Scottish Norwegian Society

Very quickly with the arrival of so many Norwegians in Dumfries during 1940, a mutual effort between their own officers and Doonhamers ensured they would be made to feel welcome in the town. Prominent citizens such as the Reverend Harold Cockburn, Town Clerk James Hutcheon, and businessman Noёl Dinwiddie worked with Major Olaus Myrseth to “bring together the two communities of Scots and Norwegians in a purposive way by forming a Society to promote the already growing friendship between two lots of people who got on so well together.”[1] Among their ambitions were to organise social events, provide cultural education and exchange, while hopefully forging commercial ties that would endure after the war. Hutcheon recalls how the embryonic Society came to be installed at Norge Hus overlooking the Burns Statue when the Norwegian army under Myrseth “took over the empty building in the High Street which used to be Oughtons. Part was used for workshops and stores but a part was set aside for the activities of the newly formed Scottish-Norwegian Society.”[2] In March of 1942 the Society constitution was revised and finalised, its purpose stated as: “To promote friendship, and to further cultural and commercial relations between the Scottish-Norwegian peoples.” The first General Meeting held on 9th April marked two years since Germany invaded Norway, and was attended by 160 members and prospective members.[3] Among plans outlined at that inaugural gathering were regular meetings every Thursday in the Norway House canteen for socialising and lectures, as well as the establishment of a library for members.[4] The offering grew to include concerts, films shows and whist drives at Norway House, while open events were held in larger venues around Dumfries. Lectures held included an account of Norwegian prisoners on a Nazi ‘hell ship’ by Lektor Falch, and an introduction to the craft of spinning by local artist James G. Jeffs of The Yellow Door.[5] In his 1943 Annual Report, Chairman Rev Cockburn excitedly detailed the Society’s busy and varied programme:

“The Society was specially proud to sponsor visits to Dumfries by the celebrated Norwegian artistes, Soffi Schønning and Waldemar Johnsen, who delighted large audiences in the Academy Hall and St.George’s Hall with finely varied programmes of songs, folk-songs, and duets. As a result the Society was able to send a donation of £60 to King Haakon’s Fund, and for their services in furthering the objects of the Society both these famous artistes were created Honorary Life Members.”[6]

