Norway (two), 1944 by Barbara Wace

Written by Barbara in April 1995:

When the German troops surrendered in Norway in 1944 there were not enough allied troops to look after them, and so their lorries, tanks and trucks drove about, each carrying a white flag to show they had surrendered. They were driven by their own personnel and in their barracks they were in charge of their own personnel too – their own commanding officers responsible for discipline.

My press party, consisting of British journalists were billeted in a mid-town hotel and one evening a colleague and I decided to ask permission to go and visit a German barracks, not far away in the town. The conducting officer was a pleasant American Major and together we set off to ask permission of the German commanding officer. We sat in a small reception room while the German Sergeant who had received us went away to fetch his boss. We felt a little apprehensive as to how the German Colonel would receive us, and were relieved at the demeanour of the slim young Major who appeared and gave us polite permission to look around his command, in perfect English. But this only took a few minutes. He sent for a sergeant to conduct us. Still standing beside us, a deathly silence ensued. There was a “non-frat” rule we were supposed to obey – no casual conversation was allowed between German troops and Allies. Even War Correspondents.

I decided somebody must say something and it was probably easier for me. “I worked in our embassy in Berlin before the War”, I said to the officer, “I wonder if you could give me news of any of my friends – Helmut Von Moltke, for instance”. I chose the name of an old lawyer friend from a famous family, as I thought he would be likely to have heard of him. As I spoke I looked at his face and was horrified to see him turn ashen white. “That was my brother” he said, after a moment and very quietly, “That was my elder brother. He was hanged by Hitler in July.”

I had not heard of the attempt on Hitler’s life by Stauffenberg or of the executions which followed. I did not know that Helmut had been hanged even though he was not directly implicated.

If I had mentioned his name at such a moment in a fiction story I would have said it was contrived. This truth was much stranger than fiction. Several times during our next week in Norway the young Von Moltke called at our hotel to see me, but our schedule was crowded. I never had the chance to speak to him.

Only a few months ago, fifty years later, my great niece at Oxford, a friend of a grandson of Helmut had put me in touch with his widow and that handsome younger brother who was commanding a unit in Oslo in 1944.

Barbara Wace