Veteran Stories:
Berit Pittman

  • Berit Pittman in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, on August 10, 2010.

    Historica Canada
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"I recognized him. He was my mother’s brother. He had trained in Germany and spoke fluently German, was part of the underground."

Transcript

This is a story as much in memory of my mother as it is my story. She was a single mother with three children, and she took the chance of offering a safe house for Kompani Linge [Norwegian resistance group, engaged in underground activities against the Germans] members of the resistance movement. At the same time, she taught her children never to talk about what we saw and heard and made us feel very trusted at all times. She was a fantastic and courageous mother. When the fighting was going on in the beginning of the war, she was a Red Cross nurse. She went to work in a field hospital in the school a few miles away from us; and she and many others felt the war would come. So they had stocked up on food and supplies. So then when mother needed some of her supplies, she would call to me and tell me, fill my rucksack up and bicycle down to the school, but she said, make sure now, she said, when the plane comes over toward you, then jump in the ditch and stay there until the plane has passed, then get back on the bike and get down to me as soon as possible. But she never indicated that she was afraid for me and therefore, I was not afraid either. Now, a couple of months later, Norway surrendered; and the king and queen and the royal family fled to England. For four years, many Norwegians fled from Norway to England and Canada where they trained. Others trained in Scotland and they became members of the Kompani Linge which were trained in sabotage and intelligence gathering, and the like. They came back to Norway secretly either by parachute or by boat, or sneaking across the border from neutral Sweden. At times, they would leave Norway and get back to England the same way. Now, they formed part of the main resistance group, the one that my mother was involved in. Many of the young men came and stayed in our downstairs room for days on end and the mother told us we would call them uncles. And remember, don’t ever recognize them when they’re on the street. So sabotage was carried out in those days with limpets [explosives with magnets, generally used in naval situations] and other explosives by members of the Kompani Linge, that was the men that stayed in our home. They received the supplies by parachute from England. And the messages where it would be dropped would come by code, which we listened to and then solved that, such things as ‘the fox will have a red cap.’ That meant the airplanes would come over and drop some message over some supplies in a certain area. Well, one day I was sure the German trucks were heading for our house and I hurried home. Despite all orders of not going into the living room without first knocking, I ran in, burst open the door and was stopped with a pistol pointing at my stomach. Well, it brought me to a stop and the man holding it, Edvard Tallaksen, said, well, while you’re here, you might as well learn how to take one of these apart, which they taught me. That was actually a smart move, it made sure that I never talked about it to anybody else, but it also made me aware of the fact of what my mother really was doing. So little by little, my job became to carry parcels to town and drop them somewhere; and one day I dropped off something in town and that night, mother came to the bedroom and woke me up, quietly took me out on the balcony, not saying a word. Then suddenly we could hear and then see a big explosion in town down by the harbour. Mother patted me on my shoulder and said, thank you, little friend, now you can go back to bed again. And that was all that was said about it. Now I really understood what I was carrying. But this was not discussed until 1971 when my mother visited me in Canada. I had helped delivered limpets to be used to explode ships. I attended school until one day the principal came to my classroom and asked me to come out; and he told me to hurry and get my sister, and then leave the school because the Germans were surrounding it. Well, we managed to get away and went back to where we were staying; and there was my mother and my brother with rucksacks already packed. We walked to the railroad station. Here, mother showed me where my brother and I were to stay quietly and pretend we did not know her; and wait until she or somebody else came and gave us tickets. Now, my mother and sister went somewhere else and eventually mother came by, and gave us tickets and travel passes with new names. Some hours later, we came to a town called Fredrikstad, where we left the train and here again, we were at the station and told, all passenger go into the waiting room. There were Germans in there checking people. But then a man came in in a uniform for high ranking German officers. He said, I want these four people. He pointed to us and we were escorted out of the building. The man looked somewhat familiar, it was only once we were in the car that he put us in, that I recognized him. He was my mother’s brother. He had trained in Germany and spoke fluently German, was part of the underground. And then next, we were taken to a harbour, we went aboard a boat that ferry us across to a large island. Here, we were met by a man with a truck and a couple with their four year old son, who was also to come with us. That father was so nervous that he was dangerous; and then mother gave him an injection that calmed him down. We climbed up on the back of the truck and hid among the bags of potatoes and coals, and the truck started to drive across the island. Now, someplace along the line, he was stopped, the German checked the driver, threw their bayonets in the bags, missed us, and then the truck was allowed to proceed again. We arrived at a pier later on, we went aboard another small boat and then another short trip; and we came to a second island, where we were supposed to be met by some helpers. But nobody came, so we spent the night in a summerhouse. Mother would ask my sister and me every so often during that night and the next day to go out and listen for noise from boats, or possibly Germans coming. However, it was only the next afternoon that somebody came and they were our helpers, thank goodness. They told us we had to hurry to our motorboat on the other side of the island because again, the Germans were on our trail. This was the 23 December, 1944. It was a dark day. However, we came through that and then it was full speed to Sweden. The next day, we went by train to a refugee camp, where we were given our refugee number. Mine was 4382. That was how many people had crossed Sweden since April 1940. This was Christmas Eve, 1944, six months before the end of the war.
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