Danish Winter Emergency, 1939-40

Dad’s memories of Denmark in the unusually cold winter of 1939/40.

I guess I suffered from wanderlust so I looked for another job and found that on a potato farm 15 miles inland.

I began work on the potato farm in the fall, and although I no longer remember the name of the farmer nor the location of the farm, it may have been not far from the village of Kirkeby.

The potatoes had all been harvested and stored in long mounds of about 10 feet wide and 5 to 6 feet high. They were covered with bales of straw and a foot of soil on top of the straw and there were thousands of sacks of potatoes.

The winter hit early and it became bitterly cold and windy with the cold seeping in through the insulation that covered the mounds of potatoes.

As we uncovered the spuds for sorting and delivery we had to break the frozen soil in big chunks that looked like broken rocks. Next we hauled the spuds to the cow barn where the frozen ones thawed out overnight. That allowed us to recognize them and sort them out.

Soon the weather got worse and snow came down in thick clouds covering the mounds and preventing further freezing.

The roads became impassable meaning that trucks could not come to the farm and pick up the produce. We made emergency deliveries with horses and sleighs. I often ran alongside the trotting horses to keep warm.
Dad's painting of a bad winter in Denmark, 1940

War raged in Finland as Russia under Stalin had invaded the country on November 30, 1939. Finland was having that same cold winter as Denmark and it worked against the Russian invaders.

By spring I felt compelled to volunteer to go to Finland and help them out, not to fight but to do the work of the Finns that were drafted. Of course, I had no idea of what kind of work I would be doing there.

I was supposed to leave in late April but on April 9, 1940, Hitler, who had signed a non-aggression pact with Denmark six months earlier, invaded and this time the weather did not work against the invaders as it had in Finland.

In addition, Denmark was almost totally demilitarized making it a cakewalk for the German armies. We had very few soldiers and their equipment was old and often did not function at all.

A soldier who came back from the front told us that the German soldiers had surrounded them, walking around the Danish armoured vehicles as if they were visiting a museum while the Danes were trying to start the ancient diesel engines.

Hundreds of bombers flew over us, day and night, on their way to Norway, where British and French troops had landed at almost the same time at navy in northern Norway. The Norwegians joined the allies but the German Air power was too much and after two months of battle for Norway the Germans succeeded, and both Denmark and Norway were now occupied by the invaders.

At the same time Finland signed a peace treaty with Stalin and turned over large areas of land such as Karelen, bordering on Russia.

I went to Copenhagen to see if there was anything I could do only to be told I was no longer needed. So I went back to the farm and planted seed potatoes for a couple of weeks and then went looking for greener fields.

As I did not have a camera at that time I missed many good opportunities for taking interesting pictures. The only one I have is the watercolour painting of the winter transport with horses and sleighs and that is so much more pleasant than negative pictures of war events. It was a battle with nature and what can be more natural?

6 responses to “Danish Winter Emergency, 1939-40

  1. “Where the frozen ones thawed out overnight”? Did you ever eat or try to eat frozen and thawed out potatoes? They’re really sweet, but not in a nice way. Inedible, really.

      • True enough. I had to eat them, too, because there was nothing else. When I was a child every family bought large quantities of potatoes when they were cheaper in autumn and stored them in the cellar. No food was ever thrown away, horrible or not.

  2. Pingback: Dad’s Paintings | Albatz Travel Adventures·

  3. Pingback: Life on a Farm in Denmark, 1938-39 | Albatz Travel Adventures·

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