søndag 12. juni 2011

You are among friends - The story about David Besbris

The bombing of the Knaben Mines in 1943

The event, which I want to tell about, took place in the middle of November 1943. It happened in the south part of Norway. Sirdal, Kvinesdal and Åseral are geographic names in the story.
That I have to tell you, is built on what I remember by myself, on that my parents, what especially my father, Ådne S. Sinnes, told, and on interview and conversations with Ola T. Ousdal and my oldest brother, Sven A. Sinnes. The two last mentioned people are still alive.
Basic knowledge is also found in two articles that the journalist Oddvar Munksgaard wrote in the newspaper ‘Fædrelandsvennen’ on 14th and 16th of July 1979.

In the middle of the day, November16th 1943, the mine company at Knaben in Kvinesdal was bombed.
For the Allied Forces it vas necessary to stop the production of the very war important molybdenum ore. That stuff was used in the steel production. It gave especially good canon- and gun pipes.
The aircraft attack the November 16th was the second raid on Knaben mine in 1943. The first bombing was carried out the 3rd of March. That raid was operated by the Royal Air Forces.
Ten Mosquito airplanes participated in, from a military view, a very excellent operation; but sixteen Norwegians lost their lives. Among them, were two men from Sirdal, Magnus Tonstad and Tobias Rostøl. Also the German director for the mine lost his life.
The attack on the 16th of November was done by the US air forces. 263 big Boeing – B-17 and B-24 bombing machines were on their way from Great Britain to Norway. When they reached the Norwegian coast, this tremendous strength of aircraft’s divided itself in two – 132 of the flying fortress went to Telemark, to Vemork power station where the Germans produced heavy water. This factory had now been rebuilt after the "sabotage of the heavy water", which had been done some months earlier.
Image203 Bombefly II.jpg (337078 bytes)
                         The picture: From the book "Århundredets krønike, Cappelen" It was that kind of aircraft that attacked   
                         Knaben at November 16th 1943.

One hundred and thirty one aircraft crossed the valley of Sirdal, my home place, on their way to Knaben.
This was an enormous charge! It destroyed many of the factories, and a large number of German soldiers lost their lives. The German soldiers should defend the mine by the help of about 60-canon forts. But these canon installations where in the open, and the soldiers could not stand against such a tremendous attack. No Norwegians lost their lives this time, but many war prisoners from the Eastern Europe died. Even though I myself was only a little boy (born in 1938), I do remember clearly that we children were standing outside our home in Ousdal, Sirdal, looking at all those aircraft’s as they passed across the valley. In my memory I can see the sky covered with air machines. They came in-groups on 5-6 machines, then there was a little distance, in each direction, to other groups. As we stood there staring, some of they elder children cried up to the airplanes that they should throw down some chocolate to us. Children that were 4-5 years older than I was, often did shout in that way when they saw a plane. I didn’t know what chocolate was, but as I looked at they elder, I understood it must be something wonderful, so I cried out as hard I could. Suddenly we saw that something came drifting down from the sky. "It is the chocolate!" we children believed. But after a while we understood that it was a man in a parachute.At first it seemed that he would land near us, but he drifted, so he came behind the mountains, and we did not see him anymore.My father had gone to the "Kaldebekk- stølen" (summer pasture) for a load of hay. He too saw the parachute, but also for him it came away behind a mountain. My father tied the horse in a tree and went about 5 km further away looking for the man. But it was useless. He did not find any soldier, and the darkness would come, so he went home.Ola T. Ousdal tells that in the middle of the day of November 16th he rowed hay from a place called Pærskvæv. He was in a part of Ousdalsvatnet, called "Litlevatn", when he saw the parachute. He understood that the soldiers would fall down far away from him.Ola also tells that Hadvar Tjørhom had told him that that certain day the nazi "sheriff" Rygnestad arrived at Tjørhom at that time. Roald Rygnestad and Hadvar Tjørhom stood outside the house and looked at the soldier that jumped out and probably fell down into Ousdalsdalen. But Hadvar had told that the sheriff didn’t take it very seriously what he observed. But he said before he left, that if they should happened to see anything, they must immediately report it to him. "Of course", they smiled.

