One last Flight

The combat pilot led 45 Norwegians halfway around the world to join the fight against the Nazis. But Conrad Mohr himself would never return.

  • This story was originally published in Norwegian. The original version is available here.

He was a pilot, father and businessman who was forced to become a refugee.

Conrad Mohr left everything he loved to ensure that several dozen young Norwegians could join the struggle against the occupation.

He documented everything through the camera lens. Thanks to this, we can join him on his incredible, dangerous and spectacular journey today – 76 years later.

In the clip below we can see him for a moment. In colour, in motion. Throwing a furtive glance at his own camera.

Conrad Mohr had two major goals: To outfly the Nazis and return home safely.

The last farewell

A little boy on his father’s lap. They’re both laughing. Little do they know that this holiday, 1 May 1941, is the last time they’ll play together. The last time they’ll see each other.

The little boy toys with the pipe poking out of his father’s mouth. His mother is there as well. She’s the one taking the photograph. They photographed each other as well. Him and her. In front of a sunlit wall. Somewhere in the forest outside Oslo.

Conrad Mohr saman med kona Eva og sonen Bill dagen før han flykta frå Noreg.

THE DAY BEFORE DAD LEFT: Bill Mohr sitting on his father’s lap 1 May 1941. Below: Conrad Mohr and Eva Mohr the same day.

Foto: Sølve Rydland / NRK

A long life later: It’s only after regarding the pictures in the album for a while that you realise it’s two photos. One of him and one of her. Mounted side by side to look like one.

– The war changed everything. Nothing would ever be the same, says Bill Mohr as he sits in his armchair in the Scottish countryside.

He was the little boy in the picture. In his father’s lap, not knowing how fragile life is. Now he’s lived a long life, but it wasn’t the life his parents had planned for him.

Bill Mohr ser på dagbøkene, loggbøkene og flysertifikata til faren Conrad Mohr
Foto: Sølve Rydland / NRK

Dressed in a Norwegian sweater, he searches for the right words in his mother tongue. A refined Bergen dialect that has all but vanished now.

– We have to realise there was a war, and that fighting for our motherland was more important than anything else, Bill says. He lifts his gaze from the old photos and looks outside, thoughtfully, at his beautifully kept garden.

76 years have passed since the photo of him and his father was taken. His father left the next day. At the age of 27, Conrad Mohr hiked across the border to Sweden in the dark of night. Left everything he loved. Sacrificed everything. His fortune. His family. And embarked on the most spectacular and exotic journey imaginable.

Conrad Mohr og det norske reisefølgjet på eseltur i India

AN ADVENTURE: In spring 1941, Conrad Mohr embarked on a fascinating journey. Here he’s with a group of several Norwegians on a donkey ride outside Teheran in Iran.

Foto: Ukjend

Bill approaches the safe. There’s something he wants to show us. If he can manage to find it. He hasn’t seen the tiny treasure for years. The only thing that survived when everything else was overcome by gravity and flames.

The plane wreck between the birch trees

Conrad Mohr’s war effort started a full year before he fled to Sweden, four months before Bill was born. He was one of the first to report for duty when the news of the German invasion broke. The next day he kissed his wife Eva – and their unborn child in her belly – goodbye in their apartment in the Norwegian capital.

He fought in the army in Hadeland. One month after the invasion, he had ended up in the very north of Gudbrandsdalen. The situation was critical:

28 April 1940: It was time to salvage whatever they could. 19 days after the invasion, the British officers were ready to abandon Southern Norway. The young man received his orders on the lake ice on Lesjaskogvatnet, “Do everything you possibly can to get the plane to Troms.” Oslo and its environs were a lost cause.

The tiny Norwegian Air Force had taken a pounding. They needed more men who knew how to soar above the treetops. Conrad never said no if there was speed and adrenaline involved. With a five-year-old civilian pilot’s licence in his pocket, Conrad Mohr was suddenly a combat pilot.

It was time to flee to the north.

Norske fly oppstilt på Lesjaskogvatnet i aprildagane 1940.

TEMPORARY AIRFIELD: Norwegian planes parked on the ice on Lesjaskogvatnet in late April 1940. A few days after this picture was taken, only a handful of planes were left.

