Norway: April and May 1940

At 11.15am on 3rd September 1939 Britain declares war on Germany. At the time, the regiment’s 1st Battalion is based at Catterick Camp, North Yorkshire. The 2nd Battalion is stationed in Ferozepore in north-west India.

The 1st battalion is immediately mobilised and sent to France. They are followed by the territorial 4th and 5th battalions in January 1940, then the newly formed 6th and 7th battalions in April 1940.

This is the time of ‘phoney war’. It’s been declared, but little seems to be happening. Troops prepare defensive positions in France, waiting for the German forces to make the first move.

9th APRIL 1940: GERMANY INVADES NORWAY. The Green Howards 1st Battalion (about 750 men) are ordered from France to Norway. Well trained, but poorly equipped, they slow the German advance, but are soon forced to withdraw.

The Green Howards are part of an Allied force of 38,000 troops, including French and Polish forces, who join 55,000 Norwegian soldiers to try to repel the German land invasion.

The Battle of Otta

Norway Campaign: objects from our collection

Compass. The infantry soldiers of The Green Howards have their hand-held weapons, a few medium machine guns and some very old anti-tank weapons. There is no artillery, tanks, air defence or support. They have little workable signals equipment and no medical support outside their base.

Map. The route taken by The Green Howards in Norway is marked. After landing at Åndalsnes they move south to Kvam, 100 miles from the coast, where they link up with Norwegian forces. They are unable to halt the enemy advance and retreat to the coast for a Royal Navy evacuation on 2nd May 1940. 595 men were evacuated, but 151 were missing.

Certificate. At the end of the war, Private Whittingham received this certificate in recognition of the part he played in helping restore freedom to Norway.

The museum has some images of the events in Norway, but following that defeat, and the retreat in France a month later, troops were banned from carrying cameras.

German Signaller’s backpack, ‘tornister’.
This type of pack was carried by ‘telephone connection troops’. It contained a battery, reels of cable, a headphone and microphone along with connectors and other tools to ensure lines of communications could be maintained.

Edward Brookman

4387124 Drummer Edward William Brookman came from a long line of soldiers.

His grandfather, William, a native of Halifax, is listed in the Army Marriage Register of May 1883, as a Sergeant in the West Riding Regiment.  Edward’s father, Albert was born in Wiltshire, no doubt during a military posting, also served with the 1st Battalion of the West Riding Regiment and later the West Yorkshire Regiment, attaining the rank of Corporal. Discharged in the early 1920s Albert became a postman in civilian life, however, by the time of the 1939 Register, he is listed simply as a disabled ex-soldier.

Reflecting his father’s service overseas, Edward Brookman was born in Burma (now Myanmar) in 1915, but at the time of his enlistment was living in Huddersfield. As a boy soldier Edward played a full part in the pre-war regimental life, for example, being part of the Boys’ Football Team in 1932.

Edward is standing, third from left.

Posted to the 1st Battalion, and now a ‘proper’ soldier, Edward went with his unit to France on 4th October 1939 and sat out the winter in positions around Armentières and Metz before returning to the UK on 17th April 1940.  Eight days later, he and his unit left Rosyth for Norway.

The fighting in Norway was confused and poorly co-ordinated. Just getting to the front line was fraught with danger, with constant air attacks breaking up British and Norwegian movements. Lacking even skis, the Green Howards were forced to stick to the roads on the steep valley floors, whilst the Germans who had winter equipment, could use wooded slopes to outflank and drive into Green Howard posts. The British also lacked heavy weapons and air cover.

“With complete command of the air the Germans made full use of adventitious methods of harassing the British troops. These were provided by the natural features of the country. They frequently bombed the tops of mountains along the sides of the valley in order to bring down avalanches upon the troops below….The enemy also made good use of incendiary bombs, setting the forest alight on more than one occasion.” Synge, regimental historian.

The Green Howards made it as far west as Otta and held off enemy forces, but eventually had to fight its way back to embarkation ports such as Aandalsnes.

Edward Brookman was listed as missing on 25 April. This makes it likely he was the first of the regiment’s soldiers to die in battle in The Second World War.  Between 25th and 28th April the Regiment was in action constantly, the conditions made worse by the ‘light nights’ in Norway during April when the sun rose about 0400hrs and did not set until around 2200hrs, giving the enemy plenty of operational time to strike.

Exactly when Edward died is unknown, but his body was found on 11 June and The Commonwealth War Graves Commission note his death as some time between 25th April and 11th June.

Edward lies with 25 other men from the Green Howards, in Nord-Sel Churchyard Cemetery, 300 miles north of Oslo, his headstone is inscribed: I FIND A HOME A RESTING PLACE LORD, IN THY SACRED HEART.

Ernest Harrison

The only Green Howards soldier to spend time as a Prisoner of War at Colditz during the Second World War was a veteran on the Norway campaign.  As museum researcher, Steve Erskine explains, it’s amazing how far you can get if you just keep digging…

“We hold an extensive archive of Prisoner of War records from the Second World War which contain information on the camps in which an individual was held.

Many such records distinguish between camps in which officers were held (Oflag) and those which held other ranks (Stalag) and individual camps are identified by number rather than location.  In the case of Italian camps these are identified by letter and number, such as PG66.

In researching camps in Austria (there are 5 in which some 196 Green Howards were held) we spotted the record for 63689 Lt EGP Harrison, which identified his camp as Oflag IV-C, or Colditz.  Harrison is the only Green Howard we can find who was held there.

Colditz was the camp where those allied prisoners who had made several escape attempts were eventually put together.  The idea being that the design and location of Colditz; four hundred miles from any frontier; outer walls that were seven feet thick and perched on a cliff with a sheer drop of 250ft to the River Mulde below – made it practically escape-proof. Like all good theories, it would be famously put to the test.


