The Liberation of Norway:
HMS Woolston (L49) and HMS Vivacious (D36) at Bergen

Operation Conan

Operation Conan was the Royal Navy's contribution to Operation Apostle, the liberation of Norway after the formal surrender of German forces at Oslo on the 9 May:

"On the 13 May, the Royal Navy initiated Operation Conan, sending two destroyers to each of the intended ports of entry, Oslo, Kristiansand, Stavanger, Bergen, Trondheim and Tromso and numbers of MTBs from Lerwick to smaller towns along the coast. The destroyers carried with them the naval officers in command (NOIC) of the various ports, naval disarmament parties and small elements of air and military staffs from Britain".  British Policy and Strategy towards Norway; Christopher Mann (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), page 209.

The entry ports and their NOIC were: Oslo (Capt C.R.V. Pugh RN), Stavanger (Capt R.St.V. Sherbrooke RN), Kristiansand (Capt Lord Teynham RN), Bergen (Capt B D Nicholson RNVR) and Trondheim (Capt J H Ruck-Keene RN). On the 12 May the Flag Officer Norway, Rear Admiral J.S.McL. Ritchie RN, left for Oslo with the cruiser HMS Devonshire, the minelaying cruisers Apollo (with Crown Prince Olaf on board) and Ariadne, and four destroyers (Iroquis, Savage, Scourge and Arundel). On the 13 May eight  destroyers in the Rosyth Escort Force were sent to Kristiansand South (HMS Valorous and HMS Venomous with three Norwegian minesweepers), Stavanger (HMS Wolsey and HMS Wolfhound), Bergen (HMS Woolston, HMS Vivacious and the corvette, HMS Acanthus) and Trondheim (HMS Mackay and HMS Viceroy). Local surrender ceremonies were held aboard these destroyers of the Rosyth Escort Force in the harbours on Norway's west coast.

Bergen, Norway's second largest city, is on the same latitude as the Shetland Islands and Shetlandlanders like to tell visitors that their nearest railway station is in Bergen. During the war the Shetland Bus took Norwegian agents to the west coast of Norway and a statue of Leif Larsen, the most highly decorated allied naval officer of the war, stands in the city. Bergen had the largest U-Boat base in Norway and was a constant threat to the Arctic Convoys to Murmansk and Archangel in Northern Russia and was heavily bombed in 1944. HMS Woolston was sent there with a small team of British and Norwegian Army and Naval officers including Capt B D Nicholson RN, the designated Naval Officer in Command (NOIC), to oversee a peaceful transition from German occupation to Norwegian self government.


Events moved quickly in Norway after terms for the surrender of German forces had been agreed at Rheims. On the afternoon of the 8 May an Allied military commission landed at Fornebu airport near Oslo bringing the surrender terms to the commanding officer of German forces in Norway. The surrender came into force at midnight that day and Lt Col Robert Chew of the Seaforth Highlanders, the representative of the allied expeditionary force, travelled by train through the mountains from Oslo on the highest main line railway in Northern Europe and arrived at Bergen on the 10 May. He was greeted by Bjarne Sæverud and Roar Sannem, the local leaders of the Resistance, Milorg, and crowds of jubilant Norwegians. Chew and Sannem were received at The Regional State Archives in Bergen, the German Army HQ, by Generalleutnant Johann de Boer, and Lt. Col. Chew claimed military supreme command of all forces in Bergen. Later that morning, Chew met Bergen's journalists at Hotel Bristol and every time the smiling Scot appeared on the hotels steps he was received with cheers from the gathering crowd.

Lt Col CHew arrives by train at Bergen

Lt Col F.R.G. Chew of SHAEF (Supreme HQ, Allied Expeditionary Force) arrives by train from Oslo on 10 May
From left: Resistance leaders, Bjarne Sæverud (in overcoat),  Lt Col F.R.G. Chew, unidentified, and Roar Sannem (in uniform) with Milorg members in 'uniform' of berets, anoraks, gaiters and boots plus armband on right
The large crowd were also welcoming home Norwegian Prisoners of War (POW) released from Grini Camp near Oslo
Photographed by Leif M. Endresen

Millorg took control of the city before the arrival of forces from Britain. The Milorg leader, Roar Sannem, took control of the city in the morning of 9 May and Captain Harald Risnes, the leader of the Milorg group Bjørn West, arrived that evening, and between them they took control of Bergen.

On the 11 May Alf Martens Meyer of the Royal Norwegian Navy arrived from RAF Woodhaven on the Tay near Dundee on the Catalina flying boat Vingtor. He had worked during the war years at Branch  IV of the Foreign Office in London and was responsible for contacts with Milorg, the Norwegian resistance groups in the area round Bergen.
He was the first contact Bergen's citizens had with Norwegian forces abroad.

Colonel Trygve Sandvik, Head of Distriktskommando Vest (District Command West), arrived from Britain by Sunderland flying boat with ten of his staff
on the 13 May and was greeted by Lt Col. Robert Chew and Roar Sannem of Milorg. Colonel Sandvik's Chief of Staff, Major Knut Aarra, arrived the following day on HMS Woolston.