Foto: Conrad Mohr

They were two aboard when the single-engine biplane – a Tiger Moth fitted with skis – took off from the snow-covered lake, soaring above the fir trees, looking down at tiny inland communities. Wooden fences. Frozen lakes. Leaving the battle behind. The pilot, our man, sat in front, the mechanic was in the rear seat. The ominous thundering in the distance left no doubt that the enemy was closing in.

Norsk Fokker ved Lesjaskogvatnet

LANDING: A Norwegian plane, a Fokker, lands on Lesjaskogvatnet in late April 1940.

Foto: Conrad Mohr

But the Germans wouldn’t be Conrad Mohr’s biggest problem this last Sunday in April.

As they passed west of Dombås, the 26-year-old could tell something was seriously wrong with the aeroplane. After about 50 minutes in the air, somewhere outside Hjerkinn, the engine stopped. The airplane hurtled toward the ground.

A huge bang, twigs and branches breaking. The plane scraped over rocks, slid through snow. A final loud thump before everything went quiet.

Two men crawled from the wreckage. Badly shaken, but miraculously unharmed. Conrad Mohr had been lucky, but also skilful in managing to make an emergency landing. The plane that was supposed to be heading for Northern Norway was stuck in a birch thicket.

To document the crash, the mechanic borrowed Conrad Mohr’s camera.

Conrad Mohr etter flystyrt nord for Dombås. Mekanikaren tar biletet med Mohr sitt kamera.

IN FRONT OF THE WRECK: Conrad Mohr photographed seconds after the plane he was piloting went down between Dombås and Hjerkinn. Arne Ankersveen was his mechanic and took the picture.

Foto: Arne Ankersveen

Conrad Mohr had been extremely lucky, but the plane crash in the birches in the Norwegian hinterland was merely a taste of things to come.

Now the two airmen had to walk. There was no time to waste, they had to get away from the approaching Germans.

After a while they met a bunch of British soldiers retreating from the front. They were lost, and asked Conrad to help them find the way. He wasn’t very successful: The same day, they were captured by the invaders.

Exactly what happened, we don’t know. But Conrad Mohr and his companions were overpowered by the Germans, and taken as prisoners of war to the Trandum camp in Gardermoen.

A true Mohr from Bergen

Prisoner of war. The words probably had an unfamiliar ring for Conrad Mohr. He was used to doing whatever he wanted. Overcoming every challenge. Now he was no longer a free man. It was a stark contrast to the life he had lived the past 26 years.

Eva og Conrad Mohr

YOUNG AND HAPPY: In 1939, Conrad and Eva Mohr were married at Storetveit in Bergen.

He grew up as part of Bergen’s upper class at the Storetveit estate in Fana. His grandfather was a businessman, philanthropist and consul who was a personal friend of Kaiser Wilhelm II. His father was a landowner, city mayor and parliamentarian who played a key role in founding the University of Bergen.

Even though he was born into comfortable circumstances, he was a man who pursued every opportunity. He was educated in Germany, Britain and the USA, and quickly rose to prominence in the business community.

He worked as a sales manager in the Norwegian branch of the American corporation Standard Oil, and had international connections. He first worked in Bergen, then in Oslo, specialising in aviation fuel. He even met the girl of his dreams. In 1939, they got married, Eva and him. Their life was shaping up beautifully. In the summer of 1940, they were expecting their first child. He even managed to get a car that drew envious stares on the street: a Riley.

Now the vehicle had been hidden away. He didn’t want the Germans to get their hands on his fancy automobile.

But Conrad Mohr was also a risk-taker. He sought dangerous situations. Took his pilot’s licence at the age of 21. Won prizes in races on a motorcycle he’d designed himself, loved to drive fast in racing cars. Became one of very few ski jumpers to ever represent the sports club Brann, making an impression as he soared daringly above American snow.

Conrad Mohr på motorsykkeltur før krigen

LOVED SPEED: Conrad Mohr on his motorcycle with his starting number on his chest.

Foto: Eva Mohr

Perhaps it was his willingness to take risks that now had made him an internee at Trandum. But even in the prison camp, Conrad Mohr was someone who made things happen. There was always a bustle around him. He spoke German and English, and knew how to make conversation. He eased communication between his co-prisoners and the guards. But even here, he took chances. The first Constitution Day celebration in the camp led to problems: Conrad and the other prisoners sang the Norwegian national anthem so loudly that it made the walls ring. The Germans were extremely displeased.

