The Royal Visit

When Germany invaded and installed a puppet government under Quisling the Norwegian Royal family fled to Britain, where King Haakon headed a government-in-exile from London. Yet with their Norwegian Brigade based at Dumfries from 1940-45, the town has received several royal visits both during the war and in the decades since. As Giancarlo Rinaldi put it, the Norwegian royals recognised very soon “the fundamental role that the town played in keeping a fighting force alive for their nation”, and so “have not been slow to grace the area with their presence.”[1] As well as King Haakon VII and Crown Prince Olav, Norwegian government ministers also visited Dumfries at various times.

The first royal visits occurred not long after the Norwegians had settled in Dumfries, because according to James Hutcheon “as the training of troops progressed it was inevitable that they should be paid a visit by their King.”[2] In 1940 King Haakon arrived at Dumfries Station as so many of his subjects had, and like them he was greeted by local dignitaries and British military personnel. Apparently during visits the royals would stay at Newlands House, although only a 1941 visit by Haakon is recorded on the commemorative plaque there.[3]

They did usually dine at the officers mess in Broomlands House though, and Hutcheon recounts a couple of evenings spent with them there. From Hutcheon’s personal recollection we gain a more human perspective than could be gleaned from reading official accounts or studying photographs of the time. He highlights King Haakon’s “free and easy manners” as well as sense of humour.[4] After dinner he recalls that “it was in the lounge, however, that one saw more often glimpses of the man.” Hutcheon elaborates that:

“He was wearing a high-necked tunic and without loss of dignity he calmly undid it at the neck. He sat on the arm of the sofa I was sitting on and chatted to me and to others sitting round about. He got up and wandered round the room from chair to chair, from group to group, and when it came time for him to leave he was sharing a quite inadequate chair with a junior officer. When he stood up and fixed his colllar and pulled down his tunic it was as if some invisible sergeant-major had bellowed ‘Shun’, for as one man we leapt to our feet and stood at attention. He was a man but when it was required he could be a King.[5]

This being the man who was photographed 30 years earlier alongside eight other sovereigns during the largest gathering of European royalty in history! Hutcheon was similarly impressed by the modesty of Crown Prince Olav, because “when the occasion demanded it he was Royalty, but when it was superfluous he mixed on terms of mutual respect and understanding with all his people.”[6] Outside of the officers mess, Hutcheon recorded the day that King Haakon inspected his troops. First at Holm Field, then watching them march past at the junction between Rosefield Road and Holm Avenue, standing beside the tree that is now in front of Troqueer Community Centre:

“…and there is a spot in one of our housing schemes where he stood to review his little exile army.

There was a proposal that the spot should be marked by a composite small memorial of Norwegian and Scottish granite bearing the inscription “A King stood here” but so far the idea has not been pursued.”[7]

Besides these instances in 1940 King Haakon is known to have come to Dumfries again in 1941, and it is possible that he or Crown Prince Olav visited on other occasions. Especially as Olav was appointed Chief of Defence on 30 June 1944 and assumed leadership of all Norwegian armed forces, it’s probable that he did revisit Dumfries in that capacity, as it continued to be the headquarters for his army.[8] He is also recorded as visiting the secret Imperial Chemical Industries factory on the outskirts of Dumfries, so perhaps this and other militarily sensitive trips were not publicised.[9]

Germany surrendered Norway on 8 May 1945, with Doonhamers among the detachment of King’s Own Scottish Borderers airlifted to impose the terms of surrender.[10] By the 13th of that month Crown Prince Olav and five government ministers returned.[11] On 7 June King Haakon VII joined them, five years to the day since he had been forced to flee.[12] Royal visits to Scotland and even Dumfries did not end with the war, however. Since its founding the Scottish Norwegian Society has invited the Norwegian monarch to be their patron, while each new Norwegian Consul in Scotland has continued to be honorary vice-president.

On 19th October 1962 the now King Olav V returned to Dumfries, having succeeded his father in 1957.[13] During his day in Nithsdale the former Crown Prince stopped by Newlands House, the Lyceum theatre and Palmerston park, greeted by large crowds along the way. At the Lyceum around two thousand people saw him granted the freedom of the burgh by provost Watt.[14] The provost recalled “the respect, affection and unbounded admiration which your late father, His Majesty King Haakon, was regarded by the people of this country.”[15] King Olav reflected on the respect, affection and admiration that many Norwegians likewise felt towards Doonhamers in his speech:

“It was in Dumfriesshire where the first Norwegian Army came and it was here that most of them who left Norway in 1940 settled down. The friendliness and warm welcome with which they were met was a most important factor towards building up the morale and strength which made it possible for them to live through the war years separated from their families and homes in occupied Norway. Therefore, in Norway, Dumfries is a well-known name and it stands for kindness, friendliness and hospitality.”[16]

Since its inception Norwegian monarchs have been patron of the Scottish Norwegian Society, and after 40 years the death of King Olav V on 17th January 1991 “brought a great sense of sadness and loss to all members”, but prompted “a large congregation of Norwegians and friends of Norway” to gather for a memorial service in Glasgow.[17] In May that year the SNS membership resolved that “at an appropriate time, His Majesty King Harald V of Norway be asked to honour the Scottish Norwegian Society by consenting to be its Patron.”[18]

Having bestowed that honour, over a decade later King Harald maintained another tradition by becoming the third King of Norway to visit Dumfries. As a keen ornithologist he was pleased to be invited to open the new viewing area at Caerlaverock Wetlands centre on 16th January 2002. During that visit the king also met wartime Dumfries residents Torleif Nilson and his wife Isabella, with whom he chatted for a good twenty minutes.[19] Whether he inherited the relaxed manners of his father and grandfather along with the crown was not been recorded – you’d have to ask Mr and Mrs Nilson!

[1] Giancarlo Rinaldi, Great Dumfries Stories (Glasgow: Bell & Bain, 2005), p.55

[2] James, Hutcheon, ‘When the Norwegians Came to Dumfries’, p.5 – Courtesy of Dumfries Museum

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

[4] James, Hutcheon, ‘When the Norwegians Came to Dumfries’, p.5 – Courtesy of Dumfries Museum

[5] James, Hutcheon, ‘When the Norwegians Came to Dumfries’, p.5 – Courtesy of Dumfries Museum

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

[7] James, Hutcheon, ‘When the Norwegians Came to Dumfries’, p.5 – Courtesy of Dumfries Museum

[8] The Royal House of Norway website, ‘History: World War II’ page [accessed 22.3.2017] <http://www.royalcourt.no/artikkel.html?tid=28689&sek=27316>

[9] Future Museum, ‘Fireman’s Helmet, ICI 1939-40’ [accessed 23.3.2017] <http://www.futuremuseum.co.uk/collections/features/online-exhibitions/hat-trick!/firemans-helmet,-ici-1939-40.aspx>

[10] Herald Scotland, ‘Our friends in the further north’, 23.6.2000 [accessed 19.2.2017]

<http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/12185428.Our_friends_in_the_further_North/>

[11] The Royal House of Norway website, ‘History: World War II’ page [accessed 22.3.2017] <http://www.royalcourt.no/artikkel.html?tid=28689&sek=27316>

[12] Dumfries Museum, ‘Norway and Dumfries: a special friendship’ (1990) p.10

[13] Future Museum, ‘The visit of His Majesty the King of Norway, Freedom Ceremony’ page [accessed 22.3.2017] <http://www.futuremuseum.co.uk/collections/people/lives-in-key-periods/war-decline/the-norwegian-connection/royal-burgh-of-dumfries,-the-visit-of-his-majesty-the-king-of-norway,-freedom-ceremony.aspx>

[14] Dumfries Museum, ‘Norway and Dumfries: a special friendship’ (1990) p.11

[15] Giancarlo Rinaldi, Great Dumfries Stories (Glasgow: Bell & Bain, 2005), p.56

[16] Giancarlo Rinaldi, Great Dumfries Stories (Glasgow: Bell & Bain, 2005), p.56

[17] James McKenna, ‘History of the Scottish Norwegian Society’ (2002), p.13

[18] James McKenna, ‘History of the Scottish Norwegian Society’ (2002), p.14

[19] Giancarlo Rinaldi, Great Dumfries Stories (Glasgow: Bell & Bain, 2005), p.56

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