Also to Ousdal came the nazi police or the sheriff Rygnestad on his motor bike. We can’t remember if the sheriff’s arrival happened the same day or a day or two after the parachute dive. He looked anxious and gruff and told that an English soldier had jumped out in the valley of Ousdalsdalen. He ordered that if the people in Ousdal came in contact with the soldier, the sheriff must at once be told. After the end of the war, other people acted the way my father said: "Yes, be sure. You shall be told!"
The following day Signe Ousdal, Ola’s sister, come and told Papa and my elder brother, Sven, to come with her. An "Englishman" had arrived at their home, and they had to come. Both of them could speak English. The soldier came walking to their house covered and camouflage in the parachute. Ola told me that he and his brother Salve were working outside the barn. They were busy putting the winter shoes on the horse, when a stranger came towards them with the palms of the hands open and towards them as he said "American, American". He showed them also with signs that he needed something to eat and drink.They understood that it was safest to bring the man inside the house as soon as they could, before to many of the neighbors would know that he was there.
Papa told that he met a young American man in his early twenties. He looked different from a Norwegian boy with his black, dark and curly hair and a darker skin color that is normal for Norwegian boys. He was tired and showed signs of the seriousness of the time. His name was David Besbris. Later on he told that he was Jewish. He also told that the Jewish prayer shawl. That he had brought with him in the plane, was put under a stone as soon as he landed. He knew well about the treatment that nazi-Germany gave the Jewish people. The young soldier also told that they had had some problems with one of the engines for a while, and when they were attacked by a German fighter plane, another engine stopped. They were then over the valley "Ousdalsdalen" in Sirdal on their way back to Britain, when the captain gave the order that they should jump out. But in that very moment that David, as the first of the crew to jump out, was free from the plane, he understood that the order was stopped. He was therefore the only one of the crew, which had a number of ten, who jumped out over Ousdalsdalen, and it was only him that got free of the German prison. They other stayed in the plane a little longer. The German fighter chased the American plane until the rest of the crew jumped out in parachutes near Kvås’ center. The plane crashed east of Undeland farm. The crew got help from the inhabitants of Kvås, but after a week, they were taken prisoners by the Germans. They came to a concentration camp in Austria until the war was over in 1945. But all of them saved their lives. A great number of the people in Kvås (7 stk.) came also to prison at Grini, a place near Oslo, where the remained until the peace came.
About these events writes Andreas Vegge in the book "Minner frå krigen – Austad – Lyngdal - Kvås 1940 – 1945, Lyngdal kommune 1995".
My father asked the soldier what his plans were now. He answered that if he was with friendly people, he should try to find his way to Sweden, not down to the coast, where there were too many German soldiers. He also said that if he had met people that were not friendly, his plans for the future were not that interesting. My father told us later about the tears which came in Davids eyes when he told him: "you are among friends!"
The 14th of July 1979 the newspaper "Fædrelandsvennen / Oddvar Munksgaard gave an account of the speech of David Besbris; that year he visited Norway. Concerning the meeting with the mankind in Ousdal he said: "I was brought into a home and was taken care about in the best way. I get a good rest, a new man came until, a Norwegian/English dictionary did they got. They gave me a suit, and they gave me rationing markings for butter and bread from their own rationing cards – and in addition they gave me some money – two hundred kroner. They promised to help me – and that promise surely came true.
I have the wordbook in my baggage, and I have the two hundred kroner in my pocket, so I now can pay back old debt. – They risked their own lives and welfare because of me!"
David was tolerably like my eldest brother Sven regarding size and body shape. He therefore got civil clothes from him. The uniform and the flying dress, which were made of skin, still remain in Ousdal. Ola T. Ousdal gave him two hundred kroner, as he said, it was "payment" for the parachute.
 During a short time or before long time had passed away, my brother Sven Sinnes, Ola T. Ousdal, Hallvard Ousdal and David were on their way to a place (a mountain farm) called Kvinen. The first stage of the way to Sweden had taken its start. By help of the darkness they went to the mountain pasture Gautstøl. There they remained until the next night. Then they went on to Kvinen.

