Once I got back home to South Africa there were still a few puzzles about Dad’s time in Iceland that were left to be solved. They have nagged at me for quite a while and it’s only now I’ve resolved them that I have been able to put these posts together. The first one: where was Dad’s band playing?
Our Icelandic friend Guðrún Gísladóttir told us that there were very few buildings of that size in Reykjavik at that date so surely I could find it ….. and after all Dad had written the name of the place on the back of the picture. Try deciphering that handwriting!
I spent a lot of time searching the internet doing variations of the name with no success until I got a bit of inspiration. Perhaps the end of the word spelt ’skollin’ – I know that skola is school in Swedish so maybe it was a school? Wikipedia quickly solved the problem – there was a school called Austurbæjarskóli in Reykjavik and I soon found it in Google Earth. It was old enough and I could see from Google Earth’s street view that the outside of the building looked right. What’s more there were pictures of the playground in Flickr and it’s easy to see it’s the right place.
So now I knew where the band was playing: the school was just outside the city centre a couple of kilometres away from the hotel we had stayed in and also near the old airport. It was late one evening a week or so after this that I stumbled across some old paintings and sketches by war artists kept in the Imperial War Museum website. I was looking for life in Nissen huts in Iceland when Dad was there. These two are from October 1940 and they give a good impression of conditions in the barracks and canteens.
Then I hit the jackpot because there were also two colour pictures of Skipton Camp, Reykjavik. I was thrilled – after all his regiment was based in Skipton so surely this must be the camp that he had helped to build and then stayed in?
The last part of the puzzle dropped into place when I tracked down a description of Iceland’s Second World War military camps in the Árni Magnússon Institute website. There is a really clear aerial view of Camp Skipton (and Camp Bingley, Camp Keighley, Camp Harrogate ….). It’s the untidy collection of Nissen huts right next to Austurbæjarskóli (which is the large building at the top of the picture).
After the war the camp must have been cleared when the striking Hallgrímskirkja was built there. Here’s a photo of it from our hotel window. What’s more we had walked over to the church and right around that area like so many other tourists. There won’t have been many, however, who were walking in their father’s footsteps.