Sunday, 7 March 2010

Olai Julius Grønmark: 1908 - 1968

My father, who died when I was 15, was, by any measure, a war hero. He left Norway at 17 (for reasons I won’t go into here, but he was evidently a bit of a lad) and emigrated to Canada, where he worked as a lumberjack and  miner, and ran his own printing company (till his partner ran off with all the money). 

When Norway was invaded by the Germans, he joined up with the  Air Force in Canada (“Little Norway” was the nickname for the place where Norwegian ex-pats signed on) at the ripe old age of 32, and stayed in the military for the rest of his life. 

My brother found this brief biographical entry on Wikipedia earlier today, and has translated it from the original Norwegian:
“Olai Julius Grønmark [born 1908] was a pilot and officer during and after World War II. For his contribution as bomber pilot with the RAF he was honoured with the War Cross with Sword.

Grønmark arrived at Little Norway after he had worked as a miner in Canada. After finishing his flying training he was sent to 129 Squadron RAF before transferring to 332 Squadron in January 1942. He was a "big-grown" man and had problems finding space in the Spitfires that the squadron used and after a while transferred across to bombers. After re-training on 2-engine planes he transferred to 180 Squadron in January 1943 where he flew the North American B-25 Mitchell. After his first combat period of 30 operations he was rested. During this period he was an instructor for new Mitchell pilots. His second "tour of operations" started on 6th June 1944, D-Day. After another 35 operations (20 day and 15 night ops) he was going to be sent for another rest, but was persuaded to embark right away on his third combat tour which consisted of 30 day ops.

In the State Council of January 1945 he was awarded the War Cross with Sword "for his outstanding contribution to the defence of Norway as the leader of a Mitchell bomber in 100 operational flights over strongly defended enemy territory".

Grønmark was also awarded the St. Olavs Medal with Oak Leaves, the War Medal and the War Campaign medal, together with the British Distinguished Flying Cross.

After the war Grønmark was amongst other things the Squadron Leader of 335 Squadron during the period Dec 1946 to Dec 1948. From 1959 he was the Air Attache at the Embassy in London."

A few explanatory notes:

WW2 bomber pilots were fortunate to reach 50 missions without being shot down. My father must have been a talented pilot, or an extraordinarily lucky one, to have managed 100 over occupied territory.

He flew nine Spitfire missions initially  before switching to bombers, but managed to crash two planes during that period. He was just too big. As his squadron leader remarked at the time, “All my other pilots get into their planes. Grønmark puts his on.”

My mother told me that he greatly admired the British crews he flew with. Next to him, they looked like skinny little kids, but their courage astonished him.

I never heard him mention the war. Not once. 

1 comment:

  1. Hello. I wrote most of that article on the wikipedia, based on sources I found scattered around my bookshelf. The article came about because wikipedia in Norwegian was building up a suite of articles about the War Cross and its receipients.
    It seems your brother did a fair translation of it, but got it wrong on one point: Olai wasn't talked into doing a third tour, it was quite the opposite; he didn't want a rest periode. About your blog post about your father's first posting to either "Bodø or Tromsø or something else with an ø"; his first posting in Norway after the war was as station commander at Bardufoss. His last was at Ørland (there's the ø :) ) Got some books with photos (and some stories) I could scan for you if wanted. Vennlig hilsen Pål
    Tuesday, July 12, 2011 - 07:07 PM