Ola T. Ousdal -05 07.02.06.JPG (35629 bytes)
Ola T. Ousdal 1912 - 2009, was in 1905 93 years old. His memory is unusually good, and he is excellent to tell
about these events. The picture is taken in 2005.

Papa told that when he should put away the military effects in a safe place in the barn, he became a ware of something in a pocket of the uniform. It was the passport and some money. Immediately he went to Gautstøl after them. Outside the cabin he called Sven’s name. In the cabin they did not know what to do, but they really felt free when they understood that either nazi police or German soldiers where on their path. The passport David was glad to get, but the money, which where franc, didn’t mean much to him.
My father, who was a very activ and sporty man in his best years (born in 1897), was home again after a night trip of 20 km before anyone had noticed that he was away.

Kjell_og_Sven_04_justert07.02.06.JPG (31088 bytes)
Kjell M., b. 05.10.1938, and Sven A. Sinnes, b.15.08.1921. Sven also remembers well the dramatic happening that took place for more than 60 years ago. The picture is from 2004. Sven wrote in "Sirdølen" some years ago that he at that time had grief and felt sorrow for that Njål Bjørkelid, cousin and close friend, went to the east front in service for the nazi and German.
Sven experienced therefor the "fronts" really and near. Njål Bjørkelid got killed only few weeks before the war was over in 1945.

Ola T. Ousdal tells that they arrived at Kvinen about eight o clock in the morning the next day. There was smoke in the pipe, so the house-people were awake. Ola went alone towards the house and knocked on the door. The others hid themselves behind a big stone.
If there were foreigners in the house, Ola would tell a story about that he wanted some of his sheep. He had heard that they were seen in the area around Bonefjedl and Haugevatnet. Now he wondered if the sheep may have arrived Kvinen?
He knocked on the door and Gunhild, the wife, came out. When she saw Ola T., she turned into cry and tears. She thought that she now would receive tidings of her son’s death. Ola, her son, worked in Knaben. Gunhild called for her husband, Atlak. He was in the barn, on his way to the forest. The guest first asked if there where any strangers in the house. There were none. So the story about the sheep he did not use. Then he said that they brought an American soldier and asked if he could come into the house? "Yes, he must come!" was the answer from them both, and Atlak stretched out the arm in a welcome gesture.
From now on the Kvinen people took over the responsibility for David. Torjei, one of the sons, followed him further, to Åseral.
About the break in Åseral the newspaper "Færelandsvennen" printed two fine articles the 14th and 16th of July 1979. David Besbris then visited Norway. But unfortunately he did not come to Ousdal.

From the newspaper the 14th of July: "Salve Ousdal got knowledge from Fædrelandsvennen that David Besbris is in Norway. ‘Say to him that he must come to Sirdal. Signe and Halvard are now gone, but he is very welcome to visit us again. He shall then get back his caps after 35 years. I have taken care of them.
Hopefully it will be chance for the people from Sirdal to meet their war-friend in Åseral on Sunday.
I expect there was a misunderstanding. David did not came to Ousdal. And the others from Ousdal which where involved in the happening in 1943, did not know that he was in Åseral in 1979. Now, afterwards, it’s with grief I think about that they did not meet each other.
Image176 David Bespris.jpg (2149919 bytes)

then a retired colonel in the US air force. Only two months before the parachute
jump in Ousdalsdalen, David Besbris had been shot down over the English
canal just ashore France. After thirteen hours in the sea, the France
resistance forces picked him up. He had still some pain in the back from that
down shoot in September the same year. This picture is from the rapport in Fædrelandsvennen July 14th 1979. He wasShortly after peace came, we got a letter from David. He was of course very thankfull for the help and hospitality he had received.