But still: After a while, the boy from Bergen talked his way out of the camp in German. He pointed out that he was a farmer’s son, and that he was needed at the Storetveit estate.

As soon as he could, already in June 1940, he returned to his everyday life in Oslo. Went to his office every morning. Worked in the oil company. Summer arrived, and Eva and Conrad became the parents of a healthy, vibrant boy. But the occupation was making Conrad increasingly restless.

It wasn’t like the energetic young man to sit in an office while others battled for this vital cause. But how could he make a difference?

Mohr’s little red book

Spring 2017: Bill Mohr is looking for the tiny treasure he’s so eager to show us. But in his house in the Scottish countryside, there’s also another document that sheds light on what his father chose to do during the war:

A tiny red diary bought in Sweden in 1941.

Dagboka til Conrad Mohr

DEAR DIARY: This tiny book holds the secrets of Conrad Mohr’s journey.

Foto: Sølve Rydland / NRK

This spring, he went through his father’s belongings one more time. Was there anything there that could answer the countless questions? In the tiny red diary he discovered concise, down-to-earth notes about the incredible journey he’d heard so much of, but still knew so little about.

– It must have been an incredible adventure, says Bill as he opens a random page in the little red book.

He reads:

27 June 1941: Ferry from Odessa to Istanbul cancelled. Managed to secure new tickets for all 45. Am now leader of the group.

CONRAD MOHR’S DIARY

The long journey begins

In spring 1941, Conrad Mohr found out how he could contribute to the war effort. A plea had come from London: In a radio speech, admiral Hjalmar Riiser-Larsen had asked all Norwegians with a pilot’s licence to report for duty at the new Norwegian air base in Little Norway in Canada. He and Eva agreed that he should go. Getting to Canada in the spring of 1941 was no easy matter, but the plane crash north of Dombås a year earlier hadn’t dissuaded Conrad Mohr. He wanted to get out there and fight for his country.

But the cost of the decision was still enormous: He had to leave his wife and nine-month-old son.

2 May 1941, Conrad Mohr crossed the border to Sweden. Their escape had been organised by one of his colleagues in the oil company. He travelled together with the cinematographer and film director Ulf Greeber. They crossed the border on foot. Exactly where they went remains a mystery. None of the names Conrad noted in his diary can be found on any map. But the next day they arrived in Charlottenberg, where they registered as refugees.

Conrad Mohr registrerte seg som flyktning etter å ha komme fram til Sverige

REGISTERED: After arriving in Sweden, Conrad Mohr registered as a refugee.

Foto: Arkivverket

A few days later they came to the Swedish capital, where they met many other Norwegians. The Norwegian community soon realised that the young man from Bergen had exceptional organisational skills. He knew who to talk to. What to say. When Conrad Mohr boarded the plane to Moscow from Bromma airport on 18 June, he’d become a tour guide for 11 men. In his suitcase he had Soviet, Turkish, Syrian and American visas, as well as the cash he’d managed to scrape together from the oil company and other sources.

Before continuing by train southwards from Moscow to Black Sea, the Norwegians sold clothes and other items they no longer needed. Money for the journey ahead was more important. Conrad Mohr got rid of a raincoat and a sports jacket. The proceeds were meticulously noted in his diary.

19 June 1941: Sold raincoat and sports jacket for 260 roubles.

CONRAD MOHR’S DIARY

The train to war

The passengers on the train approaching Odessa the night before 22 June 1941 were repeatedly woken by thunder in the distance. The train stopped time and time again, passing numerous control posts.

Conrad Mohr had arrived at the railway station in Odessa the day before, and was waiting for the remaining half of the Norwegian travellers in his group. The train journey had been long. But for all the Norwegians, the road ahead was much longer. They were heading for Canada and Great Britain. The long way. The extremely long way. Circumnavigating a war. Already in the morning hours in the city by the Black Sea, they realised that the road ahead would be much longer than they could have imagined.

Russiske soldatar i Odessa

PREPARING FOR BATTLE: Russian troops mobilising in Odessa in the summer of 1941.

