He Brought Peace

On 8 May 1945, a British school teacher landed in a Norwegian fjord on an extremely specific mission: To seize power from the Germans.

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

Oslo, 8 May 1945: The seaplane swooped across the Norwegian capital, flying low, taking an extra lap of honour above the city, appearing above the crowd that had gathered at the university square. The loud roar of its four engines mixed with the jubilant cheers from the multitude in the streets. Flags were hoisted. They had dreaded the sound of planes for five years, but this time, there were no sirens. Just pure, beautiful joy. Rumours had been buzzing for hours. Now they were here. The Allies. Our liberators.

Sjøflyet med den allierte våpenkvilekommisjonen flyg inn over Oslo 8. mai 1945

LIBERATORS: The Norwegian Sunderland plane, flown by Norwegian pilots, swoops low above Universitetsplassen in Oslo 8 May 1945. Robert Chew and the other members of the Allied Armistice Commission are on board.

Foto: Aftenposten / Aftenposten

And so over Oslo itself. Below cheering crowds - waving to us. Our pilot came down very low and we banked and turned just over the house tops - making me feel quite ill! And so, for the next fifteen minutes we greeted Oslo - skimming house tops - to rise again out of the Fjord. Germans looked up at us - I wonder what their feelings were - who cared!

LETTER BY ROBERT CHEW, 8 MAY 1945

The words and thoughts are those of one of the 17 officers present. In one of the two seaplanes that, on the most important day in recent Norwegian history, took off from Scotland on a historic mission: To seize power from the Germans and ensure that the victors of WWII got their way.

His name was Robert Chew. Even though he wore a kilt and belonged to a Scottish regiment, he was an Englishman. A school teacher by profession. He would never tell anyone what he had done earlier during the war. The past four months he had known what was expected of him. He had tried to devote some time to learn Norwegian, to prepare himself.

The Germans were supposed to be the enemy, but others would cause more trouble for Robert Chew.

Sjøflyet med den allierte våpenkvilekommisjonen frå innsida

THE PILOTS: "Just been up to the pilot. A wonderful view.” writes Robert Chew.

Foto: Robert Chew

Somewhere down there on the main street of Oslo, a radio reporter from NRK had been caught up in the crowd. He’d just missed the two planes roaring above the city centre. He could feel the excitement in the air, but didn’t know what was going on. But people on the street were sure what was happening.

– We’re waiting for the English, was the spontaneous reply.

– They say they've landed on the fjord, someone else cut in.

Ryktet har spreidd seg i gatene i Oslo 8. mai 1945: Fly med den allierte våpenkvilekommisjonen har landa i fjorden utanfor den norske hovudstaden.

LISTEN TO: Rumours of the Allied Armistice Commission’s arrival have reached Karl Johans gate.

A big grey bird

At the same time, in Fornebu: Another radio reporter was almost deafened by the loud roar of the two seaplanes, as well as the noisy motorcycles transporting representatives of the resistance to the seaplane harbour in Fornebu.

– The plane soars right above our heads. Like a big grey bird, the reporter shouts ecstatically. Accompanied by signal flares being launched into the sky.

Ettermiddagen 8. mai 1945 landar to fly ved sjøflyhamna på Fornebu. Om bord er den allierte våpenkvilekommisjonen som skal ta makta frå tyskarane.

LISTEN TO: The two seaplanes landing outside Fornebu.

After having landed on the fjord, the passengers were picked up by a German boat, which took them ashore.

And there, at 16:00 hours on the first day of peace, on the pier of the seaplane harbour in Fornebu, it happened:

And this we felt was the moment - the first contact between the British Military Delegation and the Germans. Here, in this quiet Fjord on a brilliant evening in May.

LETTER BY ROBERT CHEW, 8 MAY 1945

He had brought a camera with him. Walked some steps away from the others. Immortalised the historic and civilised meeting between the enemies. The Germans to the left wearing their characteristic boots, the British to the right in trousers with sharp creases. This is the first time this photo has been made public.

Den allierte våpenkvilekommisjonen vert tatt i mot av tyskarane på Fornebu.

“AND THIS WE FELT WAS THE MOMENT!”: With the fjord and the planes in the background, German and British officers met in Fornebu.

