The big problem with trying to follow Dad’s footsteps in Iceland is that I really had no idea where he had been. I had plenty of pictures of him outside Nissen huts in the snow, with his leg in plaster, on a motorbike etc but usually no clue as to where the snaps were taken. There is precious little about his regimental history in Iceland on the internet. All I had to go on were some of the places (if I could read them) on the back of his photos and hope for some good fortune when we were travelling in Iceland.
I knew he had been to Kleifarvatn as there’s a nice picture of him (front right) and his mates standing in the blueberries on a summer evening at an outside mess. Kleifarvatn is clearly written on the back as you can see and I think the lake’s visible in the back left of the picture.
A quick search in Google Earth and you will find the lake (vatn) just south of Reykjavik. It’s also the subject of one of Arnaldur Indriðasons Icelandic thrillers (The Draining Lake).
More disappointing was his picture of the cargo ship Sonja Maersk aground in Reykjavik bay, February 1941. We went down to Reykjavik harbour and scrutinised the impressive display of shipping disasters, sinkings and runnings aground but there was no mention of the Sonja Maersk.
Things looked up after that. We travelled north and on our way around Hvalfjörður we visited the little war museum on recommendation of the very helpful staff at Tourist Information in Reykjavik. On the wall the owner proudly showed us his copy of the map of World War II British Army operations, marked top secret. Apparently the original is still displayed in the British Ambassador’s office at the Reykjavik embassy. You can just make out in the box to the left of the map that the 49th Infantry and Dad’s battalion (1/6 D.W.R – First Sixth Dukes West Riding) were stationed in South West Iceland around Reykjavik.
On our return to Reykjavik we had the great good fortune to be staying at the cheapest accommodation for the conference (Iceland is an expensive place!). Lo and behold Garður Hotel (Gamli Garður, old dormitory) turns out to be the University of Iceland’s oldest surviving building and the hotel website says it was occupied by the British army from 1940. There’s even a very small picture of a row of Nissen Huts in front of the hotel which you can clearly recognise from my own picture.
Now I could begin to feel some connections. We were staying in a building that Dad had probably been to at some point. It was located just beyond the Iceland’s original airport which the British army had built. Some months after we got home to South Africa I was finally able to piece together exactly where he had stayed but that’s the subject of my next post.