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Brevene på norsk

(Letter to mom).

Translated by Siri Lawson.

It's obvious in this letter that he's carefully leaving out some of the details from his experiences in the camps, and from his time at school in London in 1943/44, so as not to upset his mom. Letters No. 3 and No. 4 are more explicit, and even more so are Rudzin's Diary and Captain Messel's Diary - links at the end of this page. The green italic text in parenthesis indicates my own explanatory comments. For background history, click on the link to "Odd Conrad Holm" in the menu at the top of this page (includes a crew list and links to some pictures of crew members).

This letter has now been published in the book "World War II Letters" which can be purchased at Amazon.com. Also, Jon Veiberg, North Carolina, talks a lot about my father in his book "Jon's Odyssey" (also available at Amazon.com). His daughter contacted me a while back through the Guestbook. Jon and my father were cabin mates on Ringulv, and Jon says my father was a role model to him. I've received several pictures from the time in Africa, and this is the first time I've been able to see what my father looked like in those days (links to some of them can be found on the page about my father). This is indeed a small world! Jon Veiberg died in 2007.

See also the links provided at the bottom of this page, as well as Merchant Marine Links - The links related to "Odd's War" will provide more info on Petain and Vichy France as well as the allied invasion of Africa, which freed my father and his shipmates.


Glasgow, England Aug. 25-1945

Dear mom,

Today I've finally had the pleasure of hearing from you. The last letter I received from you was dated Sept. 1942, in other words almost 3 years ago. The postal services have not been quite normal these past few years, besides there wasn't much to tell. I also have the impression that you all thought I was in Tangier in '41-'42 and the beginning of '43. Granted, I've been in various places since I left home in a snow storm in 1937, but never in Tangier. Therefore, I'll briefly try to tell you where I've been since April of 1940.

I'd like to add some background details here, found in Rudzin's diary in the English version of "Tusen norske skip" (these details are not included in the Norwegian version of this book). He says he joined Ringulv in Febr.-1940, and they left Staten Island a foggy cold morning for Canada where they joined a large convoy. They encoutered a bad storm en route to Europe, and as Ringulv was not able to keep up with the convoy speed she ended up crossing the ocean alone. Rudzin adds that they were heavily loaded and even had army trucks on deck, and that they arrived Le Havre safely early in March, after a voyage of 22 days. I've been trying to determine which convoy this might have been, suspecting that it could have been Convoy HX 20, which left Halifax on Febr. 16 and arrived Liverpool March 4. I have now received confirmation that she was indeed in this convoy, as will be seen by following the link. According to the Public Records Office in England she arrived Le Havre on March 5, and if this is the case she must have done good time on the crossing in spite of the storm.

When Ringulv arrived Le Havre it was still peaceful there so they could unload the cargo undisturbed, then after a few weeks Ringulv continued to Swansea for a cargo of coal, before proceeding to Kirkwall alone to join a convoy for Norway. My father picks up the story now:

In the early days of April we were on board S/S Ringulv in Swansea, England loading coal for Norway. We were then assembled in a convoy consisting of about fifty ships and headed for Norway (this was Convoy ON 25). On April 9 (the day of the German invasion of Norway) I was in the lookout barrel in the front mast of Ringulv looking for land and humming "No ser eg atter slike fjell og daler", but that turned out to be a lie! (Norwegian song meaning something like "Again I see my mountains and valleys"). Instead I saw some German bombers which had their own way of welcoming us home. After they had dropped their bombs all of the German planes were shot down by the British fighter planes that were escorting us. After several attacks the entire convoy returned to England*. Later we went to Havre in France and unloaded the coal. We stayed there for about a month until the Germans chased us out. Havre was not very peaceful in those days. We were bombed day and night. We then left Havre with 1500 refugees on board (for further details, see Rudzin's Diary and my page about the evacuation, links at the end of this page). The youngest was a week old and the oldest had no idea how old he was. It was, by the way, doubtful that any of us would grow much older. Several of the refugees lost their mind during the voyage. We as a crew worked 24 hrs. a day until we put the refugees ashore on the west coast of France, whereupon we continued to Bordeaux. The Germans went by land while we went by sea. We arrived Bordeaux at about the same time. Then the same circus started there too.