Foto: Robert Chew

Robert Chew and the rest of the commission were taken to central Oslo in waiting cars. The British bachelor vividly describes the drive:

Through the clean suburbs - I have never seen such excitement. Flags everywhere - where had they come from - hundreds of people - and many pretty girls - who could hardly keep themselves off the road.

LETTER BY ROBERT CHEW, 8 MAY 1945

In the Norwegian capital, the Germans were still armed. They’d cordoned off the area in front of Hotel Bristol, where the representatives of the Allies were meant to stay. They wanted to keep civilians from entering the hotel where the negotiations between the victors and the defeated were to take place.

Tyskarane sperra av området utanfor Hotel Bristol i Oslo.

CORDONED OFF: Robert Chew photographs the crowd behind the German cordon in central Oslo. Shortly after the picture was taken, the crowd made their way past the German soldiers.

Foto: Robert Chew

It was impossible to hold back the crowd. People forced their way through to welcome the allies. Men, women and children stormed towards them.

Another wild reception - they had got through there somehow – the civilians.

LETTER BY ROBERT CHEW, 8 MAY 1945

In the newsreel below, we see Robert Chew in his characteristic Scottish cap, flat with a small "bobble" on the top, being greeted by the crowd.

At 5:30 p.m., the meetings inside the hotel got under way. First they met with the resistance leaders, then with the staff officers of the defeated occupiers. Then selected members of the committee went to Lillehammer to get the German commander-in-chief, General Franz Böhme, to sign the capitulation documents.

Robert Chew stayed behind in Oslo.

Greetings from the balcony

Another radio reporter had elbowed his way to the front of Grand Hotel, but his voice was drowned out by the huge crowd alternately singing their national anthem and the King’s anthem. He tried to describe the ecstatic mood on this extraordinary evening in May.

Suddenly two British officers appeared on the balcony. They spoke to the crowd – in Norwegian, and were greeted with jubilant cheers. The reporter couldn’t hear anything. He tried to get the crowd to pipe down.

Folkemylder ved Grand hotel, 8. mai 1945

JUBILANT CROWD: The huge crowd outside Grand Hotel in Oslo 8 May 1945. Many hoped to catch a glimpse of the newly arrived allied contigent.

Foto: Kihle Aage / NTB scanpix

One of the two Britons on the balcony was Robert Chew. It was an unforgettable experience.

A wonderful scene below - with the Square filled. They sang their National Anthem - we waved - what a happy throng.

LETTER BY ROBERT CHEW, 8 MAY 1945

The reception was exceptional. But The Allied Commission hadn’t come to Norway just to be celebrated. There were numerous challenges. In Bergen, a general had barricaded himself in his office in the German headquarters in the City Archives. He refused to hand over his arms and power to a bunch of resistance men in anoraks. He would soon encounter the kilt-wearing British lieutenant colonel.

Private train to Bergen

Evening, 9 May 1945: Decorated with birch branches, Norwegian flags and the royal motto, a train with two carriages prepared to depart from Oslo’s eastern railway station. It was no ordinary commuter train, but arranged to take one man across the mountains: Robert Chew.

He had to cross the Hardanger plateau to get to Bergen as the first representative of the Allied forces in the city. But before he went to sleep in the luxurious carriage, Robert Chew received dramatic news:

Lie and Terboven had shot themselves. That the Grand Hotel in Stavanger is burnt, only that afternoon. I hope all is peaceful in Bergen. Well, I'm turning in - good night.

LETTER BY ROBERT CHEW, 9 MAY 1945

The journey on the night train through the mountains was like a coronation tour, with jubilant crowds gathered at every station.

Was first awakened at Finse at 4.45, where the people had already appeared - cheering, though I saw nothing of them as I was still in bed. Deep snow without - bleak and cold. At Myrdal I was asleep when we stopped. I could hear a brass band striking up. Slipped on a cricket shirt and a kilt, and went to the window. Peasants singing their National Anthem, many in National costume. And the local band going all out - beaming at me over their instruments.

LETTER BY ROBERT CHEW, 10 MAY 1945

As the train approached Bergen, more and more people gathered at the stations. At Dale station, the locomotive stopped for a while. Time for photographs with the proud crew of the train.

Toget til Robert Chew på Dale stasjon morgonen 10. mai 1945

ALL FOR NORWAY: The train, with the royal slogan on the front, has stopped at Dale station in Vaksdal.

