We rarely hear about the work of the spy or the saboteur in times of war. These are the Heroes who work behind enemy lines, with little to protect them but their own guts and cleverness. We rarely know their names and yet, there are times when the lives of millions hang in the balance.
One such was Iacob Sømme, a Norwegian who was caught, tortured and executed by the Gestapo, for his role in sabotaging the Nazi heavy water plant in Telemark, in 1943.
But for the work of men such as this, we are left only to imagine a world in which the Nazi Swastika was painted on the sides of “Little boy” and “Fat Man”. We may thank the likes of Iacob Sømme that such a world remains merely one of nightmare imagination.
Another such man was Iacob’s brother Sven, born this day, November 19, 1904.
Like his brother, Sven Sømme joined the Norwegian Resistance to fight the Nazis who had occupied his country since 1940. A scientist and fisheries officer, Somme joined the Resistance. He would photograph strategic German military bases using a miniature camera, sending covert maps, photographs and intelligence reports to the Allies hidden under the postage stamps, on letters.
In 1944, guards saw the sun glint off a camera’s lens, and came running. Sømme had been caught, taking pictures of a German U-boat base on Otteroy island. Sven tried hiding the tiny camera under a rock, but the Germans quickly found it. He was put in cuffs.
The penalty for what he was doing, was the firing squad. He would be lucky not to be tortured to death.
That night, Sømme managed to slip his handcuffs and creep past his sleeping guard. What followed was a nightmare race to freedom. A relentless hunt two months in duration, across 200 miles of snow covered mountains.
The Norwegian had barely an hour’s head start. The Nazis couldn’t let this man escape. He knew too much. Pursued by 900 troops and a pack of bloodhounds, Sømme worked his way through icy streams and across ravines moving ever higher, into the mountains.
He wore a pair of beat up dress shoes and certainly would have succumbed to frostbite in the mountains, had he not been taken in for a time by a friendly family. He couldn’t stay for long, but the family’s 19-year-old son Andre gave him the pair of mountain boots.
Sømme would wade through icy streams to avoid leaving tracks in the snow, or leap from one tree to another, a game he‘d once learned, as a kid. He trekked 200 miles through the mountains in this manner dodging bears and wolves. That baying horde was never far from his heels.
At last he made it to neutral Sweden, where he was taken to England. There he met the exiled King of Norway, and the woman who would one day become his wife and mother of his three daughters, an English woman named Primrose.
Sven Sømme passed away in 1961 following a battle with cancer. Primrose died not long after. It was only in going through her things after she passed, that the three girls discovered their father’s history. The photographs, the letters, even an arrest warrant, written out in German and Norwegian.
Sømme had written a memoir about his escape. He called it “Another Man’s Shoes”. In 2004, his daughters used the book to retrace their father’s epic flight across the mountains. They even met the family who had sheltered him and, to their amazement, they still had his old shoes. The book is still in print as far as I know. It has a forward by his daughter Ellie, describing their emotional meeting with the family who had sheltered her father.
It must be one hell of a story.