Montrose man who cracked Nazi codes during WWII receives Norwegian honour medal

David Oswald has been presented with a medal of honour from the Norwegian Government
David Oswald has been presented with a medal of honour from the Norwegian Government

A Montrose veteran who played an important role in cracking Nazi codes during the Second World War has been honoured by the Norwegian Government.

David Oswald (94) intercepted German radio communications, which the Norwegians say helped to restore the country’s liberty.

Mr Oswald was joined by his family, military dignitaries, the Provost of Angus Helen Oswald and invited guests at Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre on Monday where he was presented with a medal of honour by the Norwegian Government in the same room where he trained as a communications officer.

During the war, he was stationed at Montrose Air Station, formerly known as RAF Montrose.

He was based at one of the area’s listening stations at Kinnaber, which played an important part in the ‘Secret War’ by intercepting German radio communications and sending them to Bletchley Park for decoding.

He received messages from ‘Vera’ - the codename for the Norwegian resistance movement. Radio transmissions written in German and codes were monitored around the clock.

He has been awarded “for your service in helping to restore Norway’s liberty during the Second World War.”

Mr Oswald, who still lives in Montrose, said the Norwegian resistance was a popular subject for Hollywood films, including the ‘Heroes of Telemark’ and ‘Where Eagles Dare.’

He said: “At Kinnaber they were listening purely for enemy signals and I was the only one with experience of transmitters which I had got in this very room.

“The link was given the name of ‘Vera’ but I don’t know if that was her real name or not – I suspect it was just a code name.

“And I maintained the communications at this end for two or three months.

“Gradually all these stations disappeared and there was nobody on the link at all.

“I kept it going for two or three weeks until my contact in England said stand down, because he thought they were all dead.

“There had been a shootout in some graveyard in Norway.”

David Oswald in 1939

David Oswald in 1939

Last year, the Norwegian Government set out to award a Commemorations Medal to members of the Norwegian military, the Merchant Navy and civilians to mark their contributions in the Second World War.

Mr Oswald was informed of the honour in a letter from the Norwegian Embassy on December 7.

He received the medal from Jill Whittick, from the Norwegian Consul, and the Provost of Angus Helen Oswald presented him with a quaich.

The Provost said: “We are not related but I think it is fitting that an Oswald should present David Oswald on this momentous occasion with a quaich from the people of Angus to celebrate and commemorate the work that he did during the war.”

Mr Oswald was in France when the Germans invaded in June 1940 and was lucky to escape capture.

He just missed boarding the Lancastria, a British Cunard liner commandeered by the UK Government for war. She was tasked with bringing British servicemen and nationals home from France.

On June 17, 1940 the Lancastria came under attack from enemy aircraft. She received three direct hits from a German Junkers 88 bomber and within 20 minutes, the 16,243-ton luxury liner sank off the French port of St. Nazaire, taking with her around 4000 men, women and children. Fewer than 2500 people survived.

Mr Oswald boarded a Polish vessel, which took him back to Britain. He was then posted to RAF Montrose and joined the wireless communications section.

Dan Paton, curator at Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre, said: “He walks with the aid of sticks but with great determination makes the journey into Montrose High Street most days.

“He has an amazing memory and a great fund of stories about his career in clandestine operations which he shares with us now that his lips are no longer sealed by the Official Secrets Act.”