The arrival of HMS Woolston at Bergen on the 14 May is described by journalists and by two ratings on Woolston, "Spider" Kelly and Frank Witton, and photographed by Leif Endressen and Ralf Jonassen. The scans of
Leif Endressen's photographs were supplied by the Local Studies Department of Bergen Public Library.

Dagen, a Christian newspaper, carried this report by the well known journalist, Odd Strand (below left) who is now 95, on the 15 May 1945 -

The English-Norwegian fleet enters Bergen harbor
An ocean of people are waiting to greet them.
Emotional reunions, cheering and singing.

As the time approached 9.30 this morning, rumours ran like wildfire across the city:

Odd Strand, journalist"The fleet is coming, they are already at Kvarven!" The flags were hoisted, the first official welcome to the representatives of our proud and glorious Norwegian Navy. People closed offices and shops, left their workshops and homes, and went down to the harbor. Nordnes and the quays were packed with excited people who stared out towards the gray shadows which came gliding along Askøy. For a while, the vessels lay quietly waiting in the middle of the fjord, then they increased speed and at exactly 10 o'clock the leading ship, the destroyer Woolston docked at Skoltegrunnskaien, greeted by resounding cheers and welcoming shouts from the tightly packed crowd outside the barriers.

HMS AcanthusDay after day, people have told each other: now, they will come now. Even at night there had been thousands of people waiting on the quays and in Nordnes Park to meet them. The excitement and expectations increased.

How many Norwegians will return? Will they come back home, our dear boys, who quietly disappeared to the west? Will my dad, my brother, my husband come?

These were burning questions for those waiting on the quayside.

HMS Woolston flew the White Ensign, the flag of the Royal Navy, not the Norwegian flag; that’s OK, but would there be Norwegians onboard? Yes, on the deck in the middle of the ship there they were, brown and healthy, and they waved, when they saw their loved ones and happy welcome shouts crossed the railing: "How are you?" "Welcome home!" "Does Rolf come, too?" "Best wishes from my mother!"

The first person reached the ship’s railing. Tender loving hugs and smiles through tears. The photographers snapped and people were cheering.

A second ship is docking. It is a large corvette "Acanthus", a strange and unknown name (on right). But look, it carries the Norwegian flag! Yes, really, it is one of our own. And look, on deck stand the stout-hearted seamen with the familiar blue collars and navy caps with "Royal Norwegian Navy" in gold. Our own sailors.

Cheers ring out, again and again, and the sailors salute, smile and wave at the quay. The crowd try to get closer, but discipline has to be kept, and sharp orders to stand back are good humouredly obeyed.

Suddenly, the national anthem rings out and British and Norwegian officers and the crew stand to attention to show respect for the liberated people's dearest song.

On the quay are representatives of the civil and military administration: County Governor Gjert Lindebrække, Chief of Police Reidar Skau, Lieutenant Colonel Chew, Colonel Trygve Sandvik with his staff, Captain Harald Risnes, Lieutenant Commander Alf Martens Meyer, Navy Captain Frimannslund, etc."

People call out for the commanding officer of Woolston, and a moment later Lieutenant Commander Cox  appears on the gangway. Two young ladies rush forward, each with a gorgeous bouquet of flowers. The chief thanks them with a hearty embrace.

After this informal welcome, representatives of the local authorities step forward and exchange greetings. Some units of the home guard march up to the gangway. They are well trained and precise while parading to face the ships and people returning home from the west.

Then people are allowed aboard, and soon there is a large number, young and old, and they go everywhere, high and low and look at everything new and strange. They happily greet those who have returned home, bring news of common friends and talk about their life out there for all these years. There are nothing but smiling faces.

Major Aarra tells me that the Norwegian officers who arrived today are members of Colonel Sandvik's staff, and that another destroyer [HMS Vivacious] will come tomorrow with Admiral Henry Diesen, who is head of the Navy in the 4th district West country. "We are all excited to return home" he said, "and are looking forward to our work here".

At an improvised reception Commander Nicholson said that a large flotilla left Rosyth in Scotland at 10 pm the previous evening. It consisted of about eight destroyers and a number of corvettes and escorts which will be divided among the various Naval Districts. Two British destroyers will come to Bergen and one large Norwegian corvette as well as some smaller escorts and other vessels, a total of ten ships."

After five years away from their country many of the Norwegians had married Scottish girls and their arrival in Bergen led to the forming of an Anglican congregation which became known as the "War Brides Church".  This account of events at Bergen after the arrival of HMS Woolston on the 14 May 1945 is based on an interview with Frank Witton (below left) recorded by Bill Forster in 2013 and an article by  "Spider" Kelly (on right, holding the barrel of Navy rum, Christmas 1942) in Hard Lying, the magazine of the V & W Destroyer Association.

Frank Witton lives near me in St Albans and I interviewed him at his home but "Spider" Kelly, a signalman on HMS
Woolston, tells his story below :

Christmas dinner on HMS Woolston
Frank Whittom" HMS Woolston (L49) was on a buoy at Sheerness waiting to escort a convoy up the East Coast to our home base at Rosyth when, as signalman on watch, I received this signal from the tower at Sheerness:

To: Woolston from C in C Nore: 'Congratulations on your Half-Stripe', promoting our popular skipper, Lt. J.B. Cox RN to Lt. Cdr, and making our ship, HMS Woolston, a more senior ship. All our ships company thought his promotion well deserved and long overdue.

