Lunenburg man remembers his father's — and Norway's — sacrifice in WW II
'The Norwegians sacrificed as much and more as any other nationality,' says Peter Rognerud
It's been 80 years since a group of Norwegians sought refuge in Lunenburg, N.S., after their country was invaded by Nazi Germany, and one Nova Scotia man is looking to keep that chapter of history from being forgotten.
"The Norwegians sacrificed as much and more as any other nationality," said Peter Rognerud, the son of Einar Rognerud, a soldier in the Norwegian Navy who sought shelter in the South Shore community in 1940.
"They were invaded. They lost their country."'
After Nazi Germany invaded Norway, thousands of Norwegians — many of whom were whalers, fishermen, merchant marines or seamen — were stranded.
Canada offered these men safe haven in Lunenburg, at a military training facility called Camp Norway.
This is where the story of Rognerud's family begins.
"[My father] met my mother at a dance at Camp Norway and they were playing Blue Skirt Waltz and she had a blue skirt and that's how they met," Rognerud said with a smile. Einar and Eileen married on Jan. 20, 1943.
Einar kept a tattered picture of Eileen in his pocket for the entirety of the Second World War.
Rognerud said his father served with the Norwegian Navy for 19 years, becoming a decorated veteran, but he later suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
"What this guy did was unbelievable. He went to hell and he never complained once," he said.
Rognerud said the most dangerous excursion during the war was being on a tanker that was going between London and Murmansk, Russia.
"When you're on a tanker, you're a prime target and you're a big target and you're a slow-moving target," he said. "It was pretty harrowing and at one point in time, he was stressed so bad that he literally froze to the gun and he wouldn't leave the guns."
Einer died in 1993 at the age of 77. Since then, his son has been tracing his family's wartime history.
Rognerud's grandfather and two uncles were also involved in the war.
"My grandfather, he literally burned the farm, took everything they could use — even the pig in the car — and they went to the mountains. So my grandfather and Uncle Ivar, they spent the war as resistance in the mountains in Norway," he said.
However, Rognerud's uncle, Magnus, joined the other side. He served for the Nazi SS.
Rognerud said he's asked his cousins in Norway for information about his uncle Magnus, but they aren't keen to talk about it.
However, he did discover that his father and uncle reconciled "once my father found out that Magnus only fought in Finland and the Russian front ... and he didn't kill Norwegians."
'Brought up to be a warrior'
Rognerud said few remember the sacrifice of Norwegians in the Second World War, but he knows that what happened at Camp Norway changed a lot of lives, including his.
"I grew up with one of the men who went through this, my father. And I know it affected him and I know how it affected a lot of his friends who went through it," Rognerud said.
He said he will visit the monument at the old site of Camp Norway on Wednesday for Remembrance Day.
He said he's just beginning to understand his father's experience and the sacrifices he made.
"How do you compare to a man like that or keep up to him?" he asked.
"It was just mind-bending. The man himself, he was brought up to be a warrior. It was that simple."
With files from Colleen Jones