Weddings & Women

An aspect of Norwegian life in Dumfries that was critical to the town’s continued Norwegian story was of course romantic in nature. Depending on circumstances this might have been a celebrated or sensitive topic, but either way a fair number of relationships between Norwegians and Doonhamers resulted in marriage and children, ensuring that a living legacy of that dislocated period exists in both countries. Several sources indicate that over two hundred Norwegian soldiers married women in Scotland, and that many of those weddings were held in Dumfries.[1] There are at least a few photographs of Norwegian weddings at the churches of Troqueer and St Michael’s.

As noted by Giancarlo Rinaldi, “the arrival of such a large number of young ‘Vikings’ in Dumfries did not go unnoticed by local girls” in 1940, with the number of weddings over the years demonstrating that “there was more than friendship on the cards”.[2] He further suggests that the number of Norwegian names listed in the local phone-book offers testament to the strong family bonds that continue! According to James Hutcheon the relationships between Dumfries girls and Norwegian boys was “more than the natural habit of a soldier to put his arm around a pretty girl’s waist”, and that the attraction was “more than just the love of a uniform and the glamour of war.[3] The assessments of Rinaldi and Hutcheon are supported by the fresher memories of Kristian Jahr in 1962:

“And more than friends! I think I am right in saying that over 200 Norwegian soldiers married your bonnie lassies. Most of them are now living in Norway with their families. Some stayed in Dumfries and others came back from Norway with their families. I don’t know how many Norwegian or ex-Norwegian families have settled in Dumfries. Could it be as many as 30? Perhaps more, perhaps less, but it is not important. Most of the Norwegians who settled here have taken British nationality and regard themselves as fellow Scots.”[4]

It was not just regular troops making love connections in Dumfries either; the first wedding between a Norwegian officer and a Doonhamer took place at Troqueer Church in 1941. At a Scottish Norwegian Society ceremony of 1944, Major Myrseth’s contribution to the early Society was marked by the Chairman, Reverend Cockburn, who cheekily remarked upon the Major’s “desire to draw the Scots andd the Norwegians more and more closely together. Not only had the major become a Dumfriesian by virtue of several years residence but he had dispelled all suggestion of being a mere incomer by taking unto himself a Dumfries wife. Now he was truly a native.”[5]

Even while focusing on Dumfries, it is important to remember the hardship endured by families left behind in Norway who had to live under Nazi occupation, often without men to help do work and with a harsh system of rationing imposed upon them. It’s worth considering the complex web of relationships that developed between wives and mothers left behind, husbands and sons in exile, lovers taken while overseas indefinitely, and children on both sides of the sea. Sometimes there could be no happy ending.

Due to the vast majority of Norwegians living in Dumfries during the 1940s being men, accounts of their stay are invariably told from a male perspective. While the population of Norwegian men in Nithsdale reached peaks of one or two thousand during the war, there were barely more than 100 women throughout.[6] Sadly only rare glimpses into the female experience of exile in Nithsdale exist here and there. We know that Norwegian women worked as nurses at Maxwelton and Newlands, but also that many served in the Norwegian Womens’ Army, which was led by Rundi Albert.[7] A bust of her by James G Jeffs can still be seen in the Norwegian Connection display case at Dumfries Museum.[8] She was also among the signatories of the copy of Alt for Norge! (All for Norway), which belonged to Major Myrseth and is also on display there.[9]

We also know from Rev Cockburn’s Account of 1943 that women of each nationality collaborated to support the Norwegian war effort in diverse ways, such as “an interesting and productive activity instituted at the suggestion of Major Myrseth was a Knitting Circle among the lady members. These ladies, both Scottish and Norwegian, collaborated and set to work on the production of a large number of pairs of woollen gloves for use in the Norwegian Military Forces, whose generous thanks for the articles are conveyed to all who participated.”[10] Of course it would be wonderful to know more about how else Norwegian women contributed, were trained or what experiences they had, but James Hutcheon does share a touching moment in May 1945, near the end of their time in Dumfries:

“My last recollection of the Norwegians is one sunny night on the Plainstanes about two nights after Norway had been liberated. The KOSB [King’s Own Scottish Borderer’s regiment] band, which had played in Norway on that occasion, had for some reason been flown back and they were playing the “Retreat” between our old Steeple and the Fountain. I saw some of the Norwegian women pushing their small children through the crowd, aye, and some of the Norwegian lassies, too, pressing forward to touch the kilts which had been so recently in their beloved homeland to set it free.[11]

With national costume in mind, the Scottish Norwegian Society provides an interesting comment on Norwgian women’s traditional dress, the bunad. In 1987 a group of Norwegian ladies were visiting patients at Ross Hall Hospital in Glasgow, where they joined SNS memebers for a Norwegian Christmas party. One of the women noticed that the Society’s then President, Mrs Margit McKenna, “was wearing the Romsdal ‘bunad’ and on speaking to her, found that they both came from the same place in West Norway, Vestnes, across the fjord from Molde. This shows how distinctive the traditional regional styles of Norwegian National Costume are.”[12]

 

The following list of Norwegian weddings in Dumfries was compiled by Isobel C. Gow[13]:

 

1941

Knudsen and Hogg

Jahr and Chambers

Jacobsen and Edgar

Hansen and Gibson

Tvilberg and Todd

 

1942

Hans Jensen adn Elizabeth Taylor

Finn Tonnesson and Phyllis Connell

 

1944

Kaare Evensen and Margaret Ross

Harald Sommerbakk and Grace Kerr

Aage Berg Nilsen and Betty Symington

Sigurd Fiskerstrand and Winifred Ewan

 

1945

Welfred Larsen and Evelyn Bell

Arne Michelsen and Jeannie Brown

Hany Flatten and Lilian Edgar

Harald Gundersen and Barbara Turner

 

 

[1] Isabelle C. Gow, Nithsdale at War (Catrine: Stenlake, 2011), p.60

[2] Giancarlo Rinaldi, Great Dumfries Stories (Glasgow: Bell & Bain, 2005), p.53

[3] James Hutcheon, ‘Our War-Time Guests’ in J.S. Dinwiddie (ed), The Gallovidian Annual (1949), p.29

[4] Kristian Jahr, ‘Dumfries and Norway’ (1962), p.5 – Courtesy of Dumfries Museum

[5] Giancarlo Rinaldi, Great Dumfries Stories (Glasgow: Bell & Bain, 2005), pp.54-55

[6] James Hutcheon, ‘When the Norwegians Came to Dumfries’, p.3 – Courtesy of Dumfries Museum

[7] Isabelle C. Gow, Nithsdale at War (Catrine: Stenlake, 2011), p.60

[8] Future Museum, ‘Sculpture: Rundi Albert’ page [accessed 21.3.2017]  <http://www.futuremuseum.co.uk/collections/arts-crafts/arts/sculpture/rundi-albert,-leader-of-the-norwegian-womens-army-in-dumfries.aspx>

[9] Future Museum, ‘The Second World War: All for Norway!’ [accessed 21.3.2017] <http://www.futuremuseum.co.uk/collections/people/lives-in-key-periods/war-decline/the-second-world-war/all-for-norway!.aspx>

[10] James McKenna, ‘History of the Scottish Norwegian Society’ (2002), pp.4-5

[11] James Hutcheon, ‘When the Norwegians Came to Dumfries’, p.6 – Courtesy of Dumfries Museum

[12] James McKenna, ‘History of the Scottish Norwegian Society’ (2002), p.12

[13] Isabelle C. Gow, Nithsdale at War (Catrine: Stenlake, 2011), p.102

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