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A BEACON OF LIGHT
The Danish Connection
In light of this year’s annual Danish Memorial Service, this blog post explains the history and context of both the service and Newcastle’s active Danish community.
Danish Connection to Newcastle
On 9 April 1940, German Axis forces marched on Demark under Operation Weserübung and declared it occupied. The Danish Merchant Navy, some 6,000 sailors and seamen, were ordered by the Danish government not to return to their home ports.
Having been left stranded, almost half of the Danish Navy found solace in British ports, bolstering the British Navy and bravely committing their service. They were under British protection and sailed under an Allied flag from that point onwards.
In the summer of 1940, Newcastle was declared ‘home of the Danish sailors’ with a Danish Club created for them in the city- providing traditional home-cooked Danish food and space to enjoy home comforts with their countrymen. This club was situated just across the road from the Cathedral, in St Nicholas’ Building.
Almost 4,000 Danish soldiers sailed from the ports of Newcastle and Tyneside between 1940 and 1945; tragically, around one and a half thousand lost their lives. After the war, the Danish Seamen’s Church in Foreign Parts was founded on the Quayside in 1949.
Annual Service of Remembrance
Danish Liberation Day is 5 May and celebrates the announcement of the surrender of German troops in Denmark and Norway on 5 May 1945. An annual service is held, to commemorate the relationship between Newcastle and Demark, and to pay respect to the thousands of Danish sailors who called the city their home during the Second World War.
Organised by the Danish Seamen’s Church and Newcastle’s Danish Community, the service is held at Newcastle Cathedral every year around the beginning of May, traditionally on the nearest Sunday to Danish Liberation Day.
A wreath is laid at the foot of the Danish Seamen’s Memorial in the Cathedral.
Danish Seamen’s Memorial
The Danish Seamen’s Memorial was unveiled in 1982, designed by Cathedral Architect Ronald G. Sims. The memorial is made of Westmorland slate and stainless steel and represents Denmark’s four main islands. The slate is inscribed in Danish but translated reads: “In memory of all the Danish seamen of all ranks who gave their lives in the service of their country in the years 1939-1945”. The memorial stands as a tangible point of memory and reflection for Newcastle’s remaining Danish community now that the Quayside church no longer exists.
Danish Memorial Window
In addition to the Seamen’s Memorial, the Danish Memorial Window was unveiled in October 2002. The window’s design incorporates symbols of Faith and Hope with the crosses and anchors, and a heart representing Charity and Divine Love. Above the main body of the window is the Newcastle coat of arms, together with the coats of arms for the three Danish ports from which most of the sailors came: Kobenhavn, Århus and Marstal.
The window was designed by Mike Davies and incorporates Northumbrian glass with two roundels of Danish glass on the outer edges. Overall, the Danish Memorial Window is a symbol of hope and strength and a celebration of the collaboration between the two nations.
Do visit the Cathedral to see both poignant memorials for yourself. Click here to read about other highlights of the building.