* Note also that the entire convoy did not return to the U.K., some ships continued to Norway - follow link to Convoy ON 25.

According to this posting on my Ship Forum, Lloyd`s Shipping Index for June 15-1940 says that Ringulv was in Methil on Apr. 23, in Tyne on May 8 and arrived Le Havre on May 11. This fits in with the fact that she's listed in Convoy MT 61, leaving Methil on Apr. 29-1940, arriving Tyne same day, as well as in Convoy FS 166, which left Tyne on May 8-1940 and arrived Southend on the 10th, but Ringulv went to Le Havre (both are external links).

After a while we had to go on and continued to Casablanca in North Africa. That meant the evening and the latch on the door as far as sailing for the time being (old Norwegian expression meaning "lock up for the night and go to bed" or "call it a night"). With the help of French Nazis the Germans took control of all of North Africa. I was finally able to get in touch with you through an address in Tangier. The letters were smuggled across the border to Tangier. If the Germans had known what was going on, who knows what the consequences would have been. The crew of Ringulv was the first to be placed in concentration camps. We were in 8 different ones in the course of nineteen months. (Because of a mix up, Ringulv's men were the only crew to be placed in labor camps as opposed to regular internment camps where the crews from other Norwegian ships were held. More details in Captain Messel's Diary. See also the link to Labor Camps at the bottom of this page, listing all the camps). Three of my ship mates died during that time. In one of the camps I fortunately came down with Diphtheria and was admitted to something which vaguely resembled a hospital. So I was in good shape, and was content with life and my existence, and without that there's no point in living, as "Broom-Lars" used to say. In one of the other camps I came down with Malaria. Was very sick for a while, received no medical treatment and lost a lot of weight. If Karl Dala had been there he probably would have asked me if I'd wished I were stillborn. But I got through it without lasting harm I hope.

From another camp I and two others made an attempt to escape and get across to Gibraltar. We managed to stay in hiding for about a month, but were turned in by a female who sold us some food. If one wants to form an opinion of the conditions in hell, all one has to do is confide in that devilish creature, the woman. We were consequently arrested. I remember there were forty two of us in a cell but nineteen different nationalities. We had a grand old time and did what we could to stay there, but in the end we were returned to the camp.

In November of 1942, when the Allied forces invaded Africa we were in a camp about 350 miles south of the city Oran (1 Norwegian mile=10 km, but I'm not sure here whether he means English miles - he's talking about the camp in Mecheria). It was like being up in the marshes as far as the view goes. Not a straw of grass, sand as far as the eye could see. We didn't get much food to speak of. It was not unusual to have to wait in line for hours to get a bottle of water. On the other hand we had plenty enough lice. Still, it wasn't necessary to go home to change our shirts. Naturally, we were happy when we were freed.

While we were there we were asked daily if we wanted to go home. A Trondheim guy by the name of Georg Hermannsen was very sick and went home in the summer of 1942. He carried greetings to you from me. He knew the Holm family in Rosenborg St. very well. I assume you received those greetings. (Most of the seamen did not accept this offer to go home because they were afraid that by doing so they would be put into German sea service. They were even offered quite a large sum of money to go home).

While I was in Africa I received several letters from you. You were all good at writing me, and especially Solveig who probably wrote very often. A lot of Solveig's letters had been subjected to the German censorship. It wasn't unusual to find several lines missing. But Solveig managed to fool them quite cleverly and told me almost everything of interest. It was very encouraging to receive your letters. A while back I read old letters from the lack of new ones and at the same time I counted them. I found that half of them were from Solveig. I haven't met a single person I know since I left home so it's great to hear news.

When I was done in Africa I went on board a ship called M/S Nyhorn. Was there for about a year. Then I attended Radio Officer's School in London for nine months That was very interesting. I think I did quite well. While in school I received a radiogram from you through a friend of mine. (The Norwegian government had established schools in London for Norwegian seamen as they were in need of officers. Letter No. 4 describes the bombings in London, worth reading).

