There is hardly room for an armchair next to the single bed in Room 30. 102-year-old Oscar Anderson sits in it with a fresh medal around his neck.
This austere nine square meters in a British nursing home became the last stop for Norwegian war sailors for the time being.
But he may have to move to a convoy.
I visit the aging war hero to talk to him about the war. He is possibly the last surviving war sailor in Great Britain. Many war sailors settled in the British Isles when the return to Norway after the war did not go as expected.
Oscar Anderson was actually called Andersen and came from Tjomi in Vestfold. While still a teenager, he went to sea. Then came the war.
He became one of those who carried out some of the most dangerous operations for the Allies during World War II. It is people like him who we can thank for the freedom we have today.
His 102nd birthday in a nursing home
Some voices, young and old, fill the living room of the nursing home: “Happy birthday to Oscar. Happy birthday.” The birthday boy struggles to blow out the candles on the birthday cake. Balloons and Norwegian flags decorate the walls and ceiling.
Oscar has invited me to celebrate his 102nd birthday. We are eight guests in all, including me.
Retired Navy Captain Victor Moleskog. He had the honor of presenting two new medals to the aging war sailor. On the lapel he had three dangles before.
He accepts and feels the new medal. Oscar saw almost nothing. But he is pleased with the appreciation. It wasn’t like this before.
“Norway’s most important contribution to the Allied victory during World War II,” writes the Norwegian Defense Forces of War Sailors today. But the task of transporting fuel, soldiers, weapons, steel and other goods of war importance was not at all harmful.
It was blown up
German submarines in the sea threatened below the ships. Above them were Nazi bombers. Oscar Anderson knows what it’s like to be terrified.
It has been 80 years since his ship was torpedoed en route from Liverpool to New York. He was standing on the bridge and looking on when an accident occurred in the engine room. He realized now and then that his two colleagues from Larvik had died together there.
Oscar had to convince the captain to get into the lifeboat. You saved the life of the captain and the lives of many other people. Ten minutes later, another torpedo sank the damaged ship.
As soon as they got on the lifeboat, someone started shooting at them. They could not start the engine, and the oars stopped. They rowed for their lives. It was the Allies who fired. In the dark of February, they thought the lifeboat was one of 18 German submarines to attack.
After a while they were picked up by a British ship in the convoy. There, Oscar helped save the lives of the crew who shot them. Their ship was also hit by a torpedo. Now they are the ones who came in the lifeboats. A man died in his arms.
14 boats went down that night. 400 sailors lost their lives. Oscar saw people drowning, leaving desperate people in the waves. He lives with the memories.
He asks me if I think it looks “right”. I answer in the affirmative. He remembers details as far back as 80 years ago, and longer than that. He is quick to respond and tells stories with ease.
He asks what he looks like because I just asked him how he was affected by the dramatic events. Many war sailors became mentally ill due to traumatic experiences. Alcohol was a frequently used drug. It didn’t go well with everyone.
Nor did they receive the welcome war heroes deserve. They were distrusted, including Oscar. He says people in Norway thought he had snuck away from the war. He lived abroad in a hurry.
He was not getting the salary he should have been receiving and was struggling to get a job. He had become embittered and wanted nothing to do with Norway.
He returned to Britain. And here he stayed.
Ask for help from Norway
Then Oscar told me something that hurt me. I don’t quite know what to say. He says that now he would rather die. It’s boring in a nursing home. He’s been here for three months. He does not see, he has no one to talk to. “I’m sitting here like an idiot,” he says.
Three months ago, his wife ended up in a wheelchair and could no longer look after him. But sewkehjemsplassen costs a fortune close to NOK 100,000 per month. The municipality only covers expenses for people whose savings are less than NOK 300,000. Oscar and his wife have it.
Oskar’s Norwegian war pension goes to pay the bills, but now his wife is considering selling the items in the house. If she also ends up in a nursing home, the whole house will go up in flames.
There are often cases in the British media about families having to sell their homes to finance nursing home stays. There are many who despair of this system So complex that even people in the healthcare system don’t understand it.
There is considerable debate about the shortcomings of hospice care. Oscar’s wife tried to find other, cheaper alternatives, but she couldn’t.
In desperation, I wrote a letter to NAV. Since Oskar receives a war pension from Norway, she believes he may also be entitled to Norwegian support for his nursing home stay. She is still waiting for an answer.
Norwegian law covers “medical treatment for injury or illness approved as war damage”.
He could end up in a caravan
Meanwhile, the son applies for a caravan in the park. It’s not an ideal home for a nearly 102-year-old blind and 83-year-old wheelchair user, but it’s something they can afford.
Thus, a veteran of Norway, one of those who gave us our freedom, can end his life as a camper.
When Oscar Anderson looks back on his life, there is one thing he regrets: he should have kept the Anderson name. “You have to be who you were born to be.” He wishes he was still a Norwegian citizen. He wants to die as a Norwegian.
But he realizes that will not be the case.
Was with me A little piece of Norway as a birthday present. Norwegian milk chocolate. But now Viktor Molskog decided we could give him something else from Norway, me and him. As the only Norwegian guests present, we cleaned our vocal cords, put all shame aside and sounded – in Norwegian:
“Hello birthday, yes we would like to congratulate you.”
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