On 25th August 1941 a force of British, Canadian and Norwegian soldiers landed on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen. The unopposed raid was intended to deny the coal and port facilities to the Germans.
Mary Olsen lived on Spitsbergen with her daughter Marie and husband Andor who worked in the coal mines. She later told the British press how she learnt that the British were going to blow the place up and evacuate them to Britain:
Warm sunshine bathed the little Arctic town where we lived. I was at work in my timber-built cottage, my daughter Marie was playing outside with our pet “husky” dog Kiki.
Suddenly a neighbour cried out, “There are warships in the bay!”
I took Marie by the hand and we ran to the sea, Kiki galloping at our heels. The lifting mist revealed a great fleet of ships at the entrance to the fiord.
Ship’s boats packed with soldiers were coming towards the quay. As the first boat scraped alongside an officer in uniform sprang ashore.
“Good-morning”, he called in Norwegian. No one in the little knot of people, mostly women and children, who had gathered to watch, answered him. We did not know who they were. We were suspicious.
Soldiers in khaki climbed out of the boat – smiling soldiers who stood smartly to attention and winked at the children clinging to our hands.
Then someone noticed the flag of Norway on the officer’s shoulder. There was an audible sigh of relief. It was all right. These were British soldiers – not Germans.
Spitzbergen was being occupied. I listened uncomprehendingly to my English-speaking countrymen who were now chatting with the newcomers. I watched, wondering, until Marie suddenly said that she was hungry. We went back home. Then an excited friend told me “The Canadians have come to take us away. They are going to free our beloved Norway.”
The news was a shock. I love my home. Andor my husband, is a foreman in the mines. All our life was here. This was a big decision. Sad thoughts ran through my mind. “This is my dear Spitzbergen. This is our home. Andor and I have a beautiful home and a beautiful child. Oh God, why should there be Nazis…”
Even though it was not of great strategic importance the raid was a major propaganda boost for the British.