Foto: Ap

At the railway station in the Ukrainian city, they had news few of them could have foreseen: Three million German and Romanian soldiers had crossed the border into the Soviet Union the night before. Operation Barbarossa was a fact. The war between the Germans and the Soviets would become infamous as the most ruthless in the history of the world. As the remaining Norwegians disembarked from the train, German aeroplanes had already bombed the airport in the city by the Black Sea.

Waiting for the enemy

What was supposed to be a brief stopover in the beautiful city by the Black Sea became a long, nerve-wracking wait. With every passing day, the German war machine came closer to the city where every third inhabitant was Jewish. Conrad and the others witnessed the Russians mobilising for war. The streets were filled with representatives of the Red Army on the march. There were posters on walls and lampposts everywhere depicting Hitler and Mussolini as vile animals. Even the children helped build barricades of sandbags in the streets and avenues.

Dagboknotata til Conrad Mohr frå Odessa

NOTES FROM ODESSA: Conrad Mohr jotted down notes from the first days of war in the city by the Black Sea.

Conrad had planned, along with the 44 men he now had in his charge, to continue to Istanbul like many Norwegians had done before them. Only a couple of days before they arrived, 59 Norwegians had got out just in time to avoid the German war machine. The unexpected Nazi invasion now meant there was no point to try to head south.

In a telegram from Moscow, Conrad was given strict orders not to leave Odessa. He noted in his diary:

Will not get Russian permission to leave until orders from Moscow.

CONRAD MOHR’S DIARY

Conrad Mohr used his connections in the international oil business. Standard oil, the American corporation that owned the company he worked in, had operated further east in the Soviet Union. From what is now Azerbaijan, huge amounts of oil were shipped to the Black Sea. The businessman pulled all the strings he could, sending telegrams to the east and west.

After nearly a month in Odessa, a ship turned up in the Black Sea port. Conrad Mohr and the rest of the 45 impatient Norwegians had secured an agreement, and would be allowed aboard. They got passage under open skies on the front deck. The ship was packed. Conrad was one of the few who knew where they were going. Only days later, the city they had left was surrounded. Odessa, with its huge, defenceless Jewish population, became one of the most horrifying chapters in what the Russians call the Great Patriotic War.

Delar av det norske reisefølgjet. Conrad Mohr i kvit dress.

TRAVELLING COMPANIONS: Conrad Mohr, in front in the white suit, was responsible for bringing 45 Norwegians safely through the incredible journey in the spring, summer and autumn of 1941.

Foto: Ukjend / Frå Conrad Mohr sine bileter

Bedbugs, fleas and lice

After crossing the Black Sea, they went ashore in Novorossiysk. It was a key port for oil, which was transported from Baku and the Caucasus by train and shipped from there. Whether it was thanks to Mohr’s connections in the international oil business isn’t easy to establish. But the Norwegians were allowed aboard one of the freight trains that had emptied its oil tanks and was heading back east. Conditions on the train were dismal. Conrad Mohr noted in his diary:

21 July 1941: Train headed for Baku. Bedbugs, lice and fleas.

CONRAD MOHR’S DIARY

Suddenly they discovered that the carriages they were sitting in had been disconnected from the locomotive in a junction outside Grozny. With a view to the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea, as far away from Canada and London they could be, they began to despair. Ten hours later, out of the blue, another locomotive turned up. The carriages were reconnected, and they continued to Baku. A number of the travellers had, according to the entries in Conrad’s diary, fallen ill after four days in the squalid carriages full of lice and fleas.

While the others recovered at the hotel in Baku, Conrad Mohr sought out the Iranian consulate in the city, where he was able to arrange visas to Iran for the entire group. He telegraphed the British legation in Moscow, which tried to assist them. Then they set off in a smaller ship across the Caspian Sea.

Conrad Mohr was happy and relieved that they had finally left the vast Soviet Empire:

27 June 1941: Ship journey good, but currently bloodthirsty bedbugs. Russia terrible! But kind, easy-going people.

CONRAD MOHR’S DIARY

Conrad got credit for getting them out of the Soviet Union before the German war machine rolled over them. Percy Armstrong was among those who praised the young man from Bergen:

“We chose Conrad Mohr to be our leader, and it was a fortunate choice. [...] Without him, it would probably have been difficult to get out of Russia that quickly. He did an excellent job.”

