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Warsailor Stories - Page 13
Warsailor Stories - Page 1
Marion Rustad's Diary
On the first of June, I took a trip to Stokmarknes to pack up our possessions and put them in storage, as we couldn’t afford to keep two apartments any longer, and it looked as if the war was going to stretch out over a long time. In the week’s time I was there I packed up most of our things, and succeeded in subletting our apartment, furnished, to a friend of ours. Just as I was about to leave to return to Kjell, stationed further north at Tromso, I heard the startling news that the rest of the country had surrendered to the Germans. Well, I was on my way back to Kjell, fortunately, and that was all that mattered. Decisions as to our future would have to wait until we were together again. After much delay, I reached the halfway point, and only then did the seriousness of the situation begin to dawn on me. Here were evacuating troops and barb-wire entanglements. It began to look as if it might be difficult for me to get to Kjell. Then I talked with him on the phone and learned that we were going to leave the country, and that he was doing his best to hold a ship until I could get there. He had been trying to get in touch with me all afternoon. The trip there took at least five hours by boat - five precious hours. It was decided that I could be stowed in a plane that was going north. Kjell met me at the airport and we rushed to the ship which sailed immediately.
Only then did I learn of what had happened in my absence. Kjell had been informed about the same time as I of the impending surrender. This meant that, since there was to be no more resistance, the Army and Navy were dissolved as a fighting force. All reserve officers were released from service and given the choice of returning to civilian life under German control, or of trying to get out of the country. He, of course, chose the latter, but refused to go without me. The next problem was to get in touch with me, and then to get me there - but he couldn’t reach me by phone. In the meantime there were several things to be done: to pack our clothes, try to sell our car and find an owner for our dog. At the last minute one of our dearest friends bought the car, saying, as he handed over the money, that the chances were about even - perhaps the Germans would take the car, but perhaps the money would have no value when we reached England. Then, at last, Kjell talked to me and arranged about my taking the plane, together with an Englishwoman and her little boy. All that remained was to hold the ship until we arrived.
Well, here we were, bound for Great Britain, war refugees, escaping from the enemy. Could this really be happening to us? - After the first half-hour we realized we were very tired and went to look for our bags and get some rest. Because of the excitement and the fact that we slept in our ski clothing, real rest was impossible, but some sleep helped. We spent that afternoon going over our passports and important papers and packing them in a small rucksack, which we placed beside our life preservers.
We realized that we could not yet relax, for the possibility of danger from the air was still very real. A day later, on Kjell’s birthday, we were treated to a surprise visit by seven German bombers, who soon made it clear that they meant business. Since we were without defense of any kind, we were not a difficult target. There was no time to lose. After the shuddering impact of two direct hits, we passengers were forced up to the boat deck by gas from the bomb explosions. There, with much difficulty, the first boat was made ready, but before we could get into it another devil came down at us. We ducked into the chartroom and huddled on the floor to escape machine-gun bullets. Another direct hit followed, just between us and the funnel, crumpling the chartroom wall like so much paper. The noise, the jolting and the shaking made it difficult to keep one’s head. Directly after the explosion we dashed out and into the boat. There were only nine women and one child on board the ship, so Kjell and I did not have to separate. They started lowering before we were in and the lifeboat began dropping rapidly. All of a sudden it began to tip. Warning shouts from everyone were of no avail - before we knew it we were thrown into the water. Due to the ship’s continued headway, she drifted rapidly from us, and there we were - hanging on a bunch of oars, watching the ship take fire.
Not satisfied with such a large target as our ship, the planes now turned on the score of human heads spread out over the surface of the water. Thank God, they weren’t very good shots! My only reaction at the time was, “Well, if we are going to be hit and what will it feel like if I am hit?” Every time they came over us Kjell would shout, “Duck!” I tried, but couldn’t, too good a life-belt. Then he tried to pull me under, swallowing quarts of salt water in the process, but it was practically impossible. However, we may have succeeded in missing some of the bullets ricocheting from the surface of the water. Unfortunately, we made a rather large target - five adults and a little boy, resting on those oars.
After an agonizing hour of zooming over our heads, rattling their machine-guns, the planes drifted away. For the first time we became acutely aware that we were terribly alone and extremely cold. In the distance we spotted a lifeboat and began shouting and pushing on our oars to keep warm. By the time the boat reached us it was pretty well loaded, and after everyone had been picked up, we were dangerously low in the water. The first lifeboat, which had pitched us into the sea, after being bailed out, took some of our load. A few more transferred to a small rowboat, rescued from the bow of the burning ship. The spirit of everyone was simply splendid. There was a good deal of shouting but very little hysteria. I remember one woman asking immediately for a cigarette. When a few had gotten lights and had thumped each other on the back to get warm, it was amazing how the fear and strain left their faces. I shall never forget how one sailor grinned at me - it was the first cheerful expression I’d seen. Kjell kept turning to ask how I felt, and I could always reply “all right”. I wasn’t even cold at the beginning, we were too tightly packed in. Spread out in the other boats, though, we soon began to feel the wind, and it became necessary to take off our clothes and wring them out. I happened to be the only woman in our boat, but not one of those sailors cracked a smile.
