A strange life for Norwegian resistance fighter and navy veteran

Paul Jacobsen, 93, shares his memories from serving in the Second World War.

Paul Jacobsen poses with an award he received from the Norwegian Seamen’s and War Veteran’s Association of Western Canada.

By TYLER ORTON

Black Press

Paul Jacobsen says he’s one of the lucky ones.

Sitting deep on his couch with one foot up on the coffee table, the 93-year-old veteran is at ease talking about his experiences during the Second World War.

“I think I went through the war without any scars,” he says.

The types of scars he’s talking about were left to others he knew such as a merchant sailor reduced to uncontrollable shaking after being torpedoed three times.

But Jacobsen says he never spent time as a young man contemplating the danger he faced as the Nazis ravaged Europe.

An array of wood carving awards and ribbons drapes the wall behind him as the Aldergrove man thumbs through an old photo album. He points to a black and white picture of a freighter.

That’s where it all began.

As a teen Jacobsen hoped to sail the world as a chief engineer in the merchant navy.

Over the next three years, he took jobs on ships whenever possible and occupied himself as a metalworker in months seafaring gigs were scarce.

Just 20 years old in 1939, Jacobsen was serving on a ship in the Gulf of Mexico when Germany invaded Poland. He was promptly conscripted into the Royal Norwegian Navy to serve on a patrol boat built in the previous century.

“To see the Norwegian Navy at that time, it was really outdated,” Jacobsen says with a smile.

That ship cruised along the coast laying mines for the next few months while the country remained neutral.

When the boat docked on land in April 1940, a Norwegian man calling himself The Sheriff greeted the four-man crew by telling them they were prisoners of Germany.

“The skipper just told him, ‘Kiss my ass. We’re going to England,’” Jacobsen recalls.

They left the harbour with enough fuel in the ship to make it across the North Sea, however, the patrol boat ran aground during the evening and sank.

Jacobsen says the four of them convinced a farmer to let them trade their lifeboat for his row boat.

They then spent the next 10 days paddling south in an effort to go home.

During that 300-mile trek down the coast they mostly encountered people confused about what was going on and what the invasion meant. Some didn’t even understand who had attacked them.

Upon reaching Oslo, Jacobsen discovered some of his friends in the army had been taken prisoner and made to sign papers agreeing never to bear arms against Germany.

Still, a Norwegian army lieutenant was organizing underground forces and Jacobsen joined up with a group of soldiers, where he was the sole navy man.

Norwegian commandos began training the men how to demolish heavy machinery and sabotage railway lines in order to disrupt German war efforts. Meanwhile, the underground forces armed themselves with munitions and guns that had been parachuted down to the nearby mountains.

It wasn’t long, however, before London command ordered the resistance fighters to take to the bush and hide when one of their comrades was captured by the Gestapo.

But after a few weeks, seven of the men had enough of hopping from cabin to cabin in the wilderness.

“They said the Germans have forgotten us now,” Jacobsen recalls.

His friends were wrong.

The Nazi secret police immediately rounded up, tortured and executed the resistance fighters upon their arrival home.

Meanwhile, Jacobsen and another member of the underground crossed the border into neutral Sweden to evade their pursuers.

He bided his time for a few months by taking a metalwork class before finding passage on an unarmed cargo plane bound for Scotland.

A postcard sent from Stockholm was the last his family heard from him during the war. Using a fake name and writing obliquely, Jacobsen conveyed to his parents his plans to travel to Britain to join the war effort.

Although he managed to evade the Germans in Norway, his arrival in the U.K. coincided with the Blitz – a sustained air bombing campaign that left much of London and other major British cities in ruins.

“You never knew. All of the sudden there was an explosion and a whole building came down,” Jacobsen says, adding many people took part in seemingly never-ending pub crawls to cope with the ordeal.

Despite the threats he faced, he was still determined to serve in the military.

He went to a training camp north of London, but a British officer quickly realized the former resistance fighter already knew more about guns and explosives than any of his instructors.

Because his grasp of English was so strong, Jacobsen was reassigned to Scotland to take a signal course. It was expected he would re-join the Royal Norwegian Navy as a communications operator.

