Vest-Agder is the southernmost county in Norway and is not a place you would normally consider having a link with Portlethen; but these were the war years of 1939 to 1945 and many unusual connections, coincidences and links were occurring throughout the world, often driven by need or desperation.
In July 1941 a small fishing disappeared from the town of Mandal in southern Norway and was considered stolen. Around 25 miles west of Mandal is the town of Farsund and it was from here, probably under cover of darkness, this same boat pushed off from the harbour on the 24th July 1941.
On board this small boat were four people, Skipper Jakob Samuelsen, Karl Bertelsen, Kåre Langfeldt Jensen and Kåre Kirkvåg. Their mission? To escape being under the heel of the Nazi’s occupying Norway and to get to Britain to assist in the Allied campaign or to wait out the war until Norway was free again and it was safe to return home.
Their desperate plight wasn’t particularly unusual because many people made the attempt to escape from Norway via small vessels. These people were from all walks of life and a variety of professions; fishermen, farmers, teachers, students, office workers, factory workers, etc. Some left because they were being hunted by the Gestapo, others left because they wanted to join the free forces in Britain and others wanted to leave because life was becoming harsh and unbearable in Norway under the Nazi regime. Often entire families gathered up their belongings to head into the unknown. Many people perished or were recaptured during the attempted crossing – a combination of the unpredictable North Sea weather or the appearance of enemy craft cutting short their escape efforts.
However there were success stories too and there are tales of Norwegian vessels, of all shapes and sizes, suddenly appearing, without warning, on the east coast of Britain from the Shetland Islands to as far south as England.
Skipper Samuelsen and his crew of three were one of the success stories.
On a misty morning on 28th July 1941, George Craig, a young teenager and a native of Old Portlethen, along with a handful of his friends, were indulging in one of their normal pastimes of exploring the cliffs and the rocks around the village when they saw a small masted boat pulled up against the Moat rocks (a quarter mile south of Old Portlethen). They soon realised that the boat was occupied by four men but due to the murky day they couldn't recognise the boat or the men.
Suddenly one of the men called out "Hei, Comrades!" The sound of a foreign tongue alarmed the boys and they hot-footed it back up a cliff path and made for the look-out hut that was located at the foot of Portlethen village overlooking Camibeg Bay. On look-out duty that day was "Mossie", a local villager who was part of the local coastal defence network.
Earlier during the war Mossie had shown George and the other village boys his World War I vintage Enfield rifle and he would proudly boast "God help the first Gerrie that comes ashore anywhere near here!"
That July morning, the boys disturbed Mossie in the look-out hut as he was having a cup of tea and as they relayed their discovery Mossie loudly exclaimed "Germans?!" with a doubtful expression on his face. However he grabbed the old rifle and followed the boys back down to the rocks to see for himself. As soon as he clapped eyes on the boat (which was covered in fir branches acting as camouflage) he realised that the boat and its occupants were not from a local harbour and definitely appeared to be foreign and suspicious. Conveniently forgetting his earlier boast about the use of the old Enfield he turned around and, along with the boys, they ran back to the village to seek more help.
A call was made to Aberdeen and within less than an hour the strange boat and its occupants were surrounded by a number of curious villagers and war officials from Aberdeen. By this time George and his friends were banished from getting too close to the boat.
After some gentle interrogation near to where the boat had came ashore the complete and true account of their journey soon unfolded and a mutual trust was established by all parties. These were the same Norwegians that had cast off from Farsund four days earlier and they had arrived in Scotland and were amongst friends! It wasn’t long before everyone was laughing and joking with each other and much backslapping was going on between the Norwegians and the locals. The Norwegian's small vessel was then escorted by a mini flotilla of local boats to the nearby safe haven of Portlethen shore.
Apparently Skipper Samuelsen was a seafaring person and was familiar with Aberdeen and this city may have been his target because he asked the locals how far they had landed away from Aberdeen. He seemed quite pleased to find out that he had only missed his ultimate destination by a few miles.
George recently told me that one thing always stuck in his memory about this unusual war event; as the group were walking up the narrow path from Portlethen shore with Skipper Samuelsen at the head of the party, he suddenly burst into song. What does a Norwegian sing when he realises that he’s a free man in Scotland? None other than a twist on the famous line from The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond;
“I’ll tak the high road and you’ll tak the low road, and I’ll be in Scotland afore ye”.
Okay, the Skipper got the lyrics the wrong way around but allowances should be made for happy Norwegians in times of war.
The only remaining mystery about this story is - What happened to the boat?
A yawl from Stonehaven arrived at Portlethen later that day and the Norwegian boat was towed away. Apparently the boat fell into the hands of local fishermen and was renamed Thistle A717. The vessel, which was 23' long and 9' wide, used to sell shellfish in Norway and had a tank in the middle of the boat to put the shellfish in. Over the years the vessel changed hands a few times and ultimately found its way to the fishing village of Johnshaven where it was lying ashore and falling into a state of disrepair. Unfortunately I have been unable to locate the vessel there or anywhere else and it may have been destroyed.