Foto: Robert Chew

we continued downhill through glorious country. Steep hillsides and every now and then stretches of water.

LETTER BY ROBERT CHEW, 10 MAY 1945

At the railway station in Bergen, Robert Chew was received by the Germans. Even though the Resistance had guards in vital positions around town, the Germans were still on watch.

Faksimile: Bergens Tidende sitt oppslag om då Robert Chew kom til Bergen

FACSIMILE: Robert Chew’s arrival in Bergen made headlines in local newspapers 11 May 1945.

Foto: Bergens Tidende

After formally introducing himself to the Germans, Chew was welcomed by the local Resistance leader, Bjarne Sæverud. The British national anthem was played at the railway station – and the locals sang the Norwegian king’s anthem to the same melody.

Robert Chew

SALUTED AT THE STATION: Robert Chew (middle) is welcomed by resistance leader Bjarne Sæverud (left) and Milorg commander Roar Sannem (to the right of Chew in uniform).

Robert Chew didn’t have time to wait for the Norwegian national anthem. He had to get to work. A black Mercedes with a German driver took him where he was going. He headed to the Bergen City Archives, the site of the German headquarters for more than five years now.

Capitulating in the den

– He went in through this door, which was guarded by armed Germans. Then he was escorted up these stairs, city archivist Yngve Nedrebø tells us.

And so up the stairs, past the Staff Captain and the Chief of Staff, and eventually to the General himself. A rather grim, stern figure - and we bowed stiffly.

LETTER BY ROBERT CHEW, 10 MAY 1945

The city archivist has taken us along the same route. Now we have reached his office. This is where it happened. The spacious, but dark room is stately, but not very tidy. Brimming with books, heaps of yellowed paper and cardboard boxes, it looks more like a history research library than an actual office.

Kontoret til statsarkivaren i Bergen, der general de Boer aksepterte kapitulasjonen 10. mai 1945.

WHERE IT HAPPENED: General Johann de Boer sat by the window to the left when he signed the capitulation documents.

Foto: Sølve Rydland / NRK

– It was here the general sat, in front of this window. He probably kept it tidier than I do, admits Nedrebø.

The German general, Johann de Boer, had probably known that capitulation was inevitable since he arrived in Bergen in 1944. He’d been transferred from the brutal Eastern Front to less demanding service at the foot of Ulriken.

– Probably only the people in this room knew what was said here, says Nedrebø, showing us the padded doors the Germans had installed in their headquarters.

Statsarkivar Yngve Nedrebø viser fram dei polstra dørene på kontoret på Statsarkivet i Bergen.

PADDED DOORS: City archivist Ned shows us one of the changes the Germans did to the offices of the Bergen City Archives: The doors to the general’s office were padded so that no one on the outside could hear what was being said.

Foto: Sølve Rydland / NRK

Robert Chew was very concise in his description of what happened in that office that morning 72 years ago:

Several questions and short answers - and a discussion over some of the points (in the capitulation agreement).

LETTER BY ROBERT CHEW, 10 MAY 1945

Another one who was present in the room has painted the incident more colourfully. A documentary interview made by the University of Bergen with Milorg commander Roar Sannem reveals that the transfer of power was far from undramatic.

– They (the Germans) wanted the German officers to be allowed to keep their guns and pistols. It was out of the question, Sannem remembers.

Robert Chew, who was only a lieutenant colonel, and the only Allied officer for miles around, banged on the general’s massive table with his swagger stick and firmly made things absolutely clear. He demanded that the formerly mighty warrior from the Eastern Front surrender his pistol, and accept that the rest of his officers had to do so as well. He used every ounce of the authority vested in him by the Allied victory.

– Everything had to be surrendered. It was quite simply the end of the road. There would be no exceptions, the Milorg commander says.

Vaktbyte ved statsarkivet i Bergen, der tyskarane hadde hovudkvarter under krigen.

CHANGING GUARDS: German guards outside the Bergen City Archives during the war.

Foto: Ukjend / Universitetsbiblioteket i Bergen

Even though the Germans had capitulated in Europe, the Germans hadn’t lost thewar in Norway. 300,000 German soldiers would not accept that others had lost the war on their behalf. The Germans were numerous and heavily armed. As yet there was only a handful of Allied officers in Norway.