During winter the SNS would offer language classes for Scottish members wishing to learn Norwegian, with lessons planned by Lieutenant Reinholt who was assisted by Lt. Aasen and Sergeant Børresen. As many as 40 members attended classes, so that “the number of Scots possessing more than a smattering of the Norwegian language is quite considerable.”[7] Indeed, on receipt of his St. Olav Medal from the Norwegian Consul in 1964, lifelong Society member Andrew P. Macpherson was able to deliver his thanks in fluent Norwegian, to the surprise of the Consul! This despite never having visited Norway – “I learned the language in Dumfries”, he said.[8] The Society’s library likewise proved very properly, with the Hon. Librarian recording over a thousand volumes borrowed during 1942-43.[9] The Society’s love of literature saw them also embrace the tradition of Burns Suppers. Their own popular poet Nordhal Grieg spoke at the Supper of 1943, sharing his love for Burns which his father had introduced him to in Norway.[10] Indeed, Hutcheon related that the Norwegians already had a firm familiarity with the poetry of Burns and that “among my most treasured memories of the stay of the Norwegians are the speeches by some of their countrymen at our annual Burns Suppers.”[11] In particular Grieg expressed appreciation for ‘Scots Wha Hae’ due to its “inspiring theme of patriotism and freedom”, which paralleled Greig’s own poems being broadcast to Norway at that time to inspire the Resistance.[12] As war came to an end in May of 1945, Norwegians were able to return to their liberated country after five long years in exile. With the vast majority of Norwegians in Dumfries due to depart, the Society organised a ‘Farewell Party’ at the British Restaurant, which saw around 250 Scots and Norwegians turn out to bid their goodbyes.[13] Over the following months the number of Norwegians in Dumfries quickly depleted. The last to leave was Captain Anton Tviberg, who happened to have been among the very first to arrive in 1940.[14] Despite its diminishing Norwegian membership the Society continued to host regular meetings and activities after 1945, and as noted by Giancarlo Rinaldi, for many local SNS members the farewell turned out not to be so final. Ex-Provost Lockerbie had previously created a savings scheme for the society, which meant that “a good number had gathered sufficient funds to travel over to Norway to visit their friends.”[15] So even before Greystone Rovers began the sporting tradition of visiting Norway, members of the SNS had managed to make the expensive trip to visit their friends! Eventually the local branch of the SNS was wound up by Walter Duncan of Newlands in 1967, and its resources were passed on to the surviving Glasgow branch, which endures today. An attempt to revive the Dumfries branch in 1972 was actually instigated by Greystone Rovers founder John Wallace and some friends, yet it seems that, without the sizeable population of Norwegians in Dumfries that the war created, an enduring Scottish Norwegian Society can only exist at the national level.[16] Of course the SNS today still organises events and creates a focal point for Norwegian culture in Scotland, with continuing support from the Norwegian Consulate in Edinburgh and royal patronage. Hutcheon recalled that Norwegians in Dumfries “were never just a colony within a foreign town for they entered into the life of the community bringing a robust, self-reliant vibrance to the stirring time of war.”[17] At a ceremony in 1944 marking his contribution to the early days of the Society, founding member Major Myrseth echoed that sentiment: “For most of the Norwegians Dumfries had been their temporary capital city. Many in other parts of the country had said to him when going on leave: ‘But we must go to Dumfries because, Major, it is our capital city.’ Yes, and Dumfries would remain their capital in memory for many years, because they could never forget the friends they had found in the Queen of the South in the difficult beginnins of their exile. Everywhere they were met with open arms, and everything was done to give them a home from home.”[18]   [1] James McKenna, ‘History of the Scottish Norwegian Society’ (2002), p.3 [2] James Hutcheon, ‘When the Norwegians Came to Dumfries’, p.4 – Courtesy of Dumfries Museum [3] James McKenna, ‘History of the Scottish Norwegian Society’ (2002), p.3 [4] James McKenna, ‘History of the Scottish Norwegian Society’ (2002), p.4 [5] James McKenna, ‘History of the Scottish Norwegian Society’ (2002), p.4 [6] James McKenna, ‘History of the Scottish Norwegian Society’ (2002), p.5 [7] Quoted in James McKenna, ‘History of the Scottish Norwegian Society’ (2002), p.5 [8] Future Museum, ‘’Honoured by King Olav’, newspaper article, dated 28 Feb 1964’ [accessed 21.2.2017] <http://www.futuremuseum.co.uk/collections/people/lives-in-key-periods/war-decline/the-norwegian-connection/honoured-by-king-olav,-newspaper-article.aspx> [9] James McKenna, ‘History of the Scottish Norwegian Society’ (2002), p.5 [10] James McKenna, ‘History of the Scottish Norwegian Society’ (2002), p.4 [11] James Hutcheon, ‘Our War-Time Guests’ in J.S. Dinwiddie (ed), The Gallovidian Annual (1949), p.26 [12] James McKenna, ‘History of the Scottish Norwegian Society’ (2002), p.14 [13] James McKenna, ‘History of the Scottish Norwegian Society’ (2002), p.5 [14] James McKenna, ‘History of the Scottish Norwegian Society’ (2002), p.5 [15] Giancarlo Rinaldi, Great Dumfries Stories (Glasgow: Bell & Bain, 2005), p.55 [16] James McKenna, ‘History of the Scottish Norwegian Society’ (2002), p.6 [17] James Hutcheon, ‘When the Norwegians Came to Dumfries’, p.6 – Courtesy of Dumfries Museum [18] Giancarlo Rinaldi, Great Dumfries Stories (Glasgow: Bell & Bain, 2005), pp.54-55

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