The fact that the Norwegians had been able to move that fast had made all the difference. Five days after they left Baku, Odessa was completely surrounded by German and Romanian forces. A terrible bloodbath followed. In 1942, the Germans had reached all the way to the Caucasus.

Despite having left the Soviet Union after three months on the road, Canada had never been further away.

Laster kart, vennligst vent...

OSLO TO BAKU: Explore the route the Norwegians took to Baku. Click on the arrows to follow their journey.

The Norwegian star engineer in Iran

On the other side of the Caspian Sea, in the Iranian port city of Bandar-e Pahlavi, the Norwegian travellers were in for a big surprise. An entire procession of taxis was waiting for them. Most of them were even more baffled when they were received by a Norwegian in Teheran. And not just any Norwegian. Ole Didrik Lærum was the star engineer who built the Flåm railway line. Now he was building roads and railways in Iran. He had recently been appointed Norwegian consul general in the country.

Conrad Mohr og fleire av dei andre nordmennene på besøk hjå ingeniøren Ole Didrik Lærum ved Teheran

AT THE CONSUL’S PLACE: Some of the Norwegian travellers seated with engineer Ole Didrik Lærum outside Teheran in Iran.

Foto: Conrad Mohr

The consul general’s estate, with its tennis courts and swimming pool, was a welcome relief for the weary travellers. Conrad Mohr played with Lærum’s son in the pool, and was photographed with the boy on his shoulders. It must have been emotional for Mohr to play with him that day. He noted in his diary:

29 July 1941: Lodging with engineer Lærum and wife. Wonderful place. My son turned one today.

Conrad Mohr og resten av det norske reisefølgjet på besøk hjå Ole Didrik Lærum utanfor Teheran

POOLSIDE: Conrad Mohr with Ole Didrik Lærum’s son on his shoulders.

Foto: Ukjend

However comfortable it was to be guests of the Norwegian consul in the Persian Empire, they had to move on. On 7 August they got on a bus in Teheran. They went south to Khorramshahr, right beside the Iraqi border. Their goal was Basra. The Iraqi port city on the other side of the border.

At the mouth of the mythical rivers of the Euphrates and Tigris by the Persian Gulf, they crossed the Iraqi border in what was basically a rowing boat.

The empty British troop carrier SS Egra was ready in the Iraqi port city. After having crossed the huge expanses of Eurasia, from the forests by the Swedish border to the Persian plains, they now faced the ocean.

After having sailed through the Persian Gulf, they set course for India. The heat was almost unbearable.

10 August 1941: Persian Gulf. Terribly hot, approx. 55 °C.

CONRAD MOHR’S DIARY
Gruppebilete av dei norske frivillige i Bombay 1941

THE WHOLE BUNCH: Just about all the 45 Norwegians in Bombay. Conrad Mohr is the third from the left in the second foremost row. Surnames of the Norwegians: Fourth row from the left: Lund, Watvedt, Jacobsen, Armstrong, Karlsen, Bjørnaas, Halvorsen, Knutzen, Bjørnestad, Westby, Bjaalie, Hansen. Third row from the left: Hubred, Willard, Johannesen, Sandvik, Evensen, Karlsen, Koren, Kristoffersen, Søhr, Anker Jensen, Gram, Hauge. Second row from the left: Jensen, Severinsen, Mohr (Sgt), Ramberg (Cpl), Skog (Cpl), Consul Alsand, Blindheim (Cpl), Wahlund (Sgt), Smith (Sgt), Uri (Sgt), Lerfald, Bergby. First row from the left: Myhre, Borch, Tilset, Torp, Lorentzen and Oldernes. The names are based on reports by Percy Armstrong, Svein Blindheim, Conrad Mohr and Roy Watvedt.

Foto: Ukjend

On 15 August, the ship docked in Mumbai. Here the Norwegians were assembled in the Coloba Reinforcement Camp. They were fitted with khaki uniforms similar to those the British wore, provided weapons and military training. Many needed time to recover from the exhausting journey.

Laster kart, vennligst vent...

BAKU TO MUMBAI: Explore the route the Norwegians took from Baku to Mumbai. Click on the arrows to follow their journey.

Conrad Mohr got his stripes when he was promoted to sergeant.

Conrad Mohr i India i 1941

EXOTIC: Conrad Mohr posing in uniform as a group of Indian women walk past behind him.

