His boyhood was less than remarkable. He was asked to clean the fishing nets and look in on his grandparents, but other than that, things remained calm in the fishing village of Tvetestran Norway. There had been talk, uncomfortable talk about rumblings in Europe about various countries experiencing violence in their streets and in the first part of the century, the assassination of a crown prince had led to the deaths of millions of able young men fighting in trenches all across Europe.
He had been a kind and loving child, named Edvard, who enjoyed the sights and smells of the ocean, watching tremendous waves in February bring flotsam into the harbor.. His grandfather visited him regularly with stories of the sea and his grandmother was a matriarch of a large Norwegian family intent on keeping the traditions of their ancestors alive. In later years she had loved the monarchy beyond all else because of their benevolence. . The country was sorely in need of establishing agricultural and fishing reforms so Edvard’s parents had insisted that grandma and grandpa return to farming their mountainside potato field and milking a few cows for cheese.
Thus, Edvard’s early schooling had been in the two things he loved most: gathering potatoes and entering the sweet-smelling barn to watch his grandfather milk the docile cows. A burning desire to grow to manhood and become a leader in the village, would provide the impetus to be a staunch defender of Norway. His father was the first to put a weapon in his hands and explained to him, “Don’t point that thing at someone unless you need to defend yourself.” His excellent eyesight had provided him hours of marksmanship on the beach as he plinked away at wary seagulls and an occasional sea-lion.
On his many walks around the village, he would pause and look at the church steeple, high on the hillside. The family seldom attended services, but found the high holidays and traditional dress of their region to be a strong beacon to worship.
Of course, the bakery that served sweet bread and jam was high on his list of Saturday visits because the village elders gathered to discuss the current state of affairs. Highest on the list was the awareness of ships cruising southward in the Atlantic. Some were passenger vessels, others of undetermined purpose. He really didn’t know the difference until one Saturday morning, a learned gentleman passed around a photo of an ominous gray ship bearing the German flag on its tower. The man told his audience that the ships seemed to be possible war vessels but he hoped not. The increase in German ship traffic had been noticeable to the population who were unaware that many of the them never made it to Oslo, but took abrupt turns into hidden harbors of off-loading.
Edvard reluctantly did his school work, visited his grandparents, continued his target practice and relished his time with his father in repairing nets and listening to tales of the sea. He was proud to have gained knowledge of the current state of affairs in his country but also worried that he did not fully understand the complexities of the economics of a country besieged by political unrest and failing potato crops. His grandfather told him that the two were related because the politicians failed to provide assistance for small plot farmers when their crops failed. After all, the country needed the lowly potato for its dinner tables and Edvard’s family had them for supper each evening.
Some of the young men from the village had gone off to war. Edvard didn’t understand which war they were fighting but his grandfather had told him that the “Big War” was over.
The turning point for Edvard had been a visitor who had called a meeting in the village community center to discuss the unrest in Europe. His father had taken him to the meeting and he sat quietly, mesmerized by the messenger who voiced concern over the expansionist thinking of Germany.
Edvard found that he had stirrings in his heart and mind that he didn’t understand. What if the village people lost their rights to a better life. “Father, we have a good life here don’t we?” But his father had explained that the unseen was more than even he understood at times. He knew his fishing nets were full, the potato crops were in decline and his taxes were higher than ever but people were still warm and content in their small village life.
By now, Edvard had become an expert marksman, recording his progress in a small pocket diary he carried. At first the number and type of birds he had removed from the planet numbered a dozen or less, but in the last months, as his approaching passage into manhood had assured him of excellent senses, particularly his eyes, his log book had filled with one shot memories.
He was friends with the local pastor so he sought his counsel on what was going on. The man informed Edvard that he was becoming an adult and that he might be required to perform in the service of his country. Edvard didn’t know how that worked, but had heard young men discussing their conscription in hush-hush tones. The pastor opened the door to an interesting leadership role. There were young men and women meeting in the village on most evenings to discuss their role in protecting the village should it come to that. The pastor thought Edvard should join them.
When he found a flyer on a light post announcing the next meeting at the church, Edvard planned to attend. Meetings like this were becoming more and more frequent with the adults in the village looking perplexed and angry. He didn’t like the feelings that were prevailing but he did begin to grasp the reason for the fear. Oslo had sent warnings throughout the countryside that everyone should be prepared to protect their property and livestock from invaders. Edvard didn’t understand who or why another country would invade Norway but the very thought of the loss of freedom kept him awake at night.
