Over the past 18 months or so, there have been two articles published in Comment in relation to the World War Two raid in Telemark in Norway in which a number of British Engineers lost their lives, having apparently learned to ski on Ben Lawers.
The first article gives an account of the raid: http://www.gocscotland.org.uk/general-landuse-environment/the-telemark-raid-ben-lawers
1919 CragganestepinesWebThe second article gives some background on Borge Jensen, a Dane who lived at Fearnan for many years and who was apparently involved with the training efforts with his wife, Audrey Fforde: http://www.gocscotland.org.uk/general-landuse-environment/another-casualty-of-the-december-storms
The articles were well read, and encouraged some interesting responses, including from Dr Stuart Allan, the Senior Curator of Military History at the National Museums of Scotland. Stuart spent a considerable amount of time looking through documents relating to this operation, and the information he provided is now likely to be the definitive account of what did or did not happen on Ben Lawers. There is remarkably little on record, but there is enough to throw some light on the situation.
There is an account of the team having been at the aluminium smelter in Fort William for industrial sabotage training, having been previously sent to do winter mountain training in Snowdonia. The smelter would have been very similar to their target in Norway.

Dispersed for Further Training
scotspinebenlawerswebOn returning to Glasgow from Fort William, the team was ‘dispersed for further training’, organised by a Lt Col Henaeker, who was in charge of training the Engineers. It does not say what this further training was.
Prior to this, memos suggest that at the time that there was little snow in Norway, and that there would be no need for ski training. Indeed, under the lists of equipment/ clothes required by the team, skis are not listed, and there is nothing about ski-ing in the operational instructions for escape over the Swedish border after the attack.
However, in a document named ‘Lessons Learned’ from April 1943, it is recorded that there was an unexpected snowfall in Norway, and that at 24 hours notice on 14/15 November, snow shoes were supplied, an instructor found and training for the team provided by the War Office. This is only four days before the raid in which all the men died.
Hand written notes on the file mention a Commando brigade which had been billeted in Killin for ski training the year before. There is no record of where the men went to for their last minute training, and the location would have been dictated by where there was snow at the time.
However, Ben Lawers was known as a training ground and associated with this commando brigade, and if conditions had been suitable there, then there is strong possibility that this is where they went to, almost certainly for training in using Norwegian snow shoes, not skis as such.
There is no record of the men being trained skiers, nor was it anticipated that they needed to be. It would take some time to become competent skiers anyway, with, for example, the Lovat Scouts being trained extensively to ski in Canada for their missions, and others in the Cairngorms.
There is nothing in the record to say that the Telemark training did happen at Ben Lawers, but there was time for it to happen, and a last minute training session at an unknown location was required. This was the further training that took placed under Lt Col Henaeker.
The memories linking the raid with Ben Lawers come from local people, stimulated by the pine trees alongside the Loch Tay road at Cragganester through which the engineers were remembered training.
The trees are pictured above in 1919 and 2012, the former kindly supplied by Andrew Warwick at the National Trust. They are now nearly all gone, but they did give a focus to this story, a very notable chapter in the history of Highland Perthshire, if it is indeed true. The account was passed on by the ex-wife of Borge Jensen, (Audrey Fforde) who was well experienced and located to be the instructor, and she herself reputedly took part as well.

Footnote
As a footnote, I have recently been contacted by Kirstyn Jandt who was brought up along Loch Tay in the 1950’s. She remembered Borge Jensen, and also a small blond haired boy called Knut Jensen, also a skier. She recalls excellent skiing areas up on the mountain, which would be crowded out today if winter skiing facilities existed there for people.
Kirstyn also mentioned Captain Hamish Pelham-Burn, who died in Pitlochry Community Hospital last year, and who also retired to Fearnan, after having a distinguished but highly secret war record, which cannot be reported until 1 January 2019. His Obituary is given in the Courier: http://www.thecourier.co.uk/Community/Obituaries/article/11006/war-hero-captain-hamish-pelham-burn.html.
What a lot of interesting people come to live and retire on Loch Tayside.
Kirstyn is researching the history of Loch Tayside from this time, and if anyone has any information on such interesting characters, she can be contacted on CLOAKING
My own contact details are now 07787 520987 or at CLOAKING and I will, of course, collate any further information that I receive.

Victor Clements
The author works as a woodland adviser in Aberfeldy in Highland Perthshire


 

 

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