Again see also D/S Ariadne.
Our thoughts turned to hope of rescue, which, to make the story shorter, appeared very soon, a speck on the horizon. This grew so rapidly in size that we knew it to be a destroyer. It turned out to be a British one - we were never so glad to see anything in all our lives! Exactly five and a half hours after the excitement began, we clambered up over the side. Eighty-one more passengers (we lost ten) made the already crowded quarters of the destroyer even more so, but it was amazing how the officers and crew adjusted themselves to our presence. The captain turned over his quarters to the ladies, and the officers, their mess-room to the men. The crew shared quarters forward with the destroyer’s crew. Most of us had to sleep in chairs or on the floor, but that first night not even the swashing and thundering of the oil in the fuel-tanks just under our heads could have kept us awake. We had been so liberally dosed with brandy and whisky that we were soon dead to the world. Before retiring that first morning (it was about 4 A.M. when we were rescued), Kjell and I spent a very amusing hour in the officers’ pantry with some of our new friends. There we sat, wrapped in blankets and drinking hot cocoa, telling them of our experiences, while we dried out the money, passports and other papers we had managed to save.
While we slept they whisked our clothes off to dry. “---undies in the engine-room a-hangin'’ on the line! thoughts of all the stokers - Blimey: weren't they fine---”, was the chief engineer’s version. When those clothes were returned to us next day, we put them on and wore them for six days. The destroyer was one of the escort of a slow-moving convoy. So we had a very good chance to get acquainted with the men on board. When they were off duty, we had some wonderful times together. Despite the inconvenience, they were all rather glad we happened along. They admitted that the company is apt to get a little monotonous on board, and they welcomed the sight of new faces, new ideas and new jokes. We were treated like royalty all of the while. Everyone was so kind we feel that, whatever we could say or do, would never adequately express our gratitude and admiration. If these men are a sample of what the British Navy is like, it can never be destroyed.
Upon our arrival in Great Britain we were detained for a few days, on the grounds that we were suspicious aliens. Kjell and five other men even added to the list of their experiences one night in jail, while I had a guard outside my hotel room all night. It’s odd how suspicion affected us. After twenty-four hours, the mere fact of being confined, plus the expressions visible on some faces, almost convinced us that we were guilty of something. However, we were soon released and were glad to know, for the sake of the country’s safety, how conscientious and thorough the immigration people are.
From there we proceeded to London. After a week of waiting in consular offices for visas, and the police station for registering in and out, along with thousands of other aliens, we were finally able to secure passage on the “Washington”. At first we had made arrangements to come with a Canadian ship. Passage was booked and we were ready to leave London the next day, when we learned that I, as an American citizen, would be allowed to travel only on American ships. Everyone had said that the “Washington” was for American citizens only, so it began to look as though we were going to have to separate. Naturally, that was the last thing we wanted to do. Then we discovered that since Kjell was the husband of a U.S. citizen and the possessor of an immigration visa, he could travel on the “Washington”. What a hectic week. It was with a great deal of relief that we left London, with its blackouts and threatened air-raids, for the comparative safety of Ireland. There we relaxed for the first time in a long while and caught up on some much needed rest until the “Washington” arrived.
Marion's story ends here, but Binth has told me:
"Kjell and Marion arrived in NY city and then went to Nantucket Island where my grandmother (Marion's mother) had come to her summer home to get out of the heat. So they rested there and that's when she wrote the story. (It was published in the Martha's Vineyard paper - another neighborhood Island). It was during that time I believe they decided to move to CA along with my grandmother and Marion's brother and sister and Kjell eventually ended up working for the war effort on Treasure Island. He became a US citizen in 1943. He was responsible for checking off the list of supplies being loaded on transports to send to the Pacific while my mother's brother was the navigator who flew to Hawaii.
There is someone here on Nantucket who might be able to fill in the timing between 1941 and 1943 since her husband was the pilot on the plane and they all lived in the same area.
During this time, one of the pilots talked about the beauty of Lake Tahoe and after the war, my parents explored the area and moved to Tahoe City in 1947 to start building a small ski area they named Granlibakken (see also this Guestbook message). In the summer, Kjell taught sailing on the 24' Bear Boat they bought. So they were pioneers at Lake Tahoe, starting one of the earliest ski areas and the first sailing program and he made a living out of the two things he knew and loved the most. Kjell had sailed all over the world and was an officer on a Norwegian line when he met Marion traveling with her family to Norway. They married after 6 months and when they moved to Norway, he changed jobs to a shipping line that went up and down the coast of Norway. His ski trophies were mostly lost but I have a few".
Warsailor Stories - Page 1
I would again like to encourage others to send me more personal stories for inclusion on this page, these stories are very valuable.