Now Robert Chew had the full military responsibility for Bergen.

Robert Chew i albumet til fotografen Leon Jacobsen

IN THE ARCHIVE: In an album of photographs by Leon Jacobsen, Yngve Nedrebø has found several pictures of Robert Chew

Foto: Arkivverket

A lonely ally

Roar Sannem also spoke about the particular task assigned to Robert Chew.

– He took charge of Bergen, and was the only Allied official in the city at this time. But he had plenty of support.

While Robert Chew was at the archives, rumour had spread through town. The Allied representative had arrived. When the black Mercedes drove to Hotel Bristol in the centre of Bergen, a huge crowd had gathered in Torgallmenningen, the main street. Robert Chew was welcomed as a true hero. Everyone called the Englishman “the Scot” because of his characteristic kilt.

Britane vert hylla i Bergen sentrum

A HERO’S WELCOME: Robert Chew in the passenger seat of an open car approaching Torgallmenningen. A huge crowd had turned up to welcome the British.

Foto: Robert Chew

In the book “Frihetsdager” (Liberation Days), published later that year, his reception in Bergen was described: “The Scot immediately became very popular. He was saluted by the crowd outside the hotel. They were jubilant when he turned up in the window.”

But Robert Chew already faced many new challenges.

In Sogn: “Milorg has disarmed the Germans on their own, contrary to the agreement. A thousand Russians are clamouring for wine and women.” Hardanger: “A thousand Germans are on their way and need lodging.” Nordfjord: “60 quislings have been detained, but the locals don’t have food for them. Can I help?” Bergen: “300 quislings have been arrested, but the prisons are full. What will happen to German property? A German escaped from the central administration and posed as a Norwegian agent. What about his future?”

Historian Berit Nøkleby has investigated Britain’s role in Norway after the war. She says that the Allies were surprised by the vast number of foreign prisoners when they arrived in the country.

– When they gained an overview of all the Russian and Serbian prisoners of war, they realised that the scale of German war crimes had been far greater than they had believed. It was the British who took charge of this, while the Norwegian police focused on violations against Norwegians on Norwegian soil, the historian says.

Festplassen i Bergen, fredsdagane 1945

TIME TO CELEBRATE: From his office in central Bergen, Robert Chew had a view to Festplassen (Celebration Square). In May 1945, it was constantly full of jubilant revellers. King Haakon’s monogram is visible in the middle of Lille Lungegaardsvann.

Foto: Robert Chew

Allied worries

Robert Chew had come to Norway to deal with the Germans, but after just one day in Bergen, the lieutenant colonel realised that they weren’t the greatest challenge.

They (the Germans) certainly seem to be making every effort to carry out the orders. The Russians are the difficulty.

LETTER BY ROBERT CHEW, 11 MAY 1945

Early on 11 May, he received reports of problems outside one of the prison camps in Bergen. Chew had ordered the Germans to withdraw their guards from the camps. But now there were reports of Russians behaving badly in the countryside outside the city.

They are wild elements some of these Russians, and they were not staying in the camps

LETTER BY ROBERT CHEW, 11 MAY 1945

According to the capitulation agreement, the Germans would supply food to the Russian prisoners for fifty days. The German rations included alcohol. To avoid drunk and disorderly behaviour among the Russians, Chew decided to withhold the alcohol, even though the Russians knew they were entitled to wine.

And paradoxically, Chew also asked the enemy, i.e. the Germans, to resume guarding the prisoners of war, even though the Russian prisoners now were allies. The next day, 12 May, 400 Russians arrived in Bergen from the south. They refused to enter the camp where they were supposed to stay. When Chew arrived, they were sitting outside the gates. They had no intention of sharing quarters with the other Russians. They demanded separate barracks and a fence between the two groups.

I explained further that I could not force them or use force, after all they were our allies. But there was no other solution, - and they must sleep without, hungry.

LETTER BY ROBERT CHEW, 11 MAY 1945

After several hours of exhausting negotiations, promises of a fence and separate barracks, and with the aid of a low-ranking German officer who spoke Russian, the new arrivals finally agreed to enter the camp.

Russiske frigjevne krigsfangar i prosesjonen i Bergen 17. mai 1945

RUSSIAN PRISONERS: Released Russian prisoners celebrate Constitution Day in Bergen, 17 May 1945. Robert Chew allowed the Russians to take part in the parade.