His promotion meant we would be the senior ship in our section of Operation Conan, part of Operation Apostle, the surrender and disarming of the German High Command in Norway. A short while later, on or about 12 May 1945, we took aboard a large contingent of military and naval personnel who would administer the city of Bergen in Western Norway, which had big U-boat base, for the allies.

We sailed on about 13 May in company with HMS Vivacious, the Norwegian Corvette Acanthus, British and Norwegian minesweepers and some MTB's also manned by the Norwegian Navy. The trip across was quiet and uneventful with quite reasonable weather apart from a very heavy swell on the Norwegian coast made worse by having to steam at a slow speed. As we entered the fjord we were joined by scores of small fishing boats and were almost surrounded when we berthed alongside the Fish Quay.

The quay was packed with our Norwegian friends and allies, who gave us an unforgettable welcome with cheers, waving, laughter and, here and there, a few tears. As soon as the gangway was secured and the skipper and our party of VIPs had disembarked we welcomed aboard as many of our new friends as we could cope with. The first few hours are just a jumbled, vague memory to me but it was a truly wonderful experience for all of us on board."

HMS Woolston and small boats, Bergen 14 May 1845HMS Woolston arrives at Bergen
HMS Woolston entering Bergen harbour, 14 May 1945

HMS Woolston was greeted on arrival at Bergen by lots of small boats which went out to meet them
Photographed by Leif M. Endresen 

HMS Woolston berthing in Bergen harbour
The gap narrows as HMS Woolston comes alongside on arrival at Bergen
Note the Norwegians on the quayside and ratings lining the rails as the first allied ship to arrive at Bergen berths alongside
Frank Witton is third from the left with both hands gripping the rails
Photographed by Leif M. Endresen 

Frankp WittonRaings on WoolstonFrank Witton

Can you identify the sailors, army officers and the civilian lining the rails of HMS Woolston?
Frank Witton cropped out (left and right) can be seen in the photographs above and below
Photographed by Leif M. Endresen

Greets his wife
Major Knut Aarra embraces his wife after five years away from home
Major Knut Aarra, born 1894, was  Chief of Staff to Colonel Trygve Sandvik, Head of Distriktskommando Vest (DKV )
Photographed by Leif M. Endresen

Soon after Woolston berthed at Bergen a gangway was ran out and Lt Col Robert Chew went aboard to meet Capt Brinsley D. Nicholson, the Naval Officer in Command at Bergen and many of the Norwegians on the quayside (including children) took the opportunity to follow. An honour guard was formed and the senior naval and army officers who had taken passage on her from Rosyth went ashore.

CO with flowers coming ashoreThe CO goes ashore from HMS Woolston

The CO of HMS Woolston, Lt Cdr J.B. Cox RN, going ashore
Note the naval and army personnel on deck with Frank Witton dressed in dungarees on the far right
Frank Witton identified the rating presenting arms on the left as Ian Nicholson
Photographed by Leif M. Endresen

"I was on watch and it was some time before I was able to go ashore but I remember seeing many German servicemen going about unmolested, and also many Russian ex-prisoners. Everywhere we went there were shouts of 'welcome to Norway' or 'welcome to Bergen'. One instance I recall particularly was of a beautiful little girl about three or four years old with her grandfather saying 'welcome to Bergen'. I was ever so pleased to have a bar of 'Nutty' in my pocket that I could give her. I will always remember her. We had a constant flow of visitors aboard for quite a while and we soon ran out of supplies of things such as Nutty, bread, fags etc. We had to wait for the arrival of the cruiser Norfolk for the replenishment of stores, especially bread" ("Spider" Kelly).

Bergen 1945
Frank Witton and his fellow stokers pose with Russian POWs on the bow of HMS Woolston with the steep hillside of Bergen in the background
Frank Witton is standing second from right and crouched with the flag are Jack Boore, Bill MacKenzie (Chief PO Stoker), Jo Peacock and Charlie Woodcock (with cigarette)
Also in the photograph are Austin (fifth from left) and Norman Dunlop (with vertical white stripe)
The four Russian POWs are f
irst, second, fourth left and far right in this celebratory photograph
Courtesy of Frank Witton

Box made by Russian POWBox made by Russian POW

The 4 inch square aluminium box made by a Russian POW - fourth from left in the photograph above - who came aboard HMS Woolston
  After a meal of eggs and bacon the POW gave it to Frank Witton in exchange for a penknife to replace the one damaged making the box

Jepherson Photograph Album, May 1945

The arrival of the Allies in Bergen
Lt Col F.R.G. Chew in kilt, the head of the Allied Expeditionary Force (top left), arrived by train from Oslo on the 10 May
Colonel Trygve Sandvik (top right), Head of Distriktskommando Vest (DKV), arrived from Britain on the 13 May by Sunderland flying boat with ten staff
Major Knut Aarra, his Chief of Staff, arrived a day later on HMS Woolston
Leon Jacobsen's Photograph Album - Courtesy of the Regional State Archives in Bergen

Bergen had the largest U-Boat base in Norway. The U-Boat pens at Nordrevågen on Puddefjord south of Bergen were built by Russian POWs between 1941-4. There were 32 U-Boats there when Woolston arrived. A massive bombing raid on the pens on the 4 October 1944 killed 193 civilians (including 61 children at Holen primary school) and this was followed by further raids with Tallboy bombs but the "Bruno" U-Boat bunkers were not destroyed and now hold submarines of the Norwegian Navy. The headquarters of the Kriegsmarine was in the city at Marineholmen, the Norwegian naval base they took over in 1940.

