Thursday, June 21, 2012

Norway 2012

Late in 2011, I started thinking that maybe we should go on an overseas trip. Getting older, bucket list, etc etc. But to endure the inevitable 24 hours or so in an aircraft and airports to get anywhere there has to be a reason for the trip.

So I started thinking about going to Norway. My father was born in Norway but I had never been there. My mother was a Perth girl and met Dad during WW2, and here is how that came about.

Dad was a Norwegian seaman in the merchant marine services taking cargo all over the world. His ship, the MV Panamanian, came into Fremantle in January 1945, in the middle of a stinking hot WA summer and a near disaster occured.

Here is an account of what happened (edited for brevity):
by Vic Jeffery
The greatest threat to operations in the history of the Port of Fremantle came during World War ll.
A bustling port crammed with merchant and warships, Fremantle was also the largest Allied submarine base in the southern hemisphere.
Despite the ever present threat of a sneak attack on this major Western base its most fearsome challenge came not from enemy action, but by an accident.
Wartime security prevented release of much detail of the disastrous 1945 fire which nearly led to the destruction of the Port of Fremantle.
Fremantle had its "scares" during the war, surprisingly most in the latter stages of the conflict.
Three instances which come readily to mind are: A small fire aboard a merchant ship in 1945; another was on January28, 1945 when all submarines in Fremantle were alerted to a possible attack by the German submarine UB62 based at Penang - this did not eventuate although it did attack a merchant ship in the ocean and in March 1945, an intelligence report suggested that the Japanese were preparing a last ditch carrier strike against the port .
British and U.S. submarines were deployed in the Lombok Strait to report on enemy movements but fortunately the attack never came to fruition. However, tragedy did strike on January 17, 1945. It was a typical West Australian hot summer's day with the temperature officially recorded as 107F (42C)n the shade . A heat haze hung over the harbour which was crammed with everything from 2O Allied submarines to Liberty ships.
The disastrous fire broke out at No. 8 Berth North Wharf around 3 . 15 p . m . and quickly engulfed the MV "Panamanian" a 15,575ton merchant ship loading flour, before spreading to the Royal Navy submarine depot ship, the 9,000 ton HMS "Maidstone" tied up immediately forward of the old freighter .

The temperature on the "Panamanian's"deck that afternoon during loading operations was estimated at  47C.
As a protection against the heat emitted from the winch he was operating, a winchman placed a piece of hessian wheat sack over the cylinder. During the afternoon spell it was noticed to be smouldering and one of the stevedore's gang stamped this out and left the hessian on thedeck;a minute or two later another of the men, noticing that it was still smouldering, picked it up and as the 8,149ton British freighter "Umgeni" was being berthed alongside, outside the ship, he threw it over the shoreward side expecting it to fall into the water between the ship and the wharf.
As the smouldering bag fell it burst into flames and was caught by one of the horizontal timbers on the wharf structure where it remained burningfor a minute or two. Part of the bag trailed on the water surface where it came into contact with the film of oil there, and acted like a wick . There was a burst of flame which shot up and ignited some mooring ropes and paint on the side of the ship. The fire quickly spread to old hessian bags on board and spread to the bridge as well as under the wharf where it is believed the summer conditions and flammability of the dry wharf timbers aided the blaze .
Soon the superstructurewas ablaze, smoke was billowing out of three holds; the saloon and promenade decks were burning fiercely and ammunition for the single 4 inch (100mm) gun mounted on the stern and the 12 pounder and the eight 20mm Oerlikons along with rockets started exploding. Much gallantry was shown as men threw ammunition overboard .
The double - banked freighter "Umgeni" was rapidly cast-off and towed to safety by a tug. Within a short space of time, the fire had raced Westerly along 350 metres of the North Wharf beside "Panamanian" to the HMS "Maidstone" where fire broke out on her bridge . With flames licking its side the "Maidstone"was quickly towed out and its fire extinguished .With its load of torpedoes, ammunition and diesel, the depot ship was a floating bomb.
Two U.S. Navy submarine depotships had previously been moved out of the harbour along with the submarines bustled alongside them . The fear of detonation of explosives on board a ship or submarine was a prime concern . On that day there were13 United States, 6 Royal Navy and 1 Dutch submarine alongside depot ships in the Port .
Aboardthe "Panamanian" the fire continued to rage fiercely and all other than essential personnel had to be cleared away from the area when the flames reached the anti-aircraft magazine .

