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Arland O. Fiske: The prime minister who saved the king

After World War II, the prime minister of Norway, Carl J. Hambro, was welcomed to America as a hero of the Resistance. When he visited the Buck Ellingson farm near Hillsboro, N.D., the newspapers carried front-page stories with a picture of him holding one of their children. It was touching. Hambro was regarded as next in importance to the king.

An air raid alarm went off in Oslo at 1:00 a.m. on April 9, 1940. Most people thought it was a routine drill, but Hambro then President of the Storting (parliament), immediately checked it out and learned that foreign warships were steaming up the Oslofjord. He immdiately understood the implications and advised King Haakon VII that the Royal Family, the Storting members should take the next train to Hamar, 100 miles north. It was imperative that King Haakon and his family should not fall into the hands of the Germans, as well as the royal gold reserves. One of the first things the Nazis did when occupying a country was to raid the treasury.

The Storting assembled and passed the necessary emergency legislation for the government to function outside of Oslo. Spies followed their every move. They had barely done their work when warplanes began to bomb their locations. They moved twenty miles east to Elverum, where both the King and Crown Prince Olav took shelter under a large tree during the bombing. If they had been killed, Prince Harald, just three years old, would have had a caretaker appointed for him by the Supreme Court. The Nazis planned to control that appointment and the country would be captive. Deep snow hampered travel through the mountains.

Back in Oslo, Vidkun Quisling, a former army officer, proclaimed himself “Chief of State” and appointed a government of virtually unknown people who were horrified when told of their new jobs. Quisling moved into the Continental Hotel where he set up his headquarters.

The list of these names had fallen on the floor and an alert waitress retrieved it and passed it on to the Resistance. The appointees were notified and disassociated themselves from the plot. Quisling had returned just two days earlier from Berlin where he saw Hitler and urged him to proceed with the occupation of Norway.

Dr. Brauer, the German Minister in Norway, presented a list of demands between 4:30 and 5:00 a. m. that amounted to a complete surrender. Delaying tactics were used before responding so the Royal Family had time to travel further from Oslo. The demands were then rejected.

After two months of heroic defense, the fighting was over in Norway and the government was relocated to London. Crown Princess Martha and her children, Ragnhild, Astrid and Harald, went to the United States where they were the personal guests of President and Mrs. Roosevelt at their Hyde Park Home and in Washington, DC.

Who was Carl J. Hambro?  The Hambros had moved to Norway from England during the Swedish period (1814-1905) and became loyal citizens. They were significant servants of the nation.

But there is an irony to the story. When the famous constitution of May 17, 1814 (“Syttende Mai”) was signed, it excluded Jews from Norway (also Jesuits). Only after this was changed in 1851 was it possible for the Hambros to become Norwegian citizens. The total number of Jews never exceeded 1,500 before the war. But for this reason, Quisling and the Nazis had made a point of attacking Hambro. Throughout the war, he worked tirelessly for Norway’s freedom as a leader of the government in exile.

It’s a lucky thing that the original constitution was amended, or the Royal Family may have become hostage to Hitler, like the Royal Family of Denmark, on that fateful morning of April 9, 1940. Norway and Norwegians everywhere continue to honor the name of the Prime Minister who saved the King

Next Week: The Anatomy of a Story

ARLAND FISKE, a retired Lutheran minister who previously lived in Laporte and now lives in Texas, is the author of 10 books on Scandinavian themes.