D-Day survivors are in their 90s now, but those who managed to make the trip back to Normandy this week have vivid memories of the enormous and historic invasion on June 6, 1944. On Thursday they were honoured once again by officials of France, who repeated French gratitude for the heroic efforts that eventually led to the defeat of Nazi Germany.
Seven Norwegian war heroes were among those from five countries – Great Britain, the US, France, Norway and Canada – who received new medals on Thursday, this time from the region of Basse-Normandie, which has created the new medals in another gesture of gratitude for those who helped liberate the area on D-Day.
“Normandy has not forgotten its liberators,” Laurent Beauvais of Basse-Normandie told news bureau NTB as he helped award 109 new awards of merit at l’Abbaye-aux-Dames in Caen. Norway, with its government in exile in London during the war, was part of the allies during World War II that also included Belgium, Poland, the Netherlands, Greece, Turkey, the former Yugoslavia and the former Soviet Union, now Russia.
Surviving veterans of the invasion have been the center of attention this week during memorial ceremonies to mark the beginning of the end of World War II. Among those traveling to Normandy were Norwegians Helge Victor Andresen, Christian Grønvold, Johannes Hjertaker, Rolf Kolling, Wilhelm Mohr, Monrad Mosberg and Annæus Schjødt, all with an average age of 93. They were also honoured by King Harald at a reception Thursday evening on board his royal yacht, with the monarch, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Defense Minister Ine Marie Eriksen Søreide and the president of the Norwegian Parliament, Olemic Thommessen, also in Normandy to honour the heroism and loss of life that took place 70 years ago.
“I don’t feel any particular pride, but it was the beginning of the end to the war,” veteran Rolf Kolling, age 92, told NTB. He was the pilot of a Spitfire who took part in the air invasion, while men like Mosberg were part of the invasion by sea. Norwegians taking part in the allied invasion had all fled Nazi-occupied Norway and reported for duty in the resistance, with many of them training in Canada, the US and the UK. On D-Day, they made up two air squadrons and served on board 10 naval vessels and 43 merchant marine vessels. A total of 51 Norwegians were killed at Normandy in an invasion that also claimed the lives of tens of thousands of allied troops and Germans as well.
King Harald also took part Thursday in ceremonies at one of the myriad memorials that have sprung up over the years around Normandy. He laid down a wreath at a monument in Villons-les-Buisson and then officially opened, along with the local mayor of Villons-les-Bruisson, three streets and a town square that have received Norwegian names: Rue Norvege, Rue d’Oslo, Rue Narvik and Place Helland.
On Friday, King Harald was taking part in a French-Norwegian memorial ceremony in Hermanville-sur-Mer and, later in the day, in the international memorial ceremonies in Ouistreham along with the national and government leaders of all the countries that took part in the D-Day landing in 1944. French President Francois Hollande was hosting a luncheon for all the dignitaries, including US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, before the ceremonies were to begin.