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The WW2 commander whose secret mission put the first Norwegian Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square


Rob Thompson
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The WW2 commander whose secret mission put the first Norwegian Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square

How British hero delivered radios to Nazi-occupied nation in 1943 then sneaked home spruces... sparking annual tradition that lasts to this day

Source - The Mail Online

By -  HARRY HOWARD, HISTORY CORRESPONDENT FOR MAILONLINE

Date - 28-07-2021

Lieutenant Donald Buller led secret mission to Norwegian island of Batalden
Crew were given several Christmas trees to take back with them in late 1943
One given to exiled Norwegian king, while another was put in Trafalgar Square
Every year since 1947, a tree has been given to the UK by Norway  

A World War Two hero led a secret mission to a Norwegian island which saw him return with Christmas Trees given as gifts to the British Government - sparking an annual tradition which continues to this day.  

45998853-9834737-image-a-67_162747669978 

Lieutenant Donald Buller evaded German detection to deliver radio equipment to Allied agents on the heavily-patrolled Norwegian island of Batalden in late 1943. Nazi Germany had occupied Norway following their invasion in April 1940.  

After lying under camouflaged nets for 24 hours, his Motor Torpedo Boat returned to Britain with several festive trees lashed to its deck. 

These were gifts from the Norwegian resistance to the British Government as a token of gratitude for the UK's support during the war. Whilst one was put up in Trafalgar Square, another was given to the exiled Norwegian King, Haakon VII, who was living in the UK.  The move sparked a tradition which has seen a gifted Christmas tree from Norway put up in Trafalgar Square every year since 1947.  

Later in World War Two, Lieutenant Buller destroyed four enemy vessels off the Dutch coast in one outing, earning a Distinguished Service Cross for his exploits. His medals are now being sold at auction.  

Lieutenant Buller's luck turned when his vessel was destroyed and sunk by a shell in a ferocious firefight in July 1944. He was pulled out of the water by an enemy trawler and spent the rest of the conflict as a Prisoner of War at Marlag PoW camp, in north-west Germany. Whilst interned, he survived a dreaded forced march to Lubeck, northern Germany, in early 1945 in freezing conditions. 

His medals are tipped to fetch £3,200 when they go under the hammer with auctioneers Spink & Son, of London.
They have been consigned from the family of Chief Gunner Peter Kirk, another member of the Coastal Forces during World War Two. He was a keen collector who acquired medals from his comrades.

Marcus Budgen, head of the medals department, said: 'The awards of Lieutenant-Commander Buller give a rare insight into the remarkable actions of Coastal Forces - "The Spitfires of the Sea" - and shed light on their hair-raising exploits.

'His participation in secret operations in the Nordics is magnificent and his sheer grit and bravery should be reflected in a strong price when they are offered.' 

The tree is cut down in November in a ceremony that is attended by the British Ambassador to Norway, along with the Mayor of Oslo and Mayor of Westminster. 
 

45998857-9834737-image-a-72_162747750887
After being cut down, the tree is shipped to the UK by boat. Above: The tree in 1948 

A gifted Christmas tree has been put up in Trafalgar Square every year since 1947. 

Lieutenant Buller, the son of a wealthy jewellery merchant and female aviator pioneer, was born in London in 1907. The keen yachtsman joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and was called up in December 1939.

One of the trees was given to the exiled Norwegian King, Haakon VII, who was living in the UK    +9
One of the trees was given to the exiled Norwegian King, Haakon VII, who was living in the UK

He commanded a harbour defence patrol vessel from March 1940 to May 1941 and then a motor launch in an anti-submarine flotilla in West Africa.

In late 1943, Lieutenant Buller took command of the M.T.B 666 and carried out a clandestine one-boat operation landing fuel and radio equipment to agents, bringing back 10 refugees.

On another occasion, they returned with the Christmas trees. Whilst one of the trees was put in Trafalgar Square, it was not until 1947 that a tree was given every year by the Norwegian government.

In February 1944, Lieutenant Buller's vessel's keel blew off in a gale and it began to flood, forcing him to order his men to throw ammunition overboard to fire their torpedoes to lighten the boat.

Somehow, they made it back to their base in the Shetland Islands, with the journey taking 24 hours longer than normal.

The M.T.B 666 moved down to Lowestoft, Suffolk, in March 1944 and began patrols off the Dutch coast.

On the night of June 9, they fought a major action against four armed trawlers off Egmond, on the Dutch North Sea coast, with four out of the six torpedoes they fired finding their mark.

However, during a patrol on July 4, they were attacked by a swarm of enemy vessels, prompting Lieutenant Buller to relay the message: 'I'm in a bad way, with all engines disabled.

'I've lost some men over the side and am preparing to abandon ship.

'I've destroyed the code books. I've got one of the blighters snooping around my stern, and another steaming up on the starboard side.'

The remains of the ship were towed by the enemy and berthed in an E-boat bunker at Ymuiden, on the Dutch coast.

Fourteen of Lieutenant Buller's crew were wounded in the attack, and two killed.  

In the forced march to Lubeck, thousands of Allied PoWs died as a result of exhaustion, starvation or being shot for not keeping up with the relentless pace.Upon his liberation at the end of the war, Lieutenant Buller remained in the Navy until  1963, while also working on the Stock Exchange.

He died aged 86 in 1993. His medal group consists of a Distinguished Service Cross; 1939-45 Star; Atlantic Star; Africa Star; Defence and War Medals 1939-45. The Trafalgar Square Christmas tree is normally a 50 to 60-year-old Norway spruce that is more than 60ft tall 

The tree is cut down in November in a ceremony that is attended by the British Ambassador to Norway, along with the Mayor of Oslo and Mayor of Westminster 

After being cut down, the tree is shipped to the UK by boat before being put up in Central London. 

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Great story! Thanks for sharing.

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14 minutes ago, Black River Santa said:

Great story! Thanks for sharing.

You are welcome, if it hadn't come up as a news story re the sale of his medals, I wouldn't have been aware of the back story to the Trafalgar Sq Tree.

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1 hour ago, Rob Thompson said:

You are welcome, if it hadn't come up as a news story re the sale of his medals, I wouldn't have been aware of the back story to the Trafalgar Sq Tree.

I had known about the tradition of Norway gifting a tree each year but not the full story. Would make a great movie!

 

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