NSA Founding and First Decade

NSA Founding and First Decade 

by Dr Sally LK Garden **

The Founding Meeting of the Norwegian Scottish Association was held in Edinburgh in 1966 at Norway House, the retail premisses of Mr Helge Weibye, and a natural focal point for the Norwegian community in the city. There were 18 Founder Members – Norwegians and Scots from different walks of life who shared a common interest in furthering Norwegian-Scottish relations, and who felt that there had long been a need to foster evolving friendships through the auspices of a formal and forward-looking ‘association’.

With the election of office-bearers and completion of initial formalities, The NSA was launched with a highly successful Inaugural Meeting at Leith Town Hall in the spring of 1967. Speeches were given by the first NSA Chairman, Mr Sverre Bjønness, and by the Norwegian Consul General for Scotland, Mr Bjarne Dietz, and a telegram of congratulations read from the Association’s first Honorary President, Lady Mar and Kellie. Special guests were welcomed from the earlier established Scottish Norwegian Society in Glasgow, and a film ‘This is Norway’ made by the Norwegian State Railway was shown. After refreshments consisting of the Norwegian dish lapskaus, served with flatbrød and to the general delight, Norwegian bier, it was concluded, with suitable understatement, that ‘the Norwegian Scottish relationship seemed to develop in a most satisfactory way’.

After this happy social gathering, the fledgling Norwegian Scottish Association settled down to the work of cultural exchange with a First Ordinary Meeting and guest speaker. The speaker on this occasion was Professor Archie Duncan of the University of Glasgow, who gave a lecture entitled ‘The battle of Largs’. Minutes record, with typical Norwegian-Scots humour, that ‘unfortunately, neither Norwegians nor Scots got any reason to become proud having heard the truth about this battle, in which neither King Håkon of Norway, nor King Alexander of Scotland could claim victory’. With this erudite and entertaining evening, the Association embarked on its first programme of events covering history, literature, travel and other topics, varied in such a way as to appeal to both Scottish and Norwegian interests.

With its first season underway, the new Association was soon strengthened by a formal tie with Norway, when King Olav of Norway kindly agreed to become Patron. This was quickly followed by the extension of Honorary Memberships to individuals recognised for their work in furthering Norwegian-Scottish relations. The Association’s first Honorary Membership was extended to Assistant Professor of Chemistry, James Sandilands, in recognition of ‘the help and hospitality he showed the Norwegian students of Heriot-Watt College through many years’.

In 1967, beginning a tradition, the Association’s first 17th May Dinner, celebrating Norway’s ‘Constitution Day’ was a colourful affair with both Norwegian flags and flowers in the country’s colours set on the tables. The Association’s first Christmas Party, held later that year at Leith Town Hall, was described simply as an ‘excellent evening’ with 132 members attending. It was thought to be the first time many Scottish members had experienced a traditional, well-prepared ‘julebord’ or Christmas table and was ‘most enjoyable’. A Burns Supper, the first of a series complete with ‘haggis and neaps’, ‘cheese and bannocks’, pipers, and ‘authorities’ on the poet who could give a good ‘Immortal Memory’, was held, and a Ceilidh thrown in for good measure. The following year, 1968, saw the Association’s first Annual General Meeting at which the Constitution and Rules, drafted by Founder Member Mr Bill McIlwraith, were adopted. At the close of its first and already full season, the NSA could boast no less than 155 members.

In the years following, and in its first decade, the NSA enjoyed contributions from a wide range of speakers and guests, began Norwegian language classes for children, and shared events with both the Scottish Norwegian Society in Glasgow, and with Scottish and Norwegian friends gathered in Dumfries (where Norwegian forces had been stationed during WWII). A talk was given by Norwegian Consul General Bjarne Dietz (NSA Honorary Vice-President) on his personal experiences of Norwegian resistance action during the German occupation of Norway, another by Mr Torbjørn Støverud of the University of London on Norwegian modern music, another on the new North Sea Oil industry, and in 1968, cementing its ties with Norway, the Association raised enough funds to send a wedding gift of Edinburgh crystal – a sherry decanter in Star of Edinburgh design, engraved with the royal emblem and initials, along with 24 glasses – to Crown Prince Harald of Norway and Sonja Haraldsen on the occasion of their wedding. Looking to the local community, charitable donations were made annually to the Scandinavian Church and Norwegian Seaman’s Mission in Leith, and invitations were extended to NORSA, the Norwegian Students Association, to join the social gatherings.