 The formal surrender of German forces in Norway took place at Oslo on the 9 May but local surrender ceremonies were held aboard the destroyers sent to the four entry ports on the West Coast of Norway.  Admiral Otto von Schrader (on right) was the Commanding Admiral of the Norwegian West Coast and the most powerful man in Bergen. He was responsible for all branches of the armed services, naval, army and aircraft and his fiefdom extended from Stad just south of Trondheim in the north to Langesund near Oslo in the south.

Admiral Otto von Schrader The surrender ceremony was held in the Wardroom of HMS Woolston on the 16 May soon after the arrival of HMS Norfolk with Vice Admiral McGregor aboard. The German commanding officer, Admiral Otto von Schrader, came to the harbour at Skolten from his headquarters at the Marineholmen naval base and assuming the ceremony would be held aboard the cruiser headed for HMS Norfolk only to be directed to the much smaller and less important destroyer. The surrender ceremony took place in the presence of Captain B D Nicholson RN, NOIC Bergen, and Admiral Henry Disen. Admiral Henry Disen (1883-1953) was the Commanding Admiral in Norway when the Germany invaded and two months later on the 10 June 1940 he escaped to the Faroe Islands and from there to Britain on HNoMS Fridtjof Nansen. He had arrived at Bergen on the morning of the 15 May aboard HMS Vivacious.

W.E. Mundy, the Daily Telegraphs correspondent in Bergen described the surrender in an article published by the Telegraph on Saturday, 19 May 1945:

"Orders were issued by Capt. Nicholson to the German Naval C.-in-C., that he and several of his senior officers were to appear on board HMS Woolston at four oclock. The Germans arrived on time and were received without ceremony. The German delegates were taken below, where they removed their caps, coats and swords before being summoned to the first conference in the destroyer's tiny wardroom.

Seated facing the Germans were Capt. Nicholson, Cmdr. J.A. Crawford RN, Rear-Admiral Dison, Norwegian Naval Commander from Western Norway, and other allied officers. The Germans were headed by an admiral who was the naval C.-in-C., Western Norway. The meeting was strictly formal.  There were neither handshakes or cigarettes. The conversations were conducted in English except for some technical details which had to be translated to the Germans. Capt Nicholson opened the proceedings with the question: "Have the terms of surrender been received by you?" The German C.-in-C. answered "Yes". Captain Nicholson then asked: "Have they been understood and are you prepared to carry them out?" To this the Germans again answered "Yes".

Capt. Nicholson told me today that so far the Germans were complying completely with each demand of the Allied Commission. Capt Nicholson was present at the first surrender meeting with representatives of German naval forces in Norway, held at Rosyth on board HMS Renown on May 7."

Newspaper report in DagenHMS NOrfolk at Bergen
HMS Norfolk unloading stores at Bergen
She arrived at Bergen on the 16 May and her band marched through the streets to the service of thanks giving in the Cathedral on Whitsunday, the 20 May
Photographed by Leif M. Endresen

Children on Swings from Guns
Morgenavisem press cutting 19 May 1945

Children on improvised swings suspended from the 8 inch guns of HMS Norfolk on the 17 May, Norway's National Day
Courtesy of the Norwegian Armed Forces Museum, Oslo

Dagen carried a short article in English on the 16 May (upper left) welcoming the men serving in all three branches of the armed forces to Bergen and three days later Morgenvisen thanked the officers and crew of HMS Norfolk for welcoming Bergen's children aboard on Norway's National Day, the 17 May (right). The men on HMS Norfolk "turned swords into ploughshares" by hanging swings from the cruiser's 8 inch guns.

Reporters also went aboard the warships - to interview their officers and men. Arthur Kenneth Mathew (1906-92) had been the Naval chaplain on the cruiser HMS Norfolk since 1940 and was present when the Bismarck was sank in May 1941 and at the Battle of the North Cape in 1943 when the German Battle-Cruiser Scharnhorst went down and was awarded an OBE (Mil) and DSC for his part in these actions. His CO said that "the Chaplain made it the happiest ship he had ever known, and he was loved by every man on board". He was interviewed by a journalist from Dagen, a Christian newspaper, and the following article was published on the 22 May 1945:

 The ship has tennis court, cinema and church

During a visit abroard the English cruiser Norfolk a few days ago, we were among others showed the ship's church. It was not large, rather like a rural classroom, and the equipment was more than Spartan. The alter was quite small,  but beautifully decorated with flowers. The altarpiece was of  St. Christopher, patron of sailors. The church also had a small library, consisting mainly of non-fiction. It was in fact also used as a living room where the crew could read, write letters, etc.

We asked the naval chaplain who was present during the tour, to tell us about his work:
"I hold church services every morning and evening, but I also do many other things. I hold confirmation classes, organize discussions, provide entertainment and take care of the boys' spiritual life."

Do the crew attend services?
"Actually, it is mandatory that they should all be present, but we do not try to force those who do not wish to come. Out of the ship's company of one thousand around two hundred come to morning service and fifty for evening services."

Can you make confirmation on board?
"No, I'm just preparing the boys, their confirmation takes place ashore."

What do the crew do in their spare time?
"As already mentioned, I arrange discussions, the boys gather once a week in my cabin where we discuss current issues. We also have a group of Rover Scouts who meet regularly. For entertainment I can mention cinema, tennis, card competitions, and quizzes. The latter are very popular."

Do you think the crew like you?
He smiled, " I think that when the boys are in trouble they always come to me, and I try to help them as best I can. They are used to calling me 'father'."

Photograph from Jepherson AlbumIn Car

Left: Lt Col F.R.G. Chew, County Governor Gjert H. Lindebraekke, Capt J.G.Y. Loveband RN, the CO of HMS Norfolk, Mayor (Asbjørn) Stensaker and Vice Admiral Rhoderick R. McGrigor RN
McGrigor commanded the First Cruiser Squadron and his Flag Ship was HMS Norfolk - photographed on 17 May 1945, Norway's National Day

Leon Jacobsen's Photograph Album in the Bergen State Archive

Right: Lt Col. F.R.G. Chew (next to driver) with Capt B.D. Nicholson RN (NOIC Bergen) and Colonel Sandvik, Head of District Command West (DKV)
Photographed by Leif M. Endresen

Jepherson Photograh Album

The celebration of Norway's National Day, 17 May 1945, three days after the arrival of HMS Woolston in Bergen
The parade through the city, the mock boat with H7 (King Haakon VII) on its bow represents one of the fishing boats, the Shetland Bus, which took agents to Norway.
The column of men carrying the banner "Tysklands Fanger" and the large Norwegian flag are Prisoners of War (POW) released from camps in Germany.
 Leon Jacobsen's Photograph Album - Courtesy of the Regional State Archives in Bergen

HMS Valorous joined them from Kristiansand in time  to take part in the parade through the town to the Cathedral for the service of thanks-giving on Whitsunday the 20 May with the band of HMS Norfolk playing as they marched.  The service was reported on in the Bergen Newspaper Bergens Tidende on the 22 May:

Between 6-700 English marines marched on Sunday morning through the town with their band to attend the English church service which took place in the Cathedral at 9.45. The nave was reserved for the English, while the Norwegians were seated in the aisles. Among the officers attending were Lt Col Chew, Admiral Diesen and Major Aarra. Bishop Fleicher gave an address in which he welcomed the English and thanked them for what they had done. The sermon was given by pastor Støylen, while the English clergy Earl and Gillingham performed the ritual. A third priest was at the organ. The services ended with "Ja, vi elsker" (the Norwegian national anthem) and "God save the King", and after the service the soldiers marched past the Admiral on the Cathedral square.

Frank Witton recalled that Kenneth Mathews, the Naval Chaplain on HMS Norfolk, preached at the service. He was loved and respected by the officers and men on Norfolk and in 1955 was appointed Dean of the Cathedral in St Albans where Frank was born and still lives today.

Lt Col Robert Chew, the head of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) in Bergen, had the use of a former German patrol boat which is thought to be Flugbetriebsboot, Fl. B 438, renamed Pegasus, to navigate the fjords and coast around Bergen.

Pegasus, Robert Chew's launch at Bergen

He returned to Britain when the SHAEF mission ended in October but during his time in Bergen he made many friends and in 1947 married the widow of the Norwegian war hero, Conrad Mohr. He was a keen photographer and his son Tony Chew supplied scans of his father's photographs to Bergen's Local History Library which mounted them on Flickr. They are a wonderful record of this joyful period of adjustment from German occupation to independence and will be of equal interest to the families of the men who served in HMS Woolston and Norwegians whose families lived through this period of their country's history.

"Spider" Kelly continues his story:

"After a while, I became friendly with a local resistance fighter who had a very disconcerting habit of flourishing his handgun but luckily it never went off on board ship. He took me to his home where I met some of his family. His mother gave me some half a dozen eggs which were very welcome in our mess. It is a matter of great regret that I cannot remember his name as I would have liked to contact him in later life. After a memorable and enjoyable stay at Bergen and trips to Oslo and Kristiansand we eventually sailed to Rosyth and the Reserve Fleet and our ships company went their various ways, in my case to the Far East, but I shall never forget my all too short spell in Norway.

The little girl I remember so well is probably a grandmother by now; I wonder if my friend from the Resistance is still going? If so, like me, he is probably a grandfather many times over and perhaps a great-grandfather. I hope so. Good luck to them both.

N.B. The day after I 'took' the signal about his promotion, the skipper sent for me. Wondering what I had done wrong, I was relieved and pleased to be given a tot which is apparently traditional."

After some four days at Bergen HMS
Wooloston was sent south to Oslo and from there to Kristiansand before returning to Bergen when the photographer, Leif Endresen, came aboard and gave a stoker, Norman Dunlop, prints of his photographs which were sold to the crew to cover the costs.

Bergen received many more visits by the Royal Navy in May. The cruiser, HMS Birmingham, arrived in the evening on the 24 May with Rear Admiral Cunninghame Graham in command of the 10th Cruiser Squadron and on the 29 May HMS Norfolk returned with the cruiser, HMS Berwick, both bringing more troops to the city.

Fred Olsen's liner Bretagne, commandeered by the Germans as a troop carrier, arrived at Bergen at the end of the month with a battalion of the 1st Special Air Services Brigade, The "Red Devils", commanded by "Mad" Mike Calvert. In his book
Fighting Mad: One Man's Guerrilla War (Jarrolds 1964, Pen and Sword 2004) Calvert tells how the two black eyes he accidentally received at a wild party in Bergen led to the ADC to the German CO, General de Boer, receiving two black eyes from the hands of Roy Farran, Calvert's ADC.

n the 23 May twelve Russian officers arrived  to discuss arrangements for the repatriation of Russian POWs and on the 24 May Major General Robert Elliot Urquhart, the CO of Allied forces in Norway, came by boat from Stavanger and left the following day by plane for Tromsø. At the end of May a group RAF officers led by Air Commandor Bilney came to inspect the 'Bruno' U-boat pens at Nordrevågen to assess the effectiveness of the Tallboy bombs dropped on the 12 January 1945. The German Navy had remained in control of the Marineholmen naval base to secure and make safe the ammunition stores but it returned to Norwegian and allied control on the last Monday in May. On the 4 June MS Bergensfjord came with troops and Air Disarmament Wing No. 8801 led by Wing Commander C.G. Masters to inspect and disarm the Luftwaffe's personnel and equipment. At the beginning of June General Sir Andrew Thorne, head of all Allied forces in Norway, visited Bergen.

On the 7 June Norway celebrates the anniversary of the termination of the Swedish-Norwegian union when Norway became an independent nation. The 7 June 1945 was not only the fortieth anniversary of independence but also the day on which King Haakon VII returned to Oslo from England and Bergen experienced its largest ever peacetime military parade. Further celebrations were to follow. On the 28 June Olav, Norway’s Crown Prince and Commander in Chief, came to Bergen by a Catalina flight and thousands crowded the streets to welcome him. Then on the 27 August the King, Haakon VII, came to Bergen aboard the Norwegian destroyer Stord.


Biographical Notes

Admiral Otto von Schrader (1888-1945) was born in East Prussia and went to sea as a radio officer on German liners before joining the German Navy, the Kriegsmarine, in 1912. He initially served on torpedo boats and became a flotilla commander but switched to submarines in 1916 and made his reputation as a successful U-Boat commander in World War I sinking 57 ships (57,000 GRT). He remained in the Navy during the interwar years and was Admiral of the North Sea Station by 1938. After the German occupation of Norway he became Commanding Admiral of the Norwegian West Coast with his headquarters in Bergen. He surrendered his command aboard HMS Woolston on the 16 May 1945 and two months later on the 19 July he shot himself while in Norwegian captivity. He was about to be sent to Britain to be charged with handing over the crew of the captured Royal Norwegian Navy's MTB 345 to the Sicherheitsdienst (Security Service, SD) which led to their execution under Hitler's "Commando Order".

"When British soldiers from 1 SAS (Special Air Service) came to arrest him he was given plenty of time to get ready. He put on the jacket of his white dress uniform and asked politely if he could go to the Befehlsbunker (command bunker) across the road, to collect some papers. Permission was given, and shortly afterwards a pistol shot rang out. He had killed himself, and a dark epoch in the history of Vestlandet was over."     Brennpunkt 'Westküste' (Focal point: West Coast); by Halvor Sperbund (Bergen: Fagbokforlaget, 2004) ISBN 82-419-0315-4

Robert ChewLt Col F.R.G. Chew (1907-70) of the Seaforth Highlanders (left) was the representative of SHAEF's (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) Mission to Norway in Bergen. He accepted the surrender of German land forces from
General de Boer on the 10 May and remained in Bergen until the SHAEF MIssion ended in October. Robert ('Bobby') Chew was a keen alpine climber, educated at St Johns College, Cambridge, who before the war taught mathematics at Kurt Hahn's schools at Salem near Lake Constance in Germany and Gordonstoun near Elgin in Scotland. In Norway he "met and married in 1947 a charming widow who was a great help to him when he returned to Gordonstoun". He began a new section of the school at Altyre in the Findhorn valley 16 miles from Gordonstoun where "he was the unpompous father of his growing family of boys and adults". He became Headmaster when the two schools were combined two years after the retirement of Kurt Hahn in 1953. He retired to the Lake District in 1967 and was awarded the CVO (Commander of the Royal Victorian Order) for having been Prince Philip's mentor and Prince Charles' headmaster.

His wife, Eva Mohr (1917-95), was born at Bergen, the daughter of Odd Gundersen, a shipping agent and Consul for Peru.
Her first husband, Conrad Mohr (1914-43) was born at Fana near Bergen and worked for Standard Oil in America but returned to Norway and worked in Oslo for the Østlandske Petroleums-Compagni. After the German invasion on the 9 April 1940 he joined the Army and then the Air Force. He crashed flying north and was captured but after being released he returned to Oslo and escaped via Sweden to Moscow and from there to Baghdad and by ship round Africa to London. Conrad was a flight instructor at a training camp near Toronto known as "Little Norway" when he was killed in a flying accident in 1943. The dramatic story of Conrad Mohr's escape and the manner in which he met his death was told by Sølve Rydland in Oppdatert 2 January 2017 and can now be read in English.

Eva escaped to Sweden with their two year old son, Wilhelm (Billy) Mohr, in 1943 and left Sweden for England on the day after she learned of her husband's death. She stayed with his brother, Wilhelm Mohr and his wife and joined the Norwegian WAAF. On the 31 May 1945 she returned to Norway on the MS Andes, the liner which brought the exiled Norwegian government back to Oslo
, and while staying with Conrad's parents in Bergen she met Robert Chew. Sølve Rydland's account of the life of Eva Chew (nee Mohr) has also been translated into English as has that of her husband Robert Chew.

Her son, Billy Mohr, was a pupil at Gordonstoun and studied business administration at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. He married a fellow student, Janet Wearing,
and they had a son, named Conrad after his grandfather, who was baptised at Storetveit Church in Bergen in 1968. Eva and Robert Chew also had a son, Tony Chew, who like his father became a school teacher, at Clayesmore in Dorset.

     An Enduring Vision; edited by Jill Hollis (London: Third Millenium Publishing, 2011). A history of Gordonstoun.
    Mine livserindringer
; by Wilhelm Mohr (Bergen: Eget forlag, 1969). Wilhelm Mohr (1886-1978) is the father of Conrad Mohr.

Generalleutnant Johann de Boer (1897 - 1986) was born in Hamburg-Altona. He fought in both world Wars and served in the Hamburg police force between the wars. He commanded the 26th Infantry Division on the Eastern Front from October 1943 and the 280th Infantry Division in Norway after November 1944. He was the senior Army Officer in Bergen in May 1945. From 1945-8 he was a Prisoner of War at Bridgend, South Wales, and then returned to his native city of Hamburg where he died in 1986.

Capt BD NIcholson RNVRCapt B.D. Nicholson RNVR (1893-1967) Brinsley Darracott Nicholson (right)
was born at Torquay but his elder brother, Geoffrey Arnold, was born in the Punjab. They both went to Mill Hill School, London. His brother was commissioned in the Royal Flying Corps and killed in a flying accident in 1917. Brinsley was commissioned in the RNVR and served with the Public Schools Battalion of the Royal Naval Division, sailors who fought on land, and on HMS Europa but suffered from ill health. He completed his BA in mechanical engineering at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1919. He stayed on in the service and was promoted Commander in 1936 and although placed on the retired list in 1940 he served throughout the war at Royal Navy Air Stations (RNAS) and with Admiralty Selection Boards for officer appointments.

Brinsley Nicholson was 52 when he arrived at Bergen aboard HMS Woolston to take up his appointment as NOIC and s
ix weeks later on the 28 June he married 22 year old Else Marie Mossige in the Cathedral. She was a nurse at Haukeland Hospital in Bergen and her parents lived at Ustaoset, a skiing village 150 miles east on the railway line from Oslo to Bergen, where her father, Elias Mossige (1892 - 1963), was the station master for nearly thirty years. They had one son.

Lt Cdr Jack Broughton Cox RN (1914-89), the CO of HMS Woolston at Bergen, was a regular Navy officer who had entered the service as a cadet in 1932. On his return from Bergen he was given command of the Type II Hunt Class destroyer escort, HMS Ledbury, which was under refit at Gibraltar until August and Paid off and Reduced to Reserve in January 1946. Nothing further is known about his subsequent life.

The Rev Kenneth Mathews (1906-92), the "Naval Dean" of St Albans

Kenneth Mathews, the Naval Chaplain on HMS
Norfolk who was interviewed by the journalist from Dagen,was Dean of St Albans Cathedral from 1955-63 and is still remembered by older residents as the "Naval Dean". The medals awarded for his wartime service which were on display in the Cathedral Library are now kept in the Cathedral Archives. He is photographed below with Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh during their visit to the Abbey on 18th April 1957.  His obituary in the Telegraph on the 4 January 1993 began -

Dean Mathews medal
"The Rev Kenneth Mathews, the former Dean of St Albans, who has died aged 86, was one of the Royal Navy's most distinguished wartime chaplains.

He joined the RNVR as a temporary chaplain in 1939 and spent the rest of the war on the County Class cruiser Norfolk, a busy ship on the Northern Patrol and then in the South Atlantic, looking for the German battleship Admiral Scheer.

Mathews had a sea going parish of some 700 officers and men and he proved to be the ideal ship's padre. A popular member of the wardroom, a trusted confidant for the sailors and a welcome visitor on every messdeck he relished his naval title of "Sin Bosun".

Kenneth Mathew, the "Naval Dean" of St Albans Cathedral"It would be impossible," the captain of Norfolk later wrote, "to exaggerate Ken Mathews' influence on Norfolk. His value in the ship was certainly greater than any officer. He made her the happiest ship I have ever known. Her was loved by every man on board, and it is largely his influence that has kept the Norfolk spirit alive ever since.

Although Mathews was officially a non combatant, he took a regular watch at sea and was in charge of look-outs, occupying a dangerous position on the open air defence platforms above the upper bridge. When the ship went into action he was in charge of the morphia.

Early in 1941 Norfolk covered convoys off Sierra Leone, and in May she and her sister ship Suffolk patrolled the Denmark Strait in search of the battleship Bismarck. She sighted Bismark and Prinz Eugen on the evening of May 23 at a range of only six miles, was fired on, disengaged under cover of smoke, and sent the first sighting reports to be received.

She and Suffolk - one on the enemy's starboard quarter, the other on the port - shadowed for the next two days. Mathews was appointed OBE in 1942.

In December 1943 Norfolk took part in the chase and destruction of the German battle cruiser Scharnhorst by ships of the Home Fleet off the North Cape of Norway. Unlike the other two cruisers in the action Norfolk had no flashless cordite for her main 8inch armament, and the brilliant flashes of her salves in the Arctic gloom gave Schahrnhost the perfect aiming point.

Norfolk was hit b y two 11in shells, one of which destroyed the cabin which Mathews had turned into a chapel. He improvised another chapel in the torpedo parting shop where he conducted a memorable funeral service for the nine members of the ship's company who had been killed.

 After the address one of Norfolk's midshipmen recalled: "That great body of bare-headed men sang as I have never heard it sang the sturdy words of Eternal Father".

For his part in the Scharnhorst action Mathews was awarded the DSC and so became one of the few service chaplains to be twice decorated."


British Policy and Strategy towards Norway; by Christopher Mann (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012)
The Royal Navy and German Naval Disarmament, 1942-1947; by Chris Madsen (Psychology Press, 1998)
Jubeldagene i fredsåret (Joyful days in the year the war ended); by Ralf N. Jonassen and Odd Strand. (Bergen: Eide, 1995). ISBN 82-514-0485-1
Frihetsdager i Bergen: 7. mai - 7. juni 1945 : en reportasje i tekst og billeder (Days of Freedom in Bergen: 7 May - 7 June 1945: a report in text and pictures); by Fritz Strønstad and Ralf Jonassen (Bergen: Beyer, 1945)
Krigsårene i Bergen: sett gjennom kameraøyet (The war years in Bergen: seen through the eye of the camera); by Stein Thowsen.
(Bergen: Forlaget Livskunst, 2004). ISBN 82-995180-6-7


Solveig Mysten, Bergen LibraryI would like to acknowledge the help of Solveig Myren, a librarian in the Local History Department of Bergen Public Library (on right), who translated extracts from newspapers reporting the events of May 1945, e-mailed me scans of the photographs taken by Leif Endresen of the arrival of  HMS Woolston at Bergen and contacted the family of the photographer to obtain consent for their use on this web page and drew my attention to his collection in Bergen University.

Dr David KelsallShe also sent me the scans of the pages from the photograph album of Leon Jacobsen in the Bergen State Archive. Leif Endresen (1897-1979) lived all his life in Bergen where he was a manager at Vinmonopolet, the state-owned wine and spirit monpoly. He was a talented photographer and chess player who co-operated with the Resistance during the occupation.

I would also like to thank Dr David Kelsall, the Archivist at St Albans Cathedral who sent me detailed notes extracted from the archive on the life of Kenneth Mathew, the "Naval Dean" and photographed his medals, and the staff of the Cathedral Library. David Kelsall (left) died in December 2016 aged 87.

I was inspired to research these events by my talks with 96 year old Frank Witton who still lives in St Albans, the city of his birth and my home town. While these events were taking place at Bergen my own father, Lt(E) William R. Forster RNR, was serving on HMS Venomous which was despatched with HMS Valorous to Kristiansand South on a similar mission to that of HMS Woolston.

Frank Witton receives the Norwegian Medal of Honour on Friday 22 November 2019Frank Witton
Frank Witton is presented wiith the Norwegian Medal of Honour by Colonel Dr Prof John Andreas Olsen, the Defence Attaché at the Norwegian Embassy on 22 November 2019
Frank waas an AB on HMS Woolston - see him standing at the rail as she berths alongside Bergen
Courtesy of Ian Witton

Bill Forster recorded an interview with Frank Witton at his home in St Albans in 2013
You can click on the link to listen to Frank describe his wartime service on HMS Woolston
be patient - it takes a couple of minutes before the file opens and Frank starts speaking

While these events were taking place at Bergen my father, Lt(E) William Redvers Forster RNR, was in HMS Venomous  at Kristiansand South on the Skagerack with HMS Valorous
A German officer surrendered to my father by handing over his Luger pistol and a Norwegian gave him a beautiful hand made model of a traditional open boat as a gift for me, his five year old son

If you have stories or photographs of HMS Woolston you would like to contribute to the web site please contact Bill Forster

If you want to find out more about the wartime service of a member of your family who served on HMS Woolston you should first obtain a copy of their service record
To find out how follow this link:

Return to the Home Page for HMS Woolston

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