The continuously maintained fire brigade of the United States Navy upon the North Wharf for the protection of its own vessels berthed between Nos. 2 and 5 Berths enabled fire - fighting measures to be undertaken rapidly . The U . S . submarine rescue ship "Chanticleer" steamed up and down pumping thousands of litres of water at and under the wharf with its big pumping plant and breaking up the oil on the water with its wash .
Metropolitan fire brigades and the Fremantle Harbour Trust's own volunteer fire brigade were quickly on the scene where the Chief Officer of the W.A. Fire Brigade Board personally supervised the fire - fighting operation .

The first of the metropolitan fire brigade engines to arrive took up a position on the wharf where, unfortunately, it became trapped in the flames and gutted . The ample numbers of Allied service personne lwere readily available to assist the efforts of the various fire brigadeunits . After 6 p.m., all efforts were concentrated on extinguishing the fire on board the "Panamanian" and a little later, with the amount of water used for fire-fighting, the ship commenced to list badly to port, which was in the direction of the harbour fairway, resulting in the mooring lines carrying away and the vessel drifting from the wharf and the streams of hoses. However, tugs were readily obtained and pushed the vessel back onto the wharf. The decision was then made to reduce the delivery of water for the purpose of extinguishing the fire and utilise it for the filling of starboard tanks of the vessel in an endeavour to bring her to a more even keel.

By daylight the next day the fire on the ship had been brought under control and the risk of its loss had then passed. Unfortunately a strong easterly wind whipped it up again and sadly an English sailor lost his life during this stage of the firefight. It was brought under control again but smouldered for several days before being extinguished.

The smoke rising above Fremantle harbour was a beacon to all enemy shipping in the Indian Ocean, but was also attracting just about every member of the public in Perth and Fremantle who came down to have a look. One of whom was my Mum.

In the midst of all this drama she met Dad, and you can guess the rest.

After the war, Dad took Mum back to Norway to his home town of Svelvik, about 50kms south of Oslo. My older brother was born there. They returned to Perth and settled here where subsequently my younger brother and I were born.

My older brother went back to Norway in 1971 for about 6 months but I never got around to it. I knew there were cousins there, Dad had 2 brothers and 2 sisters, and I briefly wrote to one cousin when I was about 12, but otherwise I went through my teens and early married life blissfully unaware, as most of us do.

In January this year I got stuck into Google and got addresses for my two cousins that I was aware of and sent off a letter to each advising that the rellies from Perth were coming to town. BjΓΈrn and Odd Pettersen are two brothers, sons of my father's sister and are a couple of years older than me. I believe my letter caused a little excitement and we exchanged emails. We had booked a room at the Villa Rorvik, Svelivik's only accommodation.

We were also looking for something else to do in Norway and booked a fjord cruise with Hurtigruten Cruises. 
We chose Norway in a Nutshell.

The next step was to book tickets with Thai Airways. They fly from Bangkok direct to Oslo so were the easy choice. Perth to Bangkok, 7 hours. Bangkok to Oslo, 11 hours.

Robyn and I left our house at 5:00am on Friday 18th May and landed in Oslo at 7:30am, local time, on Saturday 19th. That was 30 hours or so including a long transit period in Bangkok airport.

1 comment:

  1. Hey there Stephen & Robyn

    Very interesting reading.

    Enjoy your time in Norway.

    Cheers and beers

    Paul and Wendy