Foto: Rolf Norvin

The Russians were in a dire situation, something Robert Chew knew all too well. They had been treated horribly, starved and exploited as slave labourers by the Germans. As agreed during the Yalta Conference, all of them would be returned to the USSR, despite the fact that being taken prisoner was regarded as an act of treason by the Soviets.

The mood was gloomy when 22 officers arrived from Moscow to pick up the Russians in late May. They were taken east by rail in overcrowded freight wagons.

Many of the 80,000 Russians who were returned from Norway to the USSR in the summer of 1945 were transferred to Soviet prison camps on arrival. Others were brutally executed.

The Poles who didn’t want to go home

Later, Chew got another allied challenge. About 1200 Poles were to be taken by ship to Stavanger. From there, they would be returned to their home country. But the Poles, who were allies, didn’t want to leave. Not unless the ship sailed directly to Poland.

Kontoret til Robert Chew i Bergen sentrum

THE OFFICE: Robert Chew needed three phones to do his job in Bergen.

Foto: Robert Chew

The Poles distrusted the Norwegians after four of their compatriots had been shot by two drunk Norwegian soldiers. When Robert Chew met their leader, he knew it would be a tough battle. The charismatic officer had served in the Wehrmacht, but got out in time. Now he was a Polish ally.

Around a thousand Polish servicemen were gathered in a fairly small hall. Many of them in an ugly mood. The British had promised them cigarettes, but they hadn’t seen any yet. They were waiting for Robert Chew. He went on stage in the pink glare of a spotlight. Tried to convince them in German that they should board the ship to Stavanger. Then the Polish officer got on stage. Made a passionate speech. It was evident that he was in charge. But Robert Chew didn’t trust him.

That evening, Robert Chew went from door to door in the camp. Spoke to the Polish servicemen in small groups. Without their leader present, most of them agreed to leave. Finally, the vast majority had agreed to travel to Stavanger. When the Polish officer realised that he no longer had the support of his men, he changed his mind as well.

As the ship was about to leave the next day, there was frenetic activity as the Poles tried to get the most incredible things on board.

People rushed about with pots and pans, a man carrying three brooms amongst all his belongings. A piano arrives, - I expect it will get on board. A pair of canoe paddles, a wireless set, two dogs, a trumpet, soccer ball and even an umbrella. I observe a complete jazz band set struggling towards the quay. I wonder if the drum will ever survive?

LETTER BY ROBERT CHEW, EXACT DATE UNKNOWN

Because Poland had ended up under communist control under the Allied post-war treaty, Robert Chew found the situation somewhat depressing:

Sad when one remembers that probably, everything will be taken from them directly they reach their country.

LETTER BY ROBERT CHEW, EXACT DATE UNKNOWN

In between all the problems that had to be solved, Robert Chew found time to become a very popular man in Bergen. He arranged field trips for children and helped old ladies struggling with heavy shopping bags. “When he drove through town and met someone who was carrying a heavy load, he offered them a ride home. He was also very fond of children, and had many friends among the town’s youngest.”

The newspapers in Bergen waxed lyrical about how the man in the kilt differed from his German predecessors.

“Lieutenant Colonel Chew attracts attention and well-deserved admiration in town when he appears in his Scottish military uniform consisting of a kilt and bare knees. Everywhere he goes, he’s saluted and hailed by the people of Bergen,” wrote Bergens Tidende.

Robert Chew inspiserer innleverte tyske våpen i Bergen sentrum

INSPECTION: Robert Chew (third from the left) inspects seized weapons in Bergen. The Bergen Public Library can be made out in the background.

Foto: Ukjend med Robert Chew sitt kamera

British force

A British general by the name of Andrew Thorne held power in Norway in the weeks and months after the end of the war. According to Olav Riste, who wrote the preface to the Norwegian translation of the general’s experiences in Norway, he was in practice a British dictator on Norwegian soil for the first weeks. He was the one Robert Chew reported to with daily accounts of all his challenges.

Allierte soldatar i Bergen etter frigjeringa

CHEW’S CREW: Robert Chew (middle centre) with allied servicemen in Bergen.

