Operation Freshman was the codename given to the attack on a heavy water plant at Telemark in Norway in November 1942.
A small airborne force from the UK was tasked with destroying the plant thus delaying Hitler’s ability to manufacture atomic weapons.
For anyone who is familiar with the 1966 film, ‘The Heroes of the Telemark’, that particular motion picture told the story of the local Norwegian resistance and their involvement in successfully sabotaging the plant in 1943 just three months after Operation Freshman.
On the evening of 19th November 1942, Lieutenant Allen was the officer in charge as four aircraft –two Horsa gliders attached to two Halifax bombers – took off from the town of Wick on the Scottish coast.
Beset by technical issues and problems with thick deposits of ice on their flight over the North Sea, both gliders crashed before they could reach their destination.
Allen’s glider crashed in a placed called Helleland despite an attempt to return to Wick after a failed attempt to locate the landing site in Vermork.
Fourteen of the 17 on board survived the crash but were unable to evade capture by Wermacht troops.
After thorough interrogation, Allen and 13 other were executed at Slettebø outside of Egersund, in accordance with Hitler’s ‘Commando Order’, before being buried later at a local churchyard in Stavanger.
The mission was so covert that details were kept classified from the soldiers’ families until years later.
Allen’s parents endeavoured to discover what had happened to their missing son for three years until February 1946 when the War Office informed them about Alec’s grave in Eiganes.
Christopher Dale, whose uncle, Gerald Williams was the youngest person on the raid, got in touch with the News & Record to tell us how Aston Villa came to help the Allens find their son’s final resting place.
His own family come from Doncaster but very kindly helped us to discover more about Alexander Allen and his story.
In May 1946, an Aston Villa squad boarded a ship bound for Oslo, where they were due to play three games as part of a tour to Norway.
As well as their games programme, the claret and blues were tasked with a mission to visit Alec’s grave and bring back details of their son’s death.
They took photographs of the cemetery for the Allens and took part in a ceremony of respect alongside the Norwegian Sports Association and wreaths were also placed on Alec’s grave.
A film of the visit was also made.
According to a recent book Silent Heroes: Operation Freshman and Others, the Allens would have to wait nearly a year to hear the official account of what had happened to their son from the War Office, having been informed of what had happened by officials from Aston Villa.
Ion Drew, one of the contributors to the book and a professor in the Department of Cultural Studies and Languages at the University of Stavanager adds: “There will be a commemorative service at the execution spot in Slettebø on 19 November. The Duke of Kent, the president of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, visited the graves on 24th October and a special service was held on the occasion.”
In archive material which chronicles Villa’s tour to Norway in 1946, we could not find any reference to what the travelling party did for the Allen family.
But thanks to Christopher and Ion, at this time of year, we can now remember Alexander Allen and all those who died on that raid.
Rest In Peace.