I have now been on board here (M/T Thorshov) for close to a year. We've been going between here and America the whole time and it has been going very well, usually in convoys consisting of a hundred ships. We left England the day before the capitulation. The day passed without incident except for a dozen depth charges. It was the escort vessels going a couple of extra rounds with the remaining German U-boats. (This must have been when they were in Convoy ON 301, which left Southend on May 6-1945 and arrived New York the 22nd. This convoy will be added to an individual page on this website; in the meantime, the ships sailing in it are named in the section listing ships in all ON convoys - as will be seen in that section, she also sailed in several other ON convoys).

The last time we were in New York I wrote you a few words on a post card which I handed to the pilot before we went out to sea. I hear you received it. It was illegal to send letters at that time. Last time we were in America I received a letter from Kari and Solveig. I was almost afraid to open and read them; this was only three weeks ago so it took a long time before I heard anything from you (I believe he found out about his father's death in these letters, he had died in Jan. '43). Just before we left America this last time I was able to contact Bergen Radio and sent you a radiogram of twenty words which I'm sure you have received by now. We were supposed to start going to the far east, but it looks like that won't happen now that the Japs have been blown to bits and are finished for good.

I hear NN has gotten married in Cardiff. I was there two months ago but didn't know that at the time. Several Norwegians have gotten married in Norway as well as in England and America. I guess it's handy to have a few wives here and there, but it's probably difficult to get the budget to balance for many of these bigamists. The Norwegian women have possibly changed somewhat these past few years, but I'm sure they're still first class compared to the foreign ones. There are exceptions of course.

During the past two years I have received many letters from my cousin and her daughter in America, and also from uncle Johan. They want me to come and visit them, but I haven't gotten around to it yet. My cousin's name is Alma Wilson. She's the daughter of Markus Holm and Johan Holm's wife. Alma is 58 years old and has been a widow for many years. They live in Dell Rapids, South Dakota. (This family relationship may sound confusing. The fact of the matter is my father's uncle Johan, who emigrated from Hegra in 1889, married his brother Olaf's widow Karoline in the U.S.A. Olaf was the father of Alma but died in a flu' epidemic in Minn. in 1888 when she was a year old. Markus was another brother of the two who stayed in Norway and was killed when run over by a train. My father must have gotten the names of the two brothers mixed up. Through the Internet I have now found the descendants of his uncle Johan in Dell Rapids - see my Genealogy page).

I remember when I was on the train from Stjørdal on my way to Trondheim to go on board D/S Gudrid. I wondered then if I would ever be able to go back the same way. There hasn't been much hope of that during the war. As you know a lot of explosives have been used out here the past few years. "They aimed for the eyes" as John Moan used to say. Now that the war is over and if nothing unexpected happens I may have the great pleasure of standing by the window on the train from Trondheim to Hegra. That will be quite an occasion. I don't know yet when that will be. We can't all go home; if we did, the supplies to war torn countries would be affected. We are now probably going to Mexico to load oil. This will be a nice voyage which will take about three weeks. We have just gotten a new radio which cost fifteen hundred kroner, so it's no junk.

I am sitting here listening to the court proceedings from the Quisling case. You don't need to be a lawyer to understand that he ought to be hanged any time now. When I think about the Axis forces I have to quote the Frosta woman: "She started it herself, she ended it herself, now she has to suffer the consequences herself".

You say you are doing so well. I don't really believe that. You know "well" is quite an expandable expression. You'll have to write and tell me how things are. I have also received some letters from all of my siblings except Thora and big brother who haven't written, but the mail is so slow. I'll write them all as soon as I can. For now I'll send a copy of this letter to those I heard from first. Hope you all write again. I would like to see Stjørdalens Blad (a local newspaper for the Hegra area).

So I'll end this for now. I'll send you a telegram when we are in the middle of the Atlantic again. All the best then mom, and give my regards to family and friends.

Love Odd

List of Odd's letters

For background history, go to
Odd Conrad Holm and the links below.

D/S Ringulv | Evacuation | Labor Camps | Rudzin's Diary | Messel's Diary
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