Foto: Ukjend

– The Allied contingent were mainly responsible for the foreigners in Norway. 350,000 German soldiers, about 90,000 prisoners of war and a huge number of forced labourers. All of them needed to get home, and we wouldn’t have managed to do it on our own, says Berit Nøkleby, who translated Thorne’s writings into Norwegian.

– Even though both the press and the public hailed the British, there were controversies. They concerned internal affairs that were primarily discussed in closed circles, and didn’t affect the Norwegians’ view of the British, says Nøkleby.

The British demanded possession of all the arms seized from the Germans. This was a source of local irritation in many places. Much of it could have come in handy in rebuilding the Norwegian armed forces.

Innleverte tyske våpen samla opp i Bergen sentrum

ARMS: The Allied Commission under British command demanded control of all German weapons.

Foto: Robert Chew

Robert Chew was forced to intervene several times when officials from the Norwegian resistance tried to take over the armaments of the former occupying power.

On Monday 16 July, the Englishman learned that Norwegian army representatives had gone to Årdal in Sogn to seize German cars and trucks. Chew was already in Sogn, and immediately headed for Årdalstangen. He arrived by boat at 2:30 a.m. He wasted no time in finding the hotel room where the Norwegian officer was staying, and woke him up.

We spent five minutes convincing him to return to Førde without touching a single German vehicle.

LETTER BY ROBERT CHEW, 16 JULY 1945

Within half an hour Robert Chew had returned to the boat. The night-time reprimand had brought the Norwegian soldiers to heel.

That the British were in control was also manifested in much more brutal ways. They carried out several executions on Norwegian soil that were never included in the records of the Norwegian trials after the war.

On 10 January 1946, the German commander and Gestapo officer Hans Wilhelm Blomberg was executed at Akershus Fortress. In December 1943 he had ensured that five Norwegians and a Briton were executed in the Ulven prison camp in Os. Norwegian authorities were never given the access they wanted to interrogate him, even though he had been involved in the destruction of Telavåg and been a key figure in Gestapo in Kristiansand, Bergen and Tromsø. Blomberg had been arrested in Bremen, taken to Norway, court-martialled by the British and shot. A flagrant breach of Norwegian sovereignty.

By then, Robert Chew had already left Bergen and Norway. On 4 October 1945, Bergens Tidende announced that the popular hero from Scotland was ready to leave town. “Lt Col Chew has gained many friends during the five months of his stay in Bergen,” the paper wrote.

The Englishman would return. Out of uniform.

Back in plain clothes

In autumn 1946, a representative from the same newspaper in Bergen accidentally bumped into a British gentleman in a bus in Ottadalen. “On Ottadalen Billag’s new 40-seater bus [...] there was also an Englishman who was running late. He bore an uncanny resemblance to a well-known military figure from the first, hectic weeks after the liberation in Bergen. But one cannot be completely sure, so in the course of the conversation, I asked whether he by any chance had been to Bergen in a military capacity? ‘Yes, I have lived in Bergen,’ the British answered with a big smile.” In the interview, Chew reveals that he plans to stop in Bergen on his way home. “The city he came to love so much, and that became so fond of him.” He’d developed a particular affection for one resident.

In Robert Chew’s letters to his mother, a love affair emerges. A young woman from Bergen charmed the kilt-clad lieutenant colonel.

The summer after Robert Chew was spotted by the journalist on the bus, he married the woman from Bergen in Oslo. Her name was Eva Mohr. Her first husband had lost his life as a Norwegian pilot in Canada during the war. She had a seven-year-old son, Bill, from her first marriage.

Eva og Robert Chew gifta seg i Oslo i 1947

NEWLYWED: Eva and Robert Chew were married in Oslo in 1947.

Foto: Ukjend

Together they travelled to Scotland, where they would both play a key role in running one of the most prestigious independent schools in the British Isles.

And in 1948, their son Tony was born.

Everybody’s father

Spring 2017: – Here’s our father. That was what all his colleagues called him: Our father.

Gordonstoun School lies in the Scottish countryside. Its walls are steeped in history. The man pointing at the portrait has inherited the features of the former headmaster in the oil painting on the wall.

Tony Chew og Bill Mohr framfor portrettet av Robert Chew på kostskulen Gordonstoun i Skottland.

PORTRAIT OF FATHER: Bill Mohr (left) with his half-brother Tony Chew in Gordonstoun in Scotland. In the middle, the portrait of Robert Chew who was headmaster at the school.

