- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Douglas Fisher
- Location of story:
- Faroe Islands
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 16 October 2005
Outside ops block and W/T - RAF camp by Sørvágsvatn, Vágar, Faroe Islands
When war broke out, my father was too young to join up, so he became a member of the home guard. Eventually, on the same day, he received letters from both the Army and RAF and chose the latter. As his sight was not good enough for flying he became a wireless operator and was posted to the Faroe Islands. Growing up after the war, I heard snippets about these windy islands and the kindness of the Faroese people and often looked at Dad's album full of neatly labelled photographs.
I inherited this album and realised that many RAF personnel and islanders are recorded by name. The views give the location and direction my father was facing when he took the pictures and the photos, now copied onto the computer, can be enlarged to reveal much detail. Dad labelled his pictures with place names, written in Danish. Faroese is now the written language and I have used Faroese names.
This year (2005) we decided to visit the Faroe Islands and find the sites my father, leading aircraftsman Douglas Fisher, had seen over sixty years ago. We took with us copies of his photos on CD, to give to any interested local historians or museums. We were extremely fortunate in meeting really helpful islanders, who were alive in the war, and we now have a much greater understanding of where Dad was and why he was there.
The Faroes, though belonging to Denmark, were not allowed to fall under Nazi control and were occupied by Britain on 12 4 1940. They were obviously of strategic importance in providing communication and protection for convoys from America and in supporting the obstructing of German shipping.
Of the eighteen Faroe Islands, only one, Vágar, is flat enough for aeroplanes to land. It was there, near the modern airport, that we met a local man in his late seventies, who took us around in his car, explaining what it had been like there in the 1940s. Prior to the influx of British forces, there had been very few road vehicles and just a few tracks. Our contact, Lars, had been a teenager on the island when the Pioneer Corps arrived in April 1942 to start building roads and an airport and extending the harbour at Sørvágur. Local islanders were asked to find shelter for the soldiers in their homes, attics, fish drying huts or anywhere with a roof until nissen huts could be erected. The women and children had been evacuated from around the British bases and Lars had been one of seven teenage boys, who had been offered training by the army, thereby learning electrical engineering and excellent English.
Eventually, in 1943, the basic structures were in place and the Pioneer corps left. There is a wonderful letter from J Adamson their Lieutenant Colonel still in the church at Sandvágur, thanking the islanders for their friendship.
A large army base had been constructed near the Sørvágsfjordur and the RAF base was nearby facing the lake (Sørvágsvatn). Before the completion of the airport, air transport in the form of Catalina and larger flying boats landed on the lake, as can be seen in one of Dad's pictures. There was a sizeable camp complex. Dad's photos show some of the nissen huts, all gone now. But we were shown two cookhouses, now homes, and the remains of the officers' mess along with the sites of the entertainment block with its projector room.
It was plain to see from the photos that, although dad was on Vágar during all seasons of the year, he was also often at the southern tip of the most southerly island, Suðuroy. Again the pictures show different times of the year and we assumed he must have been sent down there, to Akraberg, for spells of duty. We took the ferry to Suðuroy and were taken around the places in the pictures by another kind local inhabitant. Akraberg consisted of a lighthouse, three lighthouse keepers' houses and a paraffin store. In such a small community, Dad knew the keepers and their wives and children well and took photos of them. I am now in touch with two ladies in their eighties, daughters of lighthouse keepers, who both featured in Dad's photos. I now know that an officer visited the three houses and requisitioned bed space, in at least two of the houses, for some RAF personnel. I believe about fifteen men were stationed there at a time, including my father.
A nissen hut was built between two of the houses, where the RAF men had their daytime living quarters. There were also two small concrete buildings for the wireless operating and for an anti-aircraft gun emplacement. (These still exist along with two of the three houses, no longer occupied, as the lighthouse is now automatic. The third house has been moved to Sumba!) All heavy materials were brought by boat to the foot of the cliff and four men worked a winch to hoist them up. Dad took a picture of 'the boys on the winch.' The alternative was to carry supplies up the hill. One of the keeper's daughters remembers her father carrying two sacks at a time on his back, perhaps of potatoes or flour up from the nearest village, Sumba.
Despite having foreign servicemen foisted upon them, great friendliness was established between the RAF men and their hosts. Both ladies talk of their mothers cooking cakes and biscuits and having the British men in their homes for tea and a bite to eat on a daily basis. One of the mothers had told her daughter that, if her son was ever far from home, she would like to feel that someone would care for him and so she would look after the RAF boys. The lighthouse keepers would come off shift in the morning and call in at the nissen hut for a cup of tea.
After the war, one of the daughters married one of the RAF men, photographed by my Dad, both at the big camp on Vágar and by the nissen hut at Akraberg. She moved to England. A daughter of another keeper married a Faroese man and still lives in Sumba. She showed us the vase, given to her as a wedding present by the RAF lads. She also said that they clubbed together and gave her an envelope of money when her first baby was born.
Even on Vágar, where there were so many servicemen, friendships were struck up. I have a very kindly letter, written in Danish in 1946, from a mother in Sørvágur to my father in Egypt, where he had been posted whilst awaiting demobilisation.
Several people told us of the tears shed, when the British forces left (mostly in 1944) for their protection and company had been appreciated, even though there had not been enough local girls to go around and sometimes the island lads missed out.
The forces cleared up most of their camp buildings, but donated the useful infrastructure to the islanders, who benefited from the roads, harbour and bitumen plants. They were not ready for running an airport and those facilities were left until a civil airport was built on the old military site in the 1960s. At present, plans are afoot for a museum of World War II on Vágar and the Lions Club has refurbished the military airport watchtower. Copies of my Dad's photos are now available to be added to this project.
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