Foto: Ukjend / Privat

The most urgent priority was getting the trained pilots to Europe and on to Canada. On 9 September, Conrad and the other licensed pilots got passage on the Norwegian cargo ship MT Elisabeth Bakke.

Next stop Africa

As the ship set sail from the Indian city, Conrad Mohr and Roy Watvedt, another of the Norwegian pilots, were tasked with manning the guns on the bridge.

Even though it was a dangerous time to be on the high seas, and the ship was travelling unaccompanied, the passage to Africa went well. Two weeks later, outside a new continent, Conrad Mohr could make out the characteristic flat silhouette of Table Mountain in Cape Town.

Elisabeth Bakke framfor Table mountain i Cape Town.

ARRIVING IN SOUTH AFRICA: The Elisabeth Bakke anchored outside Cape Town in South Africa, with Table Mountain in the background.

Foto: Conrad Mohr

In South Africa, Conrad Mohr’s connections once again proved useful to the Norwegians. The local branch of one of Standard Oil’s subsidiaries provided a car, driver and other forms of assistance. The travellers could do some sightseeing, but also stock up for the journey ahead.

After 12 days in South Africa, they headed out to sea once more on 3 October.

The ship on the horizon

The very next day, they received unsettling news on the ship’s radio.

4 October 1941: Heard on the radio that an American ship has been torpedoed [...] heading for Cape Town at approx. our course.

CONRAD MOHR’S DIARY

Shortly after receiving the radio message, a suspicious ship turned up on the horizon. The unknown ship seemed to be pursuing them. Going full speed ahead, the first mate finally managed to shake them off. Once again, the travellers were forced to make a detour: Right across the South Atlantic Ocean, catching a glimpse of a fourth continent as they followed the South American coast to the north-west.

12 October 1941: Came within 30 miles of the South American coast. Followed the coast to the north-easternmost point of the country between the tip and the mouth of the Amazon.

CONRAD MOHR’S DIARY

Once more they were northbound. The threat of German submarine attacks forced them to change course several times as they approached Britain. The plan to go to port in Liverpool was ditched in favour of Belfast.

Elisabeth Bakke på veg frå Bombay til Storbritannia

AT SEA: The Norwegian cargo ship Elisabeth Bakke on its way from Mumbai to Britain in autumn 1941.

Foto: Conrad Mohr

On the last night of the journey, the Elisabeth Bakke sailed into a terrible storm.

21 October 1941: Terrible storm last night. Everything, chairs etc., on end.

CONRAD MOHR’S DIARY

The storm didn’t abate until the ship docked in Belfast. Even in British waters, there were dangers as the journey continued to their final destination in Avonmouth by Bristol on 30 October: “Double guard due to mine danger,” Mohr jotted down hastily before rushing to man the guns on deck.

Conrad Mohr remained in Britain until 22 November, when the SS Pasteur set sail from Greenock in Scotland, heading for North America. The ship was packed. Before going to sleep in the throng the first, nervous night, Conrad wrote:

22 November 1941: 4200 passengers and crew aboard, life rafts for 1500. Terribly cramped in the front where we lie (in four-tiered bunks) trying to eat.

CONRAD MOHR’S DIARY

“Having a great time”

After twelve cramped nights at sea, the packed ship came to port in Halifax, Canada on 2 December 1942. The fifth continent on their journey. Two days later, our man reached the goal of his long journey: The Norwegian air base Little Norway outside Toronto. Seven months after clawing his way through the thicket across the border to Sweden, he had arrived.

Laster kart, vennligst vent...

MUMBAI TO TORONTO: See how Conrad and the other Norwegians got from Mumbai to Toronto. Click on the arrows to follow their journey.

His 45 travelling companions were now scattered to the wind. Some had joined Company Linge, some were organising the resistance from Britain, while a handful were in Canada, training to become fighter pilots.

Conrad Mohr immediately started training as a flight instructor. Finally meaningful activity.

Conrad Mohr fotograferer norske fly frå lufta

IN THE AIR: Conrad Mohr took this photo of Norwegian planes from the air above Toronto, Canada.

