Background to return to Norway with John Morrison from W1053 TL-G in 2003
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We begin in September 2000 during my research into the loss of the 35 Squadron Halifax R9496 TL-L and crew flown by my grandfather, F/Sgt W B Archibald (Archie) which was shot down in March 1942 during an attack on Tirpitz in Norway. I had written to countless associations and organisations in the hope of finding further information when I had a telephone call from 'Batch' Batchelder from the Ex-POW Association telling me that he had heard from a gentleman who had flown with 35 Squadron on the Tirpitz ops at the same time as Archie and I was given a telephone number to contact him.
John 'Jock' Morrison was the gentleman who answered the telephone when I made the call. In 1942 he had been a 1st Wireless Operator with 35 Squadron. Although he didn't know my grandfather well he could remember him being in the Squadron and was able to fill me in with lots of details about Squadron life at Linton-on-Ouse were they were based, and could give me an account of his experiences flying with the Squadron during WW2 for which I was very grateful. As well as this, John shared with me his own amazing story about being shot down during his third attack against Tirpitz in Norway in April 1942 in Halifax W1053 TL-G.
I was already investigating and further researching all the aircraft that had been shot down during the three operations in March and April 1942. In particular I concentrated on the aircraft, from all squadrons, lost during the March operation as little had been recorded about them anywhere that I could find, but I was also looking at some of the aircraft lost during the April attacks that had not been written about and researched in depth before. Being in contact with John prompted me to do some deeper research into the events which led to the Halifax he was onboard being shot down.
I received invaluable assistance and cooperation in this task from a Norwegian, Morten Moe. Morten lives near the shores of Trondheimfjord in Norway and has a great interest in the WW2 history of his area and the whole of Norway. Without his help I could never have achieved the depth of knowledge and information about these attacks and the aircraft that were lost during them. Together we pooled our resources and information and it has enabled us to put together a very comprehensive account of the fates of the aircraft, the airmen and the heroism and bravery of the Norwegian people who found themselves unwittingly caught up in the events of those dark days and nights of the Spring of 1942.
We knew from having listened to John's account of events that his aircraft was shot down by enemy fire and had crash landed as a blazing wreck near the shore of Lake Movatnet near the village of Markabygd. We also knew that various Norwegians had assisted John and the other surviving members of the crew at different stages during their attempt to escape to Sweden. What we did not know was who those Norwegians were. John was eager to find out because he knew that he owed his life to them and their selfless bravery. Any Norwegian found to have helped Allied aircrew in any way was more than likely to face a German firing squad. Yet despite this, John and many other airmen like him who found themselves stranded in enemy occupied Norway received unconditional assistance from Norwegians of all ages. Names more often than not were not exchanged as a matter of security; it was safer not to know the name of your helper or the one that you helped. It was difficult to know who to trust and so was safer to trust the information to no one.
Eventually, through a combination of local knowledge, newspaper articles, searching archives and historical books, talking to people in the vicinity of the crash site, skill, determination and a little bit of luck Morten began to locate the Norwegian people who were involved in the story of W1053. Little by little the Norwegian side of the story began to pull together. Oddlaug Sørmo was able to help with details about the events immediately after the crash at Sørmo Farm. Two grandchildren, Einar Bjørsmo and Olav Vikvang, of Odin and Mette Vikvang where John and Reg also received assistance were able to help with details about the help John and Reg received at Vikvang Farm. Einar also worked hard to discover where the hut by the lake that John and Reg had broken into was located and found and also tracked down Tormod Langeland the man who found the money that John and Reg had left to pay for the damaged door lock. So many people contributed in so many ways to enable the fuller story to be told.
I kept John informed about the unfolding developments in his story, and early in 2003 he decided that it was time he returned to Norway. John is now the only member of the crew from W1053 who is still alive, but he wished to personally thank the Norwegians who helped him not only for himself, but also as a representative for the entire crew.
Consequently I set the wheels in motion, contacted Morten Moe who does all the hard work at the Norwegian end, and we decided on a trip to Norway at the beginning of June. The local people in Markabygd and others connected with the story, on hearing of Johns impending visit, started making their own plans to ensure that his visit to the area would again be a memorable one, but this time for a different, and more pleasant reason.
To read about our very memorable and emotional trip to Norway click here.