gallery Norway – April to June 1940

On the 9th of April 1940 the Germans invaded Denmark and Norway. Denmark was overwhelmed, and the Germans gained control of the main Norwegian airfields and seaports.

Irish Guards leaving their barracks in full war kit for an unknown destination At that time the 1st and 2nd Battalions Irish Guards were in Wellington Barracks, London, and on the 10th of April the 1st Battalion, as part of the 24th Guards Brigade consisting of 1st Scots Guards, 1st Irish Guards and 2nd South Wales Borderers set off for Norway.

As a matter of minor interest we set off clad, for its first appearance, in the newly issued battledress uniform. No more brass buttons to polish, and no longer need to meticulously roll on puttees, we strapped on our new gaiters instead.

Arriving off Norway we took to a fleet of fishing boats called 'puffers', and were ferried from ship to shore to land at a small port called Liland. And here I digress.

There is a book called "The Doomed Expedition, The Campaign in Norway" by Jack Adams, and I'm sure he would not object to an old comrade who took part, quoting from his foreword.

"The scene was set for the first significant land encounter of the war. The outcome for the Allies can perhaps be summed up in the words of Desmond Fitzgerald, the historian of the Irish Guards '…hopes and plans ended in failure and depression. The campaign was a tragedy, made more grievous by the endurance of the few troops who did the fighting with inadequate material. From the beginning of May a sense of ineluctable fate hung over Norway.'"

A Puffer - Transporting Troops After Liland – confusion. I retain memories but they are a jumble in my mind. Therefore I shall recount them as disjointed, in no ordered sequence.

I remember travelling by coach to an unnamed destination overlooking a fjord, and being billeted in an empty wooden house, from which we could see, across the snow, destroyers ploughing up and down through the water.

I remember going aboard a large warship, I think she was a cruiser, and I recall that we understood that we were to take part in an attack on Narvik. However, soon after boarding we were disembarked and I remember being, once again, on board a 'puffer', where we were confined to the hold, which stank of fish. This confinement was necessary because there was almost permanent daylight, and a fleet of 'puffers' with crowds of soldiers on deck would not have been regarded by marauding German aircraft as being an innocent fishing fleet going about its daily round.

I remember being dug in on a steep wooded hillside and being regularly strafed by German aircraft. I never saw any Allied air support during the whole campaign.

Eventually, someone must have decided that our position on that hill was untenable and we were ordered to retreat.

Descending to the road at the foot of the hill we found assembled a motley fleet of vehicles, and we sped off, to arrive at a quayside where we went aboard a destroyer.

I remember the crew plying us with hot sweet cocoa. However, when the ship headed out into the open sea and buffeted her way through the waves at top knots, resulting in a continuous crescendo of resounding thumps, the lower deck was soon awash with regurgitated cocoa.

British Soldiers Tough, Say Germans I remember being on a long march from somewhere in Norway to somewhere else in Norway, and as we wearily slogged along repeatedly chanting a song about 'a lovely bunch of coconuts'.

The officer commanding the column, who I did not know, was a captain, but I remember him as carrying two holstered, low slung revolvers, John Wayne style. A flamboyant character, obviously.

My most abiding memory however is of 'The Chrobry'. At the outset of the war two Polish liners, The Batory and The Chrobry sailed for England and became troop transports, and on the 13th May 1940 the Battalion sailed south on board the Chrobry to reinforce troops attempting to hold up the German advance through Norway. It was midnight and still daylight, and Chrobry came under attack from bombers.

Apart from the crew we were all asleep and the bombs exploded near the senior officers' cabins, killing our Commanding Officer and killing or wounding the Company Commanders. I was asleep in a bunk on a lower deck.

The Chrobry, after being bombed We, that is, 1st Battalion Irish Guards owed our survival to the gallantry and seamanship of the Commander and sailors of H.M. Destroyer Wolverine.

Many years later, retired and attending a Creative Writing class I wrote the following poem. When writing the first lines I imagined the Chrobry in her role as a liner crossing the Mediterranean carrying her passengers to Egypt.

Then – abruptly – reality. The event of midnight May 13th 1940. The final few lines are purely poetic fantasy.

Poem: The Chrobry's Last Cruise – 1940

Our last fleeting contact with the enemy took place as the convoy which was evacuating us was heading homewards. On June 8th a German reconnaissance plane appeared causing some alarm as escorting warships opened fire on it.

Fortunately, before it could call up bomber reinforcements the convoy sailed into thick mist, and the Luftwaffe lost its prey.

We sailed on without further incident to arrive in Scotland, and for those of us with whose homes were in the north leave was granted.

Unwittingly however, I took home some visitors. Sojourns on crowded troopships, journeys aboard cramped and smelly 'puffers' and sleeping rough had enabled Norwegian lice to take up residence within the seams of my battledress.

Liberal applications of Keating's bug powder were necessary to achieve victory over these invaders. The saying "From the sublime to the ridiculous" springs to mind.

Note: In many places, in books and on the web, the ship HMT Chrobry has been spelt Chobry. However, while researching images for this item, I couldn't find any reference to the Chobry. Nor could I find a reference to it in the national archives but I did find two references under the name Chrobry. (Thanks to the staff at Sheffield Central Libaray for finding this out) [KM].

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