Foto: Conrad Mohr

It’s safe to say that 1941 had been a dramatic year for the young man from Bergen. The last entry he made in his diary that year is short and to the point:

15 December 1941: Having a fabulous time!

CONRAD MOHR’S DIARY

The cheerful and energetic Conrad soon became an important resource in the Norwegian enclave in Canada. Not only was he a highly appreciated flight instructor, he also took on the job of camp photographer, documenting everyday life in the camp in moving pictures – in colour.

The images captured by Conrad Mohr provide a unique insight into everyday life in the camp. In between flight training, the young Norwegians found time for skiing, music and workouts.

Norske soldatar hyggjar seg på rommet i Little Norway i Canada.

MUSICAL INTERLUDE: Norwegian servicemen relax in their quarters in Little Norway.

Foto: Conrad Mohr

The prince and the bear

The camp hosted distinguished visitors several times. The children of the Norwegian crown prince, who was stationed in Canada, came by regularly. Crown Prince Olav himself came as well. Conrad Mohr had to capture the royal guests on film. The most fascinating footage shows the young Prince Harald saying hello to the camp mascot: A young, but powerful Canadian bear cub.

The pictures Conrad Mohr took in Canada also show the other side of the coin. Many Norwegians, 22 all in all, never returned from Little Norway. Here Conrad Mohr has documented one of the many nasty accidents. Unfortunately for Conrad, this wouldn’t be the last one.

Norsk flyvrak i Canada under krigen

NORWEGIAN COLOURS: A plane marked with Norwegian colours has gone down in Canada.

Foto: Conrad Mohr

The footage filmed by the flight instructor during training reveals that many recruits had a lot to learn about the art of flying before they would be ready to meet the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe.

But thanks to Mohr and the other instructors, the Norwegian amateurs were transformed into pilots. One of the final exercises before sending them off was flying blind – flying without seeing.

Conrad noted that the instructors became “quite unpopular” when the budding pilots had their cockpits covered with a tarpaulin before taking to the air.

The long-awaited message

More and more of the pilots Conrad had trained were being sent to Iceland or Britain to take part in combat missions. He was growing impatient, but his superiors were reluctant to part with such a skilled instructor. In addition, his younger brother, Wilhelm Mohr, was already playing a key role in the British fighter squadrons. “He repeated, time and time again, how backwards it was that he, as the oldest, still had not served on combat duty,” the commander of the camp, Major Ole Reistad, noted.

The military simply didn’t want to risk the lives of two people from the same family in combat. “I have kept trying to reassure him, telling him that the work here needs to be done as well, or else everything will grind to a halt,” Reistad added.

There were only a few days left before Conrad Mohr’s greatest wishes would come true. Ole Reistad himself brought him the message. His name was on the list of the next pilots who would go to London to take part in the battle against the Nazis. But most importantly: Eva and their son Bill had managed to flee to Sweden and were heading for London. He would finally be able to see them again.

The model aeroplane

In his spare time in Canada, Conrad had focused on an important project. With balsa, glue and paint, he had built a model aeroplane. Nothing was left to chance. The assembly instructions were followed to the letter.

Conrad Mohr byggjer modellfly i Little Norway i Canada

WITH HIS SON IN MIND: Conrad Mohr building a model aeroplane during his stay in Little Norway. Maybe the plane was intended as a gift to his son Bill?

Foto: Ukjend

– Maybe it was supposed to be a present for me, says Bill when he sees the photo of his father at work. With his pipe poking out of the corner of his mouth.

One last flight before departure

Conrad Mohr had just one flight left. One last flight before departure. He had decided to push his fighter plane, a Curtiss Hawk, to the limit. There was something he needed to try out. His students couldn’t do it unless he’d attempted it first.

Flymaskina Conrad Mohr styrta med. Ein Curtiss 75-A8

FATEFUL PLANE: The plane Conrad Mohr flew during his final flight in Canada.

Foto: Conrad Mohr

After having showed off his skills above Toronto, he was ready for the grand finale. Conrad gave the message via radio, reporting that he was about to put the plane into what’s known as a power dive: A steep dive using both gravity and engine power. Maximum power. He planned to push the envelope even further, adding that he would climb to 3000 metres. He did as he said: Climbed into the sky, disappeared into the clouds, then put his plane into a vertical drive. At full throttle.

Ole Reistad wrote, “What happened from this moment on remains unclear, but it seems he put the aeroplane into a dive as planned, but was unable to pull out of it.”

