On the 13th of May the French began another
offensive. They left Elvenes at the end of the Gratangerfjord where they
had been stationed to link up with their Foreign Legion Brigade which
had been landed at Bjerkvik at the end of the Herjangsfjord. A few days
later the French who had held the high ground at Ankenes where we were
stationed pulled out to be replaced by Polish troops.
During all that time my company took it easy. We were dug in halfway up
the mountain and had a great view of the Beisfjord and the city of
Narvik still in German hands. Second Lieutenant Earl Mackenzie was quite
concerned about the morale of the troops.
“It does them no good at all, this lazing around,” he told me for the
hundredth time. At last I gave him a free hand to improve the morale
which he tried to do by mounting strenuous patrols, several each day.
I used the free time I had to become better acquainted with Petra Baird.
We were making good progress, too. I told her about Canada and my life
there, but omitting the fact that I had lived almost sixty years in the
future. From my descriptions she got the impression that Canada was a
fabulous country. She talked a lot about Australia, the Australia of the
1930’s. I was very much interested in it, of course. It seemed to me
that her family must have lived in the most primitive of conditions
imaginable, at least from the viewpoint of the late twentieth century.
Subtly, and without either of us being aware of it, our familiarity grew
to much more than friendship. The days had lengthened until there was no
real night any more. Dusk changed to dawn and after an absence of
perhaps an hour or so the sun rose again almost due north. It did not
make for a romantic environment, true. But it was wartime and we took
the breaks as they offered themselves. From what I could observe, Bill
Johnson’s eyes became dreamy each time he caught a glimpse of the pretty
American interpreter, Louise Yasuda. They spent a good deal of time
together, and not just because the fighting of a war demanded it.
I even heard through the grapevine that Major James Yonge was rather
friendly with a Norwegian lady. There was considerable speculation as
to the nature of their liaison.
Only Second Lieutenant Earl Mackenzie had no eyes for members of the
opposite sex. He was in his element mounting patrols.
As with everything in this imperfect world of ours the somewhat idyllic
situation at Ankenes came to a rather sudden end shortly after midnight
near the end of May. Of course there had been plenty of rumors of what
was going to happen. And plenty did happen all the time - to others. We
were the forgotten force, or so it seemed.
We, that is the British, feared that the Germans with the help of some
Norwegians belonging to Vidkun Quisling’s group, the Norwegian who
collaborated with the enemy, had tapped our telephone lines.
Consequently only routine communications were entrusted to the
telephone. Really important news were carried by messengers.
Shortly after midnight on that particular day a motorcycle roared up the
track to where I had my command center. It sounds grand, command center.
It was nothing more than a lean-to, camouflaged so that the German
observation posts in the mountains across the Beisfjord could not locate
us too easily and the German aircraft could not pinpoint us. The enemy’s
command of the air was proving to be an increasingly dangerous thorn in
The motorcycle came to a halt amid a small avalanche of dirt and gravel.
I had just returned from a visit to Petra and was preparing to go to
sleep. We slept at our posts in those days as Ankenes was not really a
town or village but rather a location. The few buildings there were
needed for other purposes, like the medical station, a supply dump and
so on. We had four men to each post, two on duty and two resting.
Sergeant Johnson - I still had not received a replacement for Lieutenant
Hiber who had been killed in an engagement almost a month ago - and
Second Lieutenant Mackenzie each had six men at their posts, I had
When I heard the racket outside I got up again from my cot and walked to
the curtain which was our door, to see what was going on. As I stepped
through it I almost collided with Major Yonge.
“At ease,” he barked when everybody suddenly stood at attention. His
feet were soaking wet and the front of his uniform was splattered with
mud. We relaxed although I felt strained. I knew that Major Yonge was an
avid motorcyclist. Still, to inspect our position shortly after midnight
seemed a bit odd.
“Captain Kester,” Yonge said after having mustered every man at my post.
He jerked his head a fraction to his left side, indicating I was to
follow him. He halted ten steps behind his conveyance. To call it a
motorcycle was kind. It certainly had seen better days.
“Look there,” Yonge said, “what do you see?” He pointed at the panorama
I strained my eyes. I could not make out anything new. Everything was
the same as it had always been.
“Well?” Yonge asked after the pause began to stretch out.
“Nothing, Sir. I see nothing.”
“You see nothing? Are you sure, Kester?”
“Yes, Sir. Down below is the water of the Beisfjord and on the opposite
shore there are mountains, the same as yesterday. I see nothing going
“And over there?” He indicated the peninsula jutting out in the
half-light of dusk or dawn.
“There is nothing there either but the city of Narvik, still held by the
Germans. We have been watching it for over a week now, Sir.”
“You are almost right. Across the fjord you will find the coastal
highway. After you have crossed the water you will follow the Polish
division into the city of Narvik and occupy the rail yard. Then you will
push on towards the Swedish border. This is going to be the end of Dietl
and his mountain troops. Yo u will hold the rail yard at all costs.
Listen, do you hear anything?”
I tried to catch a sound, any sound. Far to the north was faint thunder
and lightning. It looked like a distant thunderstorm.
“No, Sir, I can’t say I do except for the electrical storm up the
Herjangsfjord.” I glanced at the cloud laden sky. “It seems to be coming
“Again you are almost right. That is General Bethouart and his Foreign
Legion Brigade. The attack on Narvik has begun.”
He outlined to me in great detail what was going to happen and my part
in the action. Te n minutes later he climbed back on his motorcycle,
tramped down on the kick starter, revved up the engine and in a shower
of mud and gravel was gone.
We had exactly one hour to reach the beach.
“Johnson, Mackenzie,” I hollered.
Five minutes later they were facing me. And five minutes after that we
were on our way down the mountainside. Unfortunately we had to abandon
two machine gun positions as we could not carry all the equipment. For
years after the war had ended local Norwegians and tourists coming up to
Narvik to ski would run across these abandoned posts in the rugged
mountains all around Narvik and the fjords.
We reached the beach with barely a minute to spare.