On 7 June 1945, King Haakon made a triumphal return by sea to Oslo, following the capitulation of Nazi forces on 8 May. The date was highly symbolic for several reasons: Exactly forty years before, to the day, the union between Norway and Sweden was formally dissolved. Secondly, this was the fifth anniversary of the day, on 7 June 1940, when the King and his son and heir, Olav, had been forced to flee Norway after a harrowing, three-month game of cat and mouse with the German forces who had occupied this Nordic Kingdom on 9 April.
Accompanying Haakon on this sea voyage, leaving from Rosyth in Scotland, aboard the British cruiser and flagship, HMS Norfolk, under the command of Vice-Admiral Rhoderick McGrigor, was his Swedish daughter-in-law Crown Princess Märtha and her three children Ragnhild, Astrid and Harald, who had just flown in from the United States after nearly five years in exile. Some sources have indicated that the Norwegian Sovereign had actually wanted to return aboard the same ship which had taken him into exile, from Tromso, on 7 June 1940, HMS Devonshire. However, on this occasion, the Devonshire’s role was limited to that of a ‘Royal Escort’ ship. Nevertheless, the King had received a wonderful send-off from the naval top brass at Admiralty House, North Queensferry, on 5 June, and was grateful to the British for permitting him to see out his exile in the land of his late wife and son’s birth, a fact he had already acknowledged in a radio broadcast to his people from London on 17 May. Haakon also spoke movingly of his Norwegian subjects’ steadfastness and thanked his armed forces for their loyalty and tenacity.
As HMS Norfolk entered the Oslofjord, with HMS Devonshire following on to the rear, local Norwegians took to the waters in all manner of flag-bedecked sailing craft, from fishing boats to tugs, to welcome their beloved Sovereign home. They had been partying ever since German forces surrendered a month earlier, but this was undoubtedly the highlight of these celebrations. Crown Prince Olav, who had returned to Norway on 13 May, was amongst them. He came aboard HMS Norfolk at Moss and must have been somewhat startled at the sight of his three children dressed in oversize duffle coats against the breeze. These outfits were quickly swapped for ‘Sunday Best’ clothing for the welcome home festivities in Oslo.
Once the Norfolk had reached its destination, the sun broke through the clouds and the King and his family disembarked and were transported by launch to the quayside near to Akerhus Fortress (Honnørbryggen) where, after shaking hands with the official welcoming party, the King straightened his back and strode purposefully down the red carpet to a waiting pavilion decked out flags bearing the royal insignia. The Oslo City Hall provided a fitting backdrop. The Crown Prince and Crown Princess and their children followed on close behind. All of the royal ladies were then presented with large bouquets of flowers. Hundreds of thousands of the King’s loyal subjects lined the quaysides and surrounding thoroughfares. Princess Astrid, who was then aged thirteen, told the broadcaster NRK that she had been overwhelmed by the strength of the welcome for which she was ‘totally unprepared’ following five years spent, in relative anonymity, as a schoolgirl in Bethesda, Maryland.
After greeting the members of the Honour Guard, formed at the King’s express wish from the 99th Norwegian-American ‘Viking’ Battalion of the US Army, and standing to attention for the Norwegian National Anthem, the King and Crown Princess entered the royal limousine bearing the famous A1 registration plate and which had survived the occupation intact. For security reasons, a soldier with a rifle sat in the front passenger seat. The other members of the royal entourage settled into other official cars behind to form a convoy, accompanied by army jeeps and military outriders, which swept up the city’s crowd-packed main boulevard, Karl Johan Gate, to the Royal Palace that sat atop a hill at one end. In the city, a special stand had been erected for frail and elderly spectators. All around, buildings were decorated with banners bearing either the colours of Norway or with the King’s own distinctive cipher. On one street, a large sign the breadth of the road read ‘Velkommen Hjem.’ Aftenposten, a respected Norwegian newspaper, headlined it as ‘The biggest and most beautiful day in the history of free Norway’.
King Haakon, Crown Prince Olav, Crown Princess Märtha and the three royal children later all appeared together on the balcony of the Royal Palace which was bedecked with a large flag of Norway. Already flying from the palace flag post was the very same Royal Standard which had hidden from the Germans on the King’s instruction when he left the Palace early on the morning of 9 April, 1940. Meanwhile down in the port, a dance was held on the upper deck of HMS Devonshire. The day concluded with an impressive firework display.
Within a few days, the King was busy undertaking his official duties including the chairing of his first State Council meeting on 12 June (his first in Norway since 5 April 1940).In late summer, by which time many of the German prisoners-of-war had been repatriated, the King embarked on a tour of the country to see for himself the destruction wrought by the war, as well as the ongoing efforts to rebuild.
The writer of this blog, Robert Prentice, is the author of a new biography Princess Olga of Yugoslavia: Her Life and Times published by Grosvenor House Publishing and available to purchase as a hardback or e-book through Amazon and other on-line and local bookshops.