Every year, after Liberation Day on May 8, 85-year-old Harald Schram makes a pilgrimage to the site near Oslo's Gardermoen airport where an Allied Short Stirling crashed in May 1945, immediately after the end of the Second World War.
The aircraft was part of Operation Doomsday, when The British 1st Airborne Division was dispatched to Norway to oversee the surrender of the German forces and protect key military and civilian locations. Three of the aircraft crashed as they tried to land.
Part of the hull from the doomed Short Stirling is mounted on the wall of Schram’s garage, next to the crew list, in what he has turned into a private museum.
The crew list of the crashed Short Stirling aircraft. Photo: Heather Farmbrough
The exhibition he has mounted there combines photos and artefacts from the time of Norway's occupation by Nazi Germany, with the models of German and British warplanes he has painstakingly built.
After the war Schram, a former captain in the Norwegian army, helped to bring together the families of those who died in the crash and create a memorial.
Just five-years-old when Germany invaded Norway, Schram shows a photograph taken of him on the day of the Norwegian liberation parade in Oslo on May 8, 1945. He points out his feet.
“I was so proud of my shoes, because they were new, and I never had new things to wear—I always got my brother’s cast-offs. But it rained like hell, and suddenly I looked down and there were bits of my shoes floating away because they were made of paper. I just walked home without any shoes. Nobody cared. We were all so happy.”
Harald Schram in his garage with his daughter Ragnhild. Photo: Heather Farmbrough
Schram remembers the war as both frightening and exciting.
The young boy would cycle up to the airfield at Gardermoen to peer over the wall at the aircraft there. One day, he saw a Stuka and Luftwaffe pilot standing next to it. The pilot saw him and waved him over.
“He lifted me up so I could climb into the cockpit,” recalls Schram. I have never forgotten, when he opened the door, that smell of leather and wood. To be allowed to sit in the airplane, that was heaven.”
Schram never saw the pilot again. “The next day he had gone.”
The incident sparked a passion for military history and aircraft which has lasted all Schram’s life. Today, the model planes he has painstakingly built – including Spitfires, Hurricanes, Lancasters and Messerschmitts – hang from the study of his home in Asker.
Schram’s son Jacob is now CEO of Norwegian Air.
Model airplanes in Harald Schram's study. Photo: Heather Farmbrough
The young Schram soon learned that German soldiers were a good source of sweets for children. A high-ranking officer was stationed at his grandfather’s house. “If you had a big house, you had to have a German officer living with you,” says Schram. His grandfather had put down his own conditions to the German commandant: no women and a curfew at 11 pm, with which the commandant agreed.
The young Schram would go up to his grandfather’s house and stand underneath the officer’s window and call up, “Hast du bonbon?” A sweet would fly out of the window, wrapped in cellophane.
But one day, Schram called up to the window, and there was no officer and no sweets. The officer had broken the rules by bringing a woman home and been dispatched by the commandant to the Eastern front.
Harald Schram, 85, shows the paper shoes he was wearing of the parade celebrating the return of Crown Prince Olav. Photo: Heather Farmbrough
Schram’s own smaller house was the only one in his small street that was not requisitioned for soldiers. “There would be a knock on the door and people would just have to leave in less than 24 hours,” recalls Schram.
At the start of the war, Schram’s father had sold herrings to his neighbours in 100 litre barrels. As requisitioning continued, he decided to ferment them instead, placing the rotten herring at the front of his garage, close to the street.
When the billeting officer arrived, in lederhosen and goggles, he started to salute, but quickly changed his mind and moving smartly away. The Schrams kept their home, but the SS, Hitler’s paramilitary organisation, took the one next door.
Not surprisingly, Schram learned at a very young age how to keep quiet. He also remembers early in the war, when a phone call came to his parents to say that the Gestapo, the Nazi’s political police, had shot the local doctor and would do the same to any Norwegians joining the resistance. He asked his mother if this was really true. Yes, she replied, this is what happens in war.
It was not just adults who could be ruthless. A boy in Schram’s class who had friendly with a Nazi officer one day came to school dressed in a small Nazi uniform. Retribution was swift.
“We buried him in the snow,” Schram says. “And we would have left him there to die, but one of the teachers saw what was happening. By the time the teachers came running out to rescue him, he was blue in the face. The next day he came to school without his Nazi uniform and he never dared wear it again.”
As the war went on, food shortages worsened. Schram shows me a picture of him with a curly tailed pig called Hitler that his family kept outside. Later pigs had to be hidden in the cellar, as the soldiers would take any livestock they found to eat.
Often the neighbours’ pigs would escape. “You’d see a pig running down the main street, and then you’d quietly ask around as to who had lost a pig and return it.”
Harald Schram, his elder brother, and his pig called Hitler. Photo: Heather Farmbrough
Shielded from the worst of the news, when the war ended Schram discovered the worst extent of the Nazi atrocities at home and abroad. The perpetuators were not the friendly soldiers he would ask for sweets.
Yet even as a child, he tacitly recognised that there were good and bad Germans, just as there were good and bad Norwegians. Many of the soldiers he met were only a few years’ older than him, boys from farms and small villages like his own.
The Second World War left a bitter legacy in Norway. As a soldier himself, however, Schram has always believed that the best way to avoid conflict is by making peace.
Over the years, he has befriended a number of German officers and airmen while in the course of his research, while this July, he was due to meet up in Jersey with the first Allied pilot to land in newly liberated Norway, Flight Lieutenant Douglas J Coxell.
The meeting has been postponed because of the pandemic.