He then spent about two months unsuccessfully shuffling back and forth between London, Devonport and Liverpool in search of a Norwegian ship in need of a signalman.

“I said to an officer, ‘If you guys don’t send me aboard a boat now, you’ll have to send me back to Scotland (for training). I’m forgetting all the things you taught,’” he says.

His superiors obliged and Jacobsen was assigned to a Bangor-class minesweeper. Stationed just outside Edinburgh, he served on a ship with a double set of officers – one Norwegian for every Brit – and a crew made up of 90 per cent his own countrymen.

Despite literally navigating through minefields each day, Jacobsen says he didn’t think he faced any real danger.

Some of this composure may be attributed to advice from the captain of his old Norwegian mine-laying vessel.

“’He said, “You shouldn’t be (nervous), because in this trade you only do one mistake,’” Jacobson recalls with a laugh.

But he remembers one precarious incident on the minesweeper when they raised the ship’s paravane – a device used to cut a mine’s mooring cables – only to find a live explosive hanging from it.

The second-in-command carefully used a knife and bolt cutters to free the mine from the paravane.

Right before the mine plunged back into the sea, the ship’s captain told the crew to bend their knees in case of an explosion.

Jacobsen later told the commanding officer he didn’t think it mattered whether they stood with straight or bent legs.

“(The captain) said, ‘I know that, but I had to say something.’”

Jacobsen served two years on the minesweeper before making his way home to Norway in December 1945 a few months after the war ended.

Back home he resumed work as a welder before getting married and immigrating to Canada in 1959 along with his wife and two daughters.

Not long after his arrival in Vancouver, he walked into a downtown travel bureau to find a Norwegian newspaper. In it contained a list of Norwegian ships out to sea, one of which was docked just north of Main Street.

He made his way onto the boat to find its captain reading a paper.

“’Paul, is that you?’” Jacobsen remembers hearing.

The captain had lifted his eyes above the broadsheet – it was the skipper from the Norwegian patrol boat. After nearly two decades and a permanent move to another hemisphere, Jacobsen still found himself on a ship with his captain.

And even as the years since the war have gone by, his experiences have not been forgotten. Just last November Jacobsen travelled back to his motherland where King Harald V of Norway presented him with a certificate honouring his service in the navy.

He pauses a bit when trying to summarize his experiences.

“It has been a strange life,” he says simply.

Just Posted

UPDATE: Stars offer four tickets to tonight’s Langley concert to $500 donors

From country music celebrities to NHL alumni, many famous faces hit the links at Redwoods today.

Donors rally to Cancer Drivers

Influx of financial aid ‘perfect timing’ spokesperson says

Date rapist left victims with ‘long-lasting, emotional scars,’ judge says

Klifford Kenyon of Abbotsford sentenced to additional two years in prison

Fire in barn that housed therapy horses has been confirmed an arson

Abbotsford Police Department is now investigating and seeks witnesses

VIDEO: SUV crashes into Langley City tattoo shop

Police closed 203 Street and Fraser Highway on Tuesday morning

VIDEO: Call goes out for B.C. wildfire relief supplies

Chilliwack volunteers hope to load a 53-foot trailer with practical donations before heading into the firezone

Vehicle fire on the Coquihalla

Heavy congestion in north bound lanes

Prime minister greeted by B.C. premier as cabinet retreat begins

PM Justin Trudeau and Premier John Horgan meet in advance of federal cabinet meetings in Nanaimo

Are your kids anxious about going back to school?

BC Children’s Hospital offers tips to help your children be mindful and reduce stress

New trial ordered for James Oler in B.C. child bride case

Meanwhile, appeal court dismisses Emily Blackmore’s appeal of guilty verdict

This trash heap in Vancouver could be yours for $3.9 million

Sitting atop 6,000 square feet, the home was built in 1912, later destroyed by fire

Team Canada’s next game postponed at Little League World Series

They’re back in action on Wednesday against Peurto Rico

Ex-Trump lawyer Cohen pleads guilty in hush-money scheme

Said he and Trump arranged payment to porn star Stormy Daniels and a former Playboy model to influence the election

Former Trump aide Paul Manafort found guilty of eight charges

A mistrial has been declared for the other 10 charges against him

Most Read