WWII Norwegian airmen remembered in Leith exhibition

Norwegian artist Bodil Friele with a wing section section of an RAF bomber shot down over Norway. Picture: Colin Hattersley
Norwegian artist Bodil Friele with a wing section section of an RAF bomber shot down over Norway. Picture: Colin Hattersley
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DURING the Second World War hundreds of brave Norwegian airmen found refuge in the Capital and across Scotland.

And an exhibition celebrating these wartime links opens in Leith today to kick-start a cultural exchange between Edinburgh and Bergen.

The event will be held in the former Norwegian Lutheran church – now the Leith School of Art (LSA) – which was an important centre for Scandinavian exiles as a place to meet, mix and get news about home.

The Prisoner of War: Paintings and Poems highlights the sacrifice and courage of these unsung Scandinavian heroes, focusing on the experience of one young Norwegian whose plane was brought down over Hamburg.

The exhibition, set to continue until Thursday, April 7, features paintings by artist Bodil Friele alongside translations of poems written by her father, Odd (Olly) Grønfur Olsen during his years in a PoW camp.

The RAF navigator only survived because the pilot gave his own life to save his comrades, ordering them to the back of the crippled Halifax bomber while he remained at the controls for a crash landing.

Bodil said: “Stories about a few of our airmen are well known, but most are not. I wanted this exhibition to be a homage to the silent – a tribute to all the forgotten young men, to their courage and their sacrifice. Although the focus is on my father and his experiences as an airman and a prisoner, it represents all those others whose stories have gone unrecognised.”

The first thing Olly did after returning home was visit the parents of the pilot to thank them for their son’s heroism.

Like many young Norwegians, Olly had fled his Nazi-occupied homeland to fight for the freedom of Europe, finding sanctuary in Shetland.

While it is not known whether he visited the church in Leith, many others did, including radical poet and journalist Nordahl Greig who died when the plane he was in was shot down over Berlin.

Lisbeth Iverson, Chairman of the Helping Hand Trust, added: “The church is a very important part of our history as it is the oldest Norwegian seaman’s church outside Norway. It was always a place people could go and meet other Norwegians.

“During the Second World War this was especially important, it was the centre of many networks and there are many strong stories and experiences connected with this building.”