Ernest George Peter Harrison was born at Chaddesley Corbett, Wiltshire on 31st March 1913. He was commissioned into the Green Howards on 29th January 1927. He appears in the India General Service Medal Roll as eligible for the clasps for 1936 and 1937-1939.  In the Army List of 1937 he is a 2nd Lt. with effect from 29th January that year then serving with the 2nd Battalion of the Green Howards.

Harrison in 1938

In the regimental history, written by Synge, Ernest is mentioned as being with the 1st Battalion in Norway where, on 28th April 1940 at Otta, “On the east bank of the river light tanks were seen advancing along the road from Kringen in front of ‘Y’ Company at about 1.30pm. As they appeared, the leading tank was knocked out by Lt EG Harrison with an Anti-Tank Rifle and this successfully blocked the road. Lt Harrison was wounded in the early hours of next morning.”

The evacuation of the British forces was confused and in many cases the wounded, including Ernest, had to be left behind in the hope that the Germans would look after them.

Once he had recovered from his wounds, Ernest was first sent to Stalag XXA at Thorn in Poland.  This was also the original camp for Wing-Commander Douglas Bader who, like Lt Harrison, would eventually be moved to Colditz . The camp was spread across a number of late-18th Century forts and, as an officer, Ernest was never destined to stay here for long. He was subsequently transferred to Oflag VIIDD at Tittmoning Castle in Bavaria. This transfer gave Ernest his first chance to escape by jumping from a moving train.

Ernest passed through Oflag VIB at Dȍssel in north-west Germany before, finally, arriving at Oflag IVC, Colditz Castle.

His first attempt to escape from Colditz came on 21st January 1942 when he and five other officers dug a snow tunnel on the canteen roof.  A second attempt on 9th June involved Harrison and five others hiding out in attics above British quarters.  Both attempts presumably were preliminaries to gaining access to other parts of the castle which offered a chance to get beyond the walls. Both attempts were detected by the Germans.  Amongst the group was Captain Pat Reid, who famously made a British ‘Home Run’; a successful escape to neutral Switzerland in October 1942.

In total 16 British Officers escaped from Colditz during the war.  The then Lt Airey Neave had made the first British Home Run from Colditz on 5 January 1942.  Neave later became the Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.  He was killed by an Irish National Liberation Army bomb in 1979.

Ernest’s repeated attempts to escape led to a post-war Mentioned in Despatches (MiD) which was published in the London Gazette on 6th June 1946. He reached the rank of Major and retired in December 1951. He died on 13th April 1969, and was remembered by one who served with him as, ‘….a big amiable man with a very placid temperament who never seemed to get fused about anything…..his enormous height and muscular burliness was bound to attract the nickname ‘Jumbo’ and it suited him admirably.’

Being so big as to be known as ‘Jumbo’ cannot have made escaping through tunnels easy, but his patient temperament would have stood him in good stead.”

a Norwegian Colonel-in-Chief

The connection with Scandinavia dates from 1875. The Danish princess, Alexandra, Queen Victoria’s daughter-in-law and wife of the future Edward VII, presented the regiment with new colours. She designed its cap badge and became the regiment’s first Colonel-in-Chief in 1914.

Following the German invasion of Norway in 1940, Alexandra’s son-in-law, King Haakon VII of Norway, remained with his government and forces until the last Allied troops withdrew from the country.

The Norwegian Royal family sought refuge in the UK during the war, and in 1942 Haakon became the regiment’s Colonel-in-Chief; a ceremonial role with a focus on taking an active interest in the regiment and the well-being of its soldiers. In this hand written note, he refers to the events of 1940 and wishes the regiment, ‘the best of luck in the future’

“That a battalion of the regiment also took part in fighting in Norway only adds to my pleasure of being personally connected with the regiment hereafter.” King Haakon VII.

Read the transcript

I am very proud to have become your Colonel in Chief and I feel still more so as Queen Alexandria was the last Colonel in Chief of the Green Howards.
That a battalion of the Regiment also took part in the fighting in Norway only adds to my pleasure of being personally connected with the Regiment here after.
I wish the Regiment the best of luck for the future.

Haakon VI

campaign medals

There are several medals relating to the Norwegian campaign in the museum’s Medal Room.

Military Medal awarded to Sgt Major Roche.

Sergeant Major FM Roche repeatedly advanced from his post during the Battle of Otta, driving the enemy back with grenades. He was awarded the Military Medal. The bar that you can see on the medal ribbon on the left, shows that Sergeant Major Roche was awarded another Military Medal. This time it was for an attack he made on the enemy in 1944 in Italy.

The Norwegian Cross was awarded to Captain Bulfin for his actions on the 26th April 1940. ‘B’ Company under Captain Bulfin was sent to give to support the York and Lancasters.

Bulfin was wary of what was happening on his flank, and sent a recce mission to ascertain what was going on. Covering the withdrawal of the York and Lancasters, Bulfin was informed that the suspension bridge over the river at Sjoa would be blown at 1am.

Orders were changed and Bulfin’s ‘B’ Company was tasked with covering the withdrawal of forces at Sjoa. For successfully managing this, Bulfin was awarded the Norwegian Cross. During the withdrawal Bulfin also managed to rescue Captain Scrope and Lieutenant Bade who had fallen into the frozen river.

The Norwegian Cross with Sword, awarded to RSM Peacock.Regimental Sergeant Major C Peacock received the Norwegian Cross with Sword, the highest ranking Norwegian gallantry decoration, for his actions during the Battle of Otta.

He supported his men under heavy fire, setting ‘a fine example of coolness and courage.’