Pastor Runquist had approached Edvard several times since their first meeting and now he searched for Edvard near the fishing boats to suggest that he contact farmer Olson about firearm practice. The pastor knew of an organization of young marksmen with strong political feelings that were under the tutelage of the farmer in the event that an underground movement might become a reality. There was one goal in mind: To protect the villages from invaders and to spread the word of strength and unity.
Edvard had come to understand common cause and the tension was mounting in the village each day with the daily news about sightings of German warships off the coast of Northern Norway. So, the truth was in the open. Germany was looking at Norway for its invaluable water resources that could be used in the development of “Heavy Water”. The Hydrogen producing plants would be built in the western mountains. Edvard learned the Germans could only reach the hydroelectric plants by landing somewhere in the country and occupying it to their advantage. Even if the north was convenient for beach landings, Oslo was a long ways away and would probably be saved.
The meetings in the village continued, the marksmanship classes were attended by many of the area youth and finally the challenge was issued. You are the life line to our freedom and if you sign the oath of loyalty to the King, you will be assigned to villages along the coast as part of the underground movement.
By this time, Pastor Runquist had continued to talk to Edvard and had helped him come to the reality that Tvedestrand could be occupied as a strategic point for the invasion. But, he also told Edvard that he had great concern for the health of his grandparents. Their small patch of farmland was improving in its potato crops, but they were getting very old and would probably have to soon leave the farm for a small apartment or nursing home if their health failed. Edvard’s parents were strong, independent Norwegians and continued to fish, preserving much of the catch in salt or kept on ice in the cellar. The news of invasion had sickened Edvard’s father and in turn, his grandfather.
When Edvard attended the marksmanship classes at farmer Overgaard’s farm he performed better than any of the other young men. His eye was keen and his determination to be the best was noticed by the instructor. As Edvard sat reviewing his targets, the farmer sat down beside him and said, “Edvard I believe you are ready to serve your country as a village militia and I will inform pastor Runquist and your parents.” What Edvard soon learned was that thousands of young Norwegian men had volunteered to be a part of this underground militia, apart from the military, that would be charged with the defense of their villages and families.
When Edvard returned home, his parents were looking dismayed and he noticed the tears in both their eyes. When he asked his parents why they were so upset, they replied, “Your grandfather has died.” Unable to believe his ears, he felt a pang of grief tearing at his heart. His grandfather had been the reason Edvard’s character had blossomed at an early age into a true patriot. Grandfather was so honest and compassionate that Edvard had vowed that he would be just like him. His parents knew of his love for “papa” and felt truly blessed that he had been such a strong role model for Edvard.
Pastor Runquist visited the family the next day and took Edvard by the shoulder and led him out into the yard. “I think you must now honor your grandfather by serving our country in the ways you have been trained. There will be a final meeting at farmer Overgaard’s farm next week and you will be given your assignment.” Edvard could feel his grief lifting for he could now honor his grandfather in his service to the king.
Edvard kept his rifle and scope in the fishing hut and had kept it in pristine condition because of the salt water corrosion. He had loved the weaponry training but feared his reaction to actually firing it at a human target. He had resolved this in his mind when farmer Overgaard clearly showed the young marksmen the results at shooting a stag that wandered into his field during class one morning. His aim was true and the animal fell like a sack of bricks to the ground without any further movement.
When Edvard had approached the animal, he felt a calming come over him because the animal showed no pain, no pawing of the ground, no effort to escape. The farmer had explained that they must all remember this lesson. ” When you fire at your first human target, your aim will be true and the result predictable as the stag.” It had helped Edvard cope with the inevitability of taking a human life and he felt strong of heart and purpose.
Pastor Runquist had found Edvard repairing nets and as he approached, Edvard saw a map in his hand. The Pastor had come with Edvard’s assignment. He was to become the sniper for his home village and would occupy the church spire which overlooked the harbor. From that perch, he would attempt to fire at and destroy any target he was given. It would always be at dawn when his muzzle flash would be undetectable and he was to leave the tower as quickly as possible and head towards his grandfather’s farm to avoid detection from the village.
Edvard loved his bedroom loft in the 200-year-old sea captain’s home that his parents had painstakingly restored and preserved. The house was perched at the far end of the harbor and provided a view of the channel leading to the harbor in Tvedestrand. From here he could watch the incoming ships and spot the lights of vessels at sea. When he would climb the almost vertical stairs to the loft, he saw the influence of the ship builder’s craft in the construction of this Norwegian fisherman’s home. The rest of the home was cozy, but terribly small in size and room number. The kitchen was a laughing matter but had served everyone well over the centuries. Edvard’s mother amusingly referred to it as a “Two butt kitchen” which described it perfectly.
