Frit Denmark

NEWSLETTER 13 – 2007
By Roger Stanton

At 4am, on the 9th April 1940, without warning, German troops crossed the Danish border and invaded the small country of Denmark. They also landed by ships at strategic points, and landed by parachute to take key points. From nothing, a Resistance and escape line grew that was described by General Montgomery as ‘second to none’.

The Danish Resistance had no age limits; four hours after German troops had entered Copenhagen, a seventeen year old College student, Arne Sejr, was already distributing anti-German leaflets that he and his school friends had prepared. Few Danes were prepared to accept occupation. Many made plans to leave and join the allies. One man rowed a small boat alone to England. Others used the only weapon they had at this early stage – the ‘underground press’, and local knowledge.

The Danes used many forms of resistance, from knitting bob hats in the form of an RAF red, white, and blue roundel, to putting sugar into fuel tanks, cement, and building fortifications. German troops were kept constantly on the alert by persistent small sabotage attacks and underground activities. Over 25 million illegal newspapers were printed during the war years, most distributed by school and college students. Most employed their own simple method of passive resistance, or the ‘cold shoulder’. They pretended that the Germans did not exist. They did not help them or speak to them.

From the very beginning, escape lines started to become organised for refugees and allied evaders. In October 1943, Berlin ordered the arrest of all Danish Jews. The Danish people responded immediately. They warned those in danger, hid them and fed them; eventually over 7000 were taken by small fishing boats to neutral Sweden, many passing through the small fishing village of Saeby, on the north east coast. It is thought that only about 250 Danish Jews were arrested. Altogether more than 18000 refugees, Jews, and allied escapers and evaders, were taken to freedom by the Danish fishermen. It is a strong indication of attitudes, that when all Danish shipping and seamen were ordered to return home, or head for a neutral port, 5000 men (90%), headed for England or an allied port. Most returned to sea under a British flag. Over 600 Danish fishermen paid for this decision with their lives. The shipping losses were also high at 60%.

Amongst the escape routes from Denmark during WW2, many culminated at the safe-house at the vicarage at Albeck, ran by the Rev M Hindsholm. From this safe-house, many evaders were taken to the fishing village of Saeby where several small fishing boats were always available to ‘run the gauntlet’ to Sweden. Evaders were often taken by the 11ton FN366 ‘Laura’ skippered by Jens Christian Jensen, which could take ten passengers, or the 4ton FN101 ‘Stanley’ skippered by Oluf ‘Wolle’ Anderson, which normally took 2 passengers. Oluf’s boat being a ‘Skaw dingy’ was often used in very shallow water to avoid enemy patrol boats that needed deeper water. The packet boat ‘Elise’ also ran a shuttle service from Saeby to Copenhagen with freight, often dropping evaders off in a dingy off the coast of Sweden. The Elise was skippered by Adolf Schmidt.

ELMS member Rowland Williams DFM, at that time a Flight Sgt, passed down the line, and eventually reach Sweden via Saeby, courtesy of the 11ton Laura. After the war he returned annually to Saeby, and during his visit on the 06 June 1986, the 42nd anniversary of his escape, he was presented with a scale model of the Laura by Jens Christian Jensen, the wartime skipper.  The model was made by Poul Jacobsen, a former member of the Danish Resistance. Both Paul and Rowland gave their permission for the model to be displayed in the Escape Line hut at Eden Camp WW2 Museum in 1996, as a memorial to the many brave Danish Escape Line Helpers and fishermen, who lost their lives running the escape route from Saeby to Sweden. The model can be seen in the ELMS display cabinet.

As a percentage of its population, more Danish people served the allies than any other country in occupied Europe. King Christian X, remained in Denmark throughout the occupation, continuing his daily rides on horse-back through the streets of Copenhagen alone, often stopping to speak to the Danish people and to shake their hands, refusing, at all times, to acknowledge German salutes and greetings. One Dane was asked by a German soldier ‘Who guards the King?’ The Dane replied ‘We do – the Danish people’.

During the war years many Danes were arrested, tortured, and executed. Many, together with their families, were sent to concentration camps. But despite knowing that they would be shown no mercy, the escape lines from Denmark to Sweden remained open from the 09 April 1940 until Liberation.