He told that he had been helped along the way by kind people until he reached Sweden. From Sweden he soon come over to Britain again. The last part of the war he did his service in U.S.A.
In Åseral he had a stop for three months before he could continue. That time he stayed at the home of Kari and Kjetil Bortelid. In 1979 they both were dead.
A false passport and other papers where brought to present. Sven B. Svendsen had the duty as guide from Åseral, for the "deaf and stupid" farmer-boy in his home made frieze cloths as was made to him in Åseral.
In 1979 there was arranged a party at a place called Lognatun. Sven B. Svendsen told about the journey form Grovane railway station to Oslo. It was a cold and nasty day, and the two men got inside the waiting room. There were also many German soldiers. They told stories and were really in a good mood. David was, as I have told, a Jew, and he understood Yiddish (an European Jewish dialect). The stories made "the deaf and stupid" to smile a little. They must therefore retire from the waiting room as soon as possible.
By help of changing communication remedy often they came to Oslo with "Fritt Folk" (the nazi newspaper) in his hand as a signal to the contact person. They were picked up, and after ten days waiting in Oslo he came further to Sweden by a German registrated lorry.
The 16th of July 1979 Oddvar Munksgaard wrote in "Fædrelandsvennen": After David had left, was a hard time for the people in Åseral. The German arrested many of them. Others evacuated to the mountains and stayed there for months. The organization turned to pieces, got smashed, but not the peace longing minds.
An affected David Besbris made a speech to them. He said: "There are many sorts of soldiers. Some wear visible uniforms, but I learnt to know the war effort of those who no uniforms wear. I was unlucky since I must jump out, but it was really happy
that I jumped out over Norway! I can’t express what I really feel for you people, and I do not know how to thank you. God bless you all!"
On the middle of 1990es his wife, Ester Berbris, and their son were at Knaben giving some military effects to the museum. At that time David was dead. They came to fulfil a wish he had had.
Back to the happening in November 1943.
The first night David found shelter in a hay barn in the forest worm. It was at a place named "Finnane". There he also found wood so he had made a big and good fire to warm himself by. But I think that the frost and coldness were not so hard for him because they must dress very well in the plane, which did not have pressurized cabin and therefore was horribly cold. His suit, which was made of skin, is still in Ousdal.
We don’t know if the Germans tracked David. But in any case they got knowledge about him when they trapped the rest of the crew in Kvås. They told that one of them had jumped out over Sirdal. And, in addition, he was observed by the nazi sheriff.
Anyway, we experienced house search, and my parents thought it was because they guessed that they were hiding the "English soldier". The house search reminded in November and December. These events I remember well. They where not cozy for us children. And surely they where less than nice for our parents and for the grown ups, as had such a secret to hide. The whole family where gathered in the hall where one or two German soldiers watched over us. My mother then had to follow other soldiers around in the house. Especially they were interested in the beds, in the straw bedding, where they thought he was hidden. They rummaged a lot, but didn’t find anything.
I remember that my mother sometimes couldn’t hold the tears back after such a search. We children thought it was because the rummage by the German soldiers, but the real reason was the intense excitement and stress that in that way come to expression.
Once it could ended in a bad way, gone really wrong. During a house examination the neighbor children, Ingrid and Tonny, were visiting us. While mother followed the soldiers around in the house, my five years elder brother, Jarleiv, remembered that on a shelf there stood a glass with hail. That he taught was a dangerous ting, and he turned up with tears and shriek. The German would not let my mother come and comfort him, and the atmosphere turned to be exert. Suddenly the neighbor children rushed out of the door and ran home. They did not obey while the soldiers cried that they should stop. They come home crying that "now the German would shoot Amanda".
The result was that while we still were in the hall, the door was rushed up and our neighbor man fell into the house. He thought that Amanda had given away the secret. He turned calm, and nothing happened.
Three of them who were involved in this drama, are still a live, Ola T. Ousdal, Sven A. Sinnes and Torjei Kvinen. But there are now fewer of them who were young in the difficult and hard 1940 years. People that with actions and doing like this, hold high the human value, the moral and the will to fight.
As told, David Besbris said in the speech in 1979 that he had met people who had character to offer their own life and welfare to help him. And so it was. But the freedom loving people in Sirdal and Åseral also met a young American soldier with Jewish blood who also was willing to look away from his life and welfare to fight against the inferno of a nazi regime, that had grasped Europe.

Kjell M. Sinnes


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