At first, the word “invasion” had not been fully understood by Edvard. Did it mean ships in each harbor, German soldiers in the village, would Oslo escape intact? In the village meeting the speaker had said, “The moment of occupation is close. German troop ships are approaching from the North and we expect them to offload in every harbor along the Atlantic coast. You will be given sufficient warning to assume your posts. The communication from the Norwegian coastal stations in the north will be copied to each of you.” Edvard felt no fear, just the excitement of knowing he would be tested as a sniper and experience the “lesson of the stag” in the days ahead.
The beginning of the horror of occupation became a reality in early October. As Edvard lay in his bed looking out over the harbor, a startling apparition appeared out the window. A single glow of a very small light was moving slowly into the harbor. With no way to identify what he was seeing, he flew down the vertical stairs out to the hut where his weapon was stored. He knew immediately that this was the beginning. Ships never came into the harbor with out running lights at night.
Edvard’s map had detailed instructions concerning his role as a sniper. He was not to open fire at anything until he had received communication by messenger to begin his attack. He was at a loss as to what to expect. Should he look for the messenger, keep his eye on the ever approaching war ship, climb the spire stairs or look for the pastor? He just knew he must observe and record what he was witnessing and pray that his parents and grandmother would be safe.
His post was 8 stories above the village and on a hillside so his view was all-encompassing and the ship he feared was now stopped 500 yards from shore. Small lights could be seen dropping from the ship and moving slowly to shore. Edvard could hardly contain himself but he knew he had to remain calm and await the messenger.
Suddenly, there were footsteps on the spire stairs. Edvard slowly raised his rifle, aiming directly at the door. To his amazement, it was the pastor. He quickly approached Edvard and handed him a small yellow sheet of paper. On it was the description of the ship in the harbor, its contents and purpose. At the bottom was the name of the captain of the ship: Admiral Schmidt, his physical description and the orders he was under to occupy the harbor at Tvedestrand. One thing stood out. The Norwegian intelligence service had provided a shadow drawing of the Admiral to aid in his identification at night.
The shadows that had off-loaded the ship were now ashore and began moving slowly through the village. There were only a few street lights so most of the village remained dark. Edvard watched silently for several hours until the dawning light proved to unveil the German soldiers now rounding up villagers in the town square. This particular spot would be a pivotal place for the ending of the occupation but Edvard did not know this at the time.
Edvard was surprised to find food, blankets and medical supplies in boxes in the tower. He knew he could only leave his post under the cover of darkness so the long day ahead would not be totally uncomfortable with the supplies at hand.
The German soldiers were simply checking documents and questioning merchants. Edvard had not spotted the Admiral but felt he might never see him because of his role as commander of a very large German destroyer who would have no reason to go ashore. At sundown of the very first day, Edvard could not believe his eyes. A heavily varnished, wooden boat was being lowered over the side of the ship. It was filled with sailors and one very distinctive gold braided figure who was taken to the city dock where Edvard watched in amazement as the city officials greeted him as if he were an honored guest.
Now Edvard had a look at the size and shape of his target. He could only hope that the Admiral would remain in the village until dark and then Edvard would act.With the approaching darkness, Edvard could see that the target had remained in the village, enjoying a meal at a sidewalk cafe. He had been instructed to remain under cover until dark before he found his target which he found seriously unsettling.
All of a sudden, the gold braided Admiral was moving back to the ship. Heavily escorted, he was stopping and talking to villagers while his escorts nervously paced around him. Edvard was troubled. If he terminated his target now, there were too many people in the square and Edvard needed the Admiral isolated and clearly defined.
By the time the everyone had left the area, Edvard knew he would have to wait. The night provided only moments of sleep and very little movement in the village. As Edvard thought about the previous sighting of the Admiral he hoped he might come ashore again tonight.
Edvard would not get a second chance to eliminate the Admiral. He was captured shortly after his first attempt and sent to Oslo Krfetsfengsel prison. His treatment was inhumane but he survived and was sent back to Tvedestrand at the end of the war. The Nazi’s knew of the young man’s exploits and brought him to the official flag ceremony as the Nazi flag was lowered and replaced with the Norwegian flag. His picture was taken as he proudly handed the Norwegian flag to the mayor. His dream for freedom had been realized in that moment.
In the years ahead, he would grow to manhood and be highly respected for his attempts at freeing his village from tyranny. His adult life was spent as a fisherman and he would later tell tales of his skills with the harpoon and drop lines. Whales, tuna and other great fish were part of his fishing diary in later years.