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Head silhouette

In the Denmark of 1939 every man had to serve in the armed forces as a conscript and a young student friend was serving his term at the time when we were all completing our apprenticeship in horticulture at "Staten's Væksthus Forsög" (National Glasshouse Experimental Station). I was the only non Dane on the course and since all examinations were in Danish a thorough knowledge of the language was essential. I had previously worked in Holland and completely forgot my Dutch in the process. The two languages were not too difficult to learn but each of them had sounds that made them difficult when not learned in childhood. A trick phrase was the name of a delicious red fruit jelly with cream (Rödgröd med Flöd). Danes collapsed in laughter as foreigners tried to pronounce the words and as time progressed my efforts caused less and less hilarity.

I had been in the country since the December of 1938 and could express myself fairly well and a debate took place between our colleagues the subject of which was whether or not I could spend a day in the famous amusement park "Tivoli" in Copenhagen in soldier's uniform with out being discovered. The main difficulty of course being the pronunciation. This was the nub of the problem. It was decided to put it to the test.

The young chap whose uniform I was to wear came along together with two others, one for and one against the motion. Tivoli is a remarkable place with several theatres with a constant display of ballet, plays, musical shows etc. In fact all the fun of a highly cultured fair. Those who had taste for humour of the "Kiss Me Quick" & Blackpool sort could be 'fully catered for' at Dyrhavsbakken (The Deer Park) just to the north of the city.

It all went very well and we spent most of the day there, behaving as would be expected of youthful exuberance, the fact that one of us was in uniform did not raise an eyebrow. One of the numerous side shows was a little man in a booth who, wielding a pair of scissors cut out his customer's silhouette from black paper and stuck it on a postcard sized piece of card. I have forgotten the charge, probably no more that a few kronor at that time. This was to be produced as proof of the deed and was signed on the back by the owner of the uniform, Jacob Jacobsen and the two attestors, Axel Åge Larsen and Knud Rasmussen.

Reverse of silhouette pic

One of the great advantages of being in uniform was enjoying the great sympathy of 'fellow Danes' for conscripted men and a generous discount on everything at Tivoli. I offered Jacob the money I had saved but he refused and a good time was had by all. Jacob left me a uniform to use if the opportunity occurred and I did not try again for a couple of months but then got into the habit of wearing it in Copenhagen at weekends. Not only was it good fun but I was not exactly flush with funds and was able to enjoy more varied things than I had before.

I lived at Virum near the Royal Summer Home of Kongens Lyngby which was conveniently close to the military barracks. The trains gave excellent service, The S Tog, looking similar to the London underground rolling stock. One night I had missed my usual train which left only the last train of the night. As I cautiously approached the platform my heart sank. There were two Military Policemen standing by the ticket collector. Things looked bad. It would not be a happy sight for a Danish soldier, but here I was, a foreigner and in the uniform of a Danish Private.

I was gloomily surveying the scene from behind a pile of boxes when a sudden "Pphit!!" almost made me jump out of my skin. A porter was beckoning me from another stack of boxes. I went to him and placing his finger to his lips he took my arm and led me to the gate of another platform which he opened with his key. I can remember the squeak as it went back on it's runners. He took my other arm to put himself between me and the platform that I was trying to enter. We walked about two thirds of the length of the empty train. He opened the door, pushed me through the carriage, opened the door and then the door of my train. I was confronted by the surprised faces of the passengers. Turned to thank him but he was gone with a wink and a raised thumb.

My fellow travellers were obviously aware that he had helped me past the waiting police and enjoyed the joke. In a country where there is conscription there is an instinctive sympathy for those undergoing their servitude. I had not realised the strength of that feeling. I put my finger to my lips and pretended to sleep but was fully aware that my fun in that direction was getting dangerous.

I did not do it again but when Jacob offered to show me the latest machine gun I happily went along. Walking into the barracks was no problem as there were many men in mufti. He took me into a workroom, put on his 'kaserne jakke' (barrack jacket) and handed me one which I put on. It was a white cotton overall coat and we sat down. He brought in the latest Madsen's Rekylgevær (Madsen's Recoil Machine Gun) and proceeded to explain it to me. It was a remarkably simple weapon and so designed that the breech mechanism could be easily removed and kept in the pocket. We were congratulated on our diligence by a passing officer but after this I felt that I had pushed my luck far enough in case he wanted my name for possible promotion.

It was, after all, late 1939!

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Edward Sparkes ©1998