Foto: Sølve Rydland / NRK

Together with his half-brother Bill, Tony Chew gives us a guided tour of the independent school where his father rwas in charge.

– Mr. Chew became like a father to me as well, he was wonderful, says Bill Mohr, who was less than three years old when his father Conrad died in Canada during the war.

Brødrene Bill Mohr og Tony Chew på Gordonstoun.

CHILDHOOD HOME: Tony Chew (left) and Bill Mohr at Gordonstoun School in Elgin in Scotland. The two half-brothers grew up at the venerable buildings at the indepentent school.

Foto: Sølve Rydland / NRK

Both Bill and Tony grew up at the school. Their father arrived here in 1934. He had been a maths teacher at the Salem school in Germany. Many of the teachers were Jewish. When the Nazis seized power in Germany, many packed their bags and some joined the school in the Scottish countryside. Mr Chew also left Germany at this time because of his disapproval of the way the school was beeing increasingly controlled by the Nazis. One of Mr Chew's first students was none other than Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, the man who later would become the husband and consort of Queen Elizabeth II.

– He joined them when they left Germany. It must have been difficult for him that the Germans had become the enemies, because all his four sisters were married to Germans, says Tony Chew.

The two brothers recognise their father’s qualities in his accounts of the first days of peace in Norway.

– He was a man who could interpret any situation. If we’d done something wrong, he knew it almost before we’d done it, Bill chuckles.

“Don't you know what your father did during the war?”

When Robert Chew died in 1970, nobody in the family knew what he had done during the war before he landed in a seaplane in a Norwegian fjord on the day of liberation, was celebrated as a hero and found love.

More than 29 years after his father died, and 54 years after the end of the war, Tony met a man who provided some clues. A 90-year-old man who had taken part in the same spectacular, top-secret project.

“Don't you know what your father did during the war?” the man asked him. “No.” Tony Chew had to admit that he had no idea. The man wrote a handwritten letter to Tony.

Robert Chew i uniform i Skottland under krigen

KILT AND SWAGGER STICK: Robert Chew photographed in Britain during the war.

Foto: Ukjend

The contents of the letter seemed unbelievable. In 1942, a completely new unit was secretly established in the British Army. Its aim was quite simply to hoodwink the Germans.

Using state-of-the-art loudspeakers mounted on small trucks, recordings of tanks, shooting and soundtracks from movies were replayed. The aim was to make the enemy believe that the Allies were more numerous than they actually were, and that their location was different from what was believed. The sound was audible at a range of 24 km.

In Ballantrae in Scotland, Robert Chew helped train personnel and formulate strategies for how to efficiently use the equipment.

Before the Normandy landing, the troops trained by Chew had been sent to Pas-de-Calais in Northern France to trick the Germans into thinking that the invasion would take place there. Later they joined the advance on the Rhine to give the impression that the Allied were much more numerous than they were in reality. Their efforts saved the lives of countless servicemen.

Tony Chew got in touch with historians who could check whether the story was true. In 2002, he got a reply from Stuart Allan at the Scottish National Museum. Allan had never heard about the unit Chew had been in before Tony approached him, but now he could verify the information. Sonic deception had been used in France, Italy and Burma during WWII.

It was only many decades after the war that it became known that the Allies had applied this method.

Robert Chew never served at the front himself, but it was probably his organisational skills and knowledge of German that led him to be selected for another mission, something the British hadn’t given priority to until then: Liberating Norway. Robert Chew was among those assigned to the mission in a capacity usually reserved for more senior officers.

In early 1945, Robert Chew was told to prepare to travel to Norway as soon as the Germans capitulated. In the morning of 8 May, while everyone else in the UK was celebrating victory, he boarded a seaplane in Scotland. He was heading for the country that would change his life.

Utsikt frå sjøflyet på veg til Noreg

HEADING FOR NORWAY: Robert Chew took this picture of the Catalina from aboard the Sunderland plane as they headed to Oslo on 8 May.

Foto: Robert Chew
Den allierte våpenkvilekommisjonen vert tatt i mot av tyskarane på Fornebu.

UNIQUE PHOTOGRAPHS: Robert Chew was an avid photographer. See some of the pictures he took during his time in Norway in 1945.

Foto: Robert Chew
  • Translator: Erik Grønvold

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