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The Isle of Man and Norway during WWII

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

The next History & Heritage public lecture at University College Isle of Man takes place on Wednesday 14th June when Dr Sue Nicol will be speaking about the relationship between the Isle of Man and Norway during the Second World War.

You probably know that Norway was occupied by German forces following the shock invasion in April 1940.  But did you know that the Norwegian government of occupation tried to claim the Isle of Man on behalf of the Third Reich? And did you know that the island was a staging post for Norwegians fleeing their occupied country, and wanting to join the Free Norwegian forces?

The link between the Isle of Man and Norway during the Viking era is a well-studied and familiar story. But far less well known is the link between the two countries through the dark years of the Second World War.

Between 1940 and 1945 Norwegians on both sides of that bitter conflict, both nazi sympathisers and would-be freedom fighters, found themselves detained on the Isle of Man.  It’s part of an almost forgotten history, where only the occasional fragment of a record has survived to help us piece the tale together.

The story is somewhat strange and complex. After all, we normally think of internment as a strategy for people then considered to be enemy aliens, such as Germans and Italians. But Norway was not at war with the Allies. So how did some Norwegians come to be categorised as enemy aliens and detained here? And if other Norwegians were seeking to join the Allied Forces, why were they also being kept behind barbed wire on the island?

Making sense of this involves making sense of how Norwegians dealt with the sudden and brazen invasion of their country on 9 April 1940 by the combined air, naval and ground forces of the Third Reich. The Norwegians refused to capitulate, and many continued to engage in civil disobedience, facing ever more cruel and petty restrictions (even wearing a red woolly hat became a criminal offence, as did refusing to sit next to a German on a bus).  

Some Norwegians became active in the resistance, either as SOE-trained saboteurs or in Milorg, the militant wing of the Norwegian Home Front.Those young men who escaped Norway in the hopes of fighting for their country all faced a preliminary week or two of debriefing and interrogation and, for many of them, that took place here in the Isle of Man.

For others, the cost of resistance was too high, and a few joined the quasi-nazi Norwegian Unity (Nasjonal Samling) party. Some of these later found themselves interned on the Island.

This lecture gathers those fragments of evidence that have survived to build an account of this dramatic and largely over-looked chapter of Manx-Norwegian relations.

‘Fear, Flight and Freedom: The Island’s Part in Norway’s Liberation Struggle’ takes place in Elmwood House (behind the St John Ambulance Centre, off Glencrutchery Road) at 6pm on Wednesday 14 June. All are welcome, and no booking is required.

Further details about the History & Heritage lecture series, together with videos of previous lectures, can be found on the lecture series website.

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