Highlights of the Association’s first lively decade, included trips and car rallies, film evenings, and chance visits from special guests. Outings were made to a series of Sankt Hans Aften bonfire nights – midsummer celebrations held in association with the Scottish Norwegian Society at Dunblane Hydro, Melville Castle and Broughton in Edinburgh itself. Treasure hunt car rallies finishing at Haddington and Penicuik – complete with the promise of prizes and a serving of pølse and stappe – were an early and enjoyable experiment. Visiting choirs and bands from Sarpsborg, Trondheim and Bergen were given a warm welcome as well as the hospitality of individual members. A film showed by Honorary Member, Lieutenant-Commander David Howarth, on the subject of the Shetland Bus – the secret sailings made between Norway and ports in Shetland and the Scottish mainland during WWII – drew a capacity audience, and in 1969, the 17th May celebrations were enlivened by the visit of some 30 officers and men of the Norwegian Army then in Scotland. But the most ambitious event of the Association’s first decade, and an ‘outstanding success’, was a special recital given in the Reid Hall, Edinburgh, by Norwegian pianist and conductor, Ruth Lagesen.

Another step forward came in 1973, when the Association was given permission by Consul Maxwell Harper-Gow to use the Royal Norwegian Consulate premisses at the offices of Christian Salvesen & Co Ltd, East Fettes Avenue, Edinburgh. This gave a special focus to the Association’s meetings, which were now held in the new and distinctive building of Scotland’s most famous Norwegian-founded commercial enterprise. In the same year, the Association received a special bequest of books from the late Mr Anders Tomter, a forestry expert and land reclamation specialist who was also a Founder Member of the Association. The Tomter Bequest, consisting of some 200 books, was housed on long-term loan in a purpose-built bookcase at the Scandinavian Church (Den Skandinaviske Lutherske Kirke, home of the oldest overseas Norwegian Seaman’s Mission) in Leith. In this year too, NSA Chairman Mr William B Mackenzie BSc was presented with the St Olav Medal, and the Lord Provost of Edinburgh (the Right Hon Jack Kane) accepted the NSA Honorary Presidency.

In an early minute of the Association, the Secretary notes with great optimism that: ‘we are beginning to find our footing’. By the end of its first decade, the NSA had most certainly found its ‘footing’ with a steady and varied programme of events, successful social gatherings, gifts, donations, a growing membership and a huge measure of goodwill. Many individuals, both Norwegian and Scots, gave generously of their time to the establishment of the Association in those early years, whether as office bearers or committee members, and it is with gratitude we acknowledge their contribution:

NSA Office Bearers and Committee Members 1966-75

* Founder Member

*Pansy C Erskine, Lady Mar and Kellie – (Founding Honorary President)
*Mr Sverre Bjønness – (Founding Chairman)
*Mr William (Bill) McIlwraith – (Founding Vice-Chairman)
*Mr Carl Christian Gulliksen – (Founding Secretary)
*Mr Halstead – (Founding Treasurer)
Mrs Turid M Barrie – (Secretary)
*Professor William Beattie – (Honorary Vice-President)
Mr Berstad
Mr Catherall
Miss Dick
Consul General of Norway Bjarne Dietz – (Honorary Vice-President)
*Mr G Edward (Eddie) Foote – (Secretary)
Miss Mary Gray
*Mr Kaare Gunstensen
Mr J Hansen-Just
Consul of Norway Mr L Maxwell Harper-Gow – (Honorary Vice-President)
Mrs MJ Hay – (Secretary)
*Mr Gunnar Henni – (Secretary)
*Dr Innes
Mr Joe Jeremiassen
Lord Provost of Edinburgh (the Right Hon Jack Kane) – (Honorary President)
Mr GB Kerr
Mr Laird – (Treasurer)
*Mr William Brotherston McKenzie – (Chairman)
Mrs MacLennan
*Mrs Jorid McQuillan
*Professor Hugh Bryan Nisbet
Miss Ritchie – (Sub-committee)
*Dr William (Bill) Sircus
*Mr DM Slater – (Secretary, Treasurer)
Mrs Tordis S Small – (Vice-Chairman, Secretary)
Mr T Straton – (Treasurer)
Mr R Sutherland – (Treasurer)
*Mr Murdoch Thom – (Treasurer)
*Mr Anders Tomter – (Chairman)
Mrs Norrie Tomter
Miss Olive H Torrance – (Vice-Chairman, Treasurer)
Mrs Eva Tyson
*Mr Helge L Weibye
Mr Williams

NSA Honorary Members 1966-75 

Professor Francis Bull (d1974) – Professor of Norwegian Literature, University of Oslo
Lieutenant-Commander David A Howarth (d1991) – Naval Officer, Boatbuilder and Author
Dr James Sandilands (d1971) – Assistant Professor of Chemistry, Heriot-Watt College

**Article text © Dr Sally LK Garden, Scotland 2011