Dumfries remembers role as home to Norwegian army

By Giancarlo Rinaldi
South Scotland reporter, BBC Scotland news website

Image caption,
A flag was raised at the Midsteeple in Dumfries in honour of its links to the Norwegian army

The flag of Norway has been raised over Dumfries to mark the 70th anniversary of its special links with the nation.

The connection was made in World War II when the town played host to the exiled Norwegian army.

The relationship is celebrated annually in St Michael's Church where many of the servicemen worshipped.

Church elder, Richard Reade, said the local council had come on board to help recognise the added significance of this year's commemorations.

Events, including a special service, culminated with the flag-raising event at the Midsteeple.

Norway was one of the first countries to be overwhelmed by Germany during World War II and many of its soldiers and others fled in the hope of regrouping elsewhere.

About 300 of them landed in Hamilton in June 1940 and were subsequently directed to Dumfries.

They received military training in the town and the Norwegian army command later moved there.

'Tremendous anxiety'

By 1941, their numbers topped 1,000 and work got under way building a barracks at Carronbridge, north of Dumfries.

In the same year, the Scottish Norwegian Society was also founded in the town and a permanent base named Norway House (Norges Hus) was created.

A library thrived, concerts were held, language classes staged and a variety of social gatherings held.

Reports at the time suggested that the Norwegians quickly integrated into their new surroundings.

Image caption,
A plaque is still in place in Dumfries in honour of the Norwegian army's time in the town

Town clerk James Hutcheon wrote: "I have been told by Norwegian friends that Dumfries reminded many of them of their own towns and countryside, which was now the cause of tremendous anxiety to them in view of Nazi occupation.

"The Nith which runs through Dumfries is tidal.

"Perhaps our Norwegian friends felt that they were not as yet too far from the sea - the same sea which is ever near them in Norway."

Over time, the soldiers were deployed across Scotland as part of defence forces, including spells at Tain and Callander.

However, their links with Dumfries remained strong.

So much so that a special farewell party was organised in the town when the war ended and many of the Norwegians returned home.

Others, who had established romantic ties, did decide to remain.

Today, an annual wreath-laying ceremony marks the role Dumfries played in Norway's military history - an event which has been attended by members of its royal family over the years.

It may be 70 years ago, but it would appear neither the Norwegians nor the Doonhamers have forgotten a friendship which was forged in times of war.

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