At full speed, without managing to level the plane at all, Conrad Mohr slammed into the ground. The crash could be heard all over the Norwegian camp and airfield.

“Conrad Mohr was killed instantly upon impact. The crash was unusually violent.” Reistad wrote in his letter to the family.

“One of our best cards”

The crash was a huge blow to the tiny Norwegian community in Canada. The commander didn’t mince his words when he described the young man from Bergen. “I can hardly think of any accident here that has been sadder and more discouraging than when I suddenly this Monday morning learned that he had crashed in his Curtis and had been instantly killed. We had counted on him as one of our best cards in the game to come.” Reistad wrote after the tragic accident. He openly suggested that the accident might have been caused by a malfunction in the plane.

Conrad Mohr gjer seg klar for ei flyøkt i Little Norway i Canada

READY TO SOAR: Conrad Mohr in his pilot’s uniform in Little Norway in Canada.

Foto: Ukjend

Reistad was also visionary enough to understand that the pictures and films Mohr had taken would live on and provide a unique picture of the life of the young Norwegians who were stationed in Canada during the most dramatic years in recent Norwegian history.

“I can assure you that his efforts in Little Norway and the Air Force will never be forgotten. He has gained a place in this enterprise that will live as long as there is a Norwegian Air Force.”

Faksimile Poughkeepsie Journal 10. mars 1945

A SPORTSMAN’S OBITUARY: The Poughkeepsie Journal in New York state picked up the news about Conrad Mohr’s fate. They hadn’t forgotten the ski jumper from Bergen.

There wasn’t much left after the crash and the ensuing fire. The wedding ring Conrad wore on his finger was never recovered from the wreckage.

But by a minor miracle, one small object survived the violent impact and made its way to Europe.

Two tiny pictures

– Here it is! Bill Mohr exclaims triumphantly, bent over his safe in his home in the Scottish countryside.

He has been searching for quite a while, and had reached the very last box. The one he was certain contained everything but this. He had grown anxious that one of his most treasured possessions might be missing. But now he clenches it in his fist.

He opens a slightly trembling hand and shows it to us. The first thing we see is a thin gold chain. Attached to it, a small medallion. The engraving is unmistakable. An “E” for Eva. A “C” for Conrad.

– It’s not hard to see that it got banged up pretty badly, Bill says while trying to open the slightly deformed medallion.

His large hands fumble with the tiny lock for a few seconds. Then it opens, and we see what’s inside. Two faded photos, one on each side of the medallion. Even though the pictures have faded, the medallion is like a time capsule. As if time has stood still.

The two faded photos are of a woman and a young child. Eva and Bill. They were with him throughout his long journey. Joined him in the clouds.

Bill goes quiet. Sorrow in his lively eyes. The 76-year-old needs some seconds to recover.

He automatically switches to English, the language he knows the best after all these years.

– It’s so emotional. It’s good to know that he was thinking of us, like we were thinking of him, Bill says after a short while.

Bill Mohr med medaljongen faren hadde på seg då han døydde

ALL THAT SURVIVED THE CRASH: Bill Mohr shows us the medallion his father was wearing around his neck during the fatal crash in Toronto. The photos are of Bill and his mother Eva.

Foto: John Nøstdal / NRK

– I was never bitter

It’s thanks to the photos and conversations with his mother that he has memories of his father. He was far too young to remember anything about that day in the forest outside the Norwegian capital all those years ago. The day he saw his father for the very last time.

Conrad Mohr took huge risks. He put himself in danger, and even put his family at home in peril so that they had to flee as well. Even though he was an eternal optimist, deep in his heart he must have known that he might never return home.

The decisions he made during the long journey allowed many who would later become war heroes join the battle against the Nazis. But they also made Bill grow up without a father.

– I was never bitter. It was an extraordinary situation. There was a war, and everybody had to do their part. I’m extremely proud of what my father did.

He carefully shuts the medallion, neatly arranges the gold chain and closes his hand around it.

Bill Mohr studerer album

THEIR FINAL MOMENT: Bill Mohr shows us the album his mother made for him. The day after the picture was taken, Conrad Mohr fled from Norway.

Foto: Sølve Rydland / NRK
  • Translator: Erik Grønvold

Further reading: