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Tryggve Gran: Norwegian Adventurer Convicted of Treason

The complex life of ‘born adventurer’, polar explorer, World War I air ace, and sentenced for treason in 1948, Tryggve Gran, was covered by Robert Foden in his illustrated online talk for the Orkney Aviation Festival.

The talks by The Orkney Aviation Festival had to be postponed due to the death of the late Queen Elizabeth but they are now available to watch on the Orkney International Science Festival YouTube channel.

In ‘You ought to take a Norwegian to show you’, Robert Foden recounted the extraordinary life of Trygge Gran.

National Library of Norway, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Trygge Gran was born on 20th January 1888 in Bergen Norway into a rich shipping family. In 1900 he was sent to school in Switzerland where he learned to speak German and French.

Gran progressed through naval school and graduated in 1910. This was a time of the great Norwegian explorers especially Fridjof Nansen who introduced the young Gran to the British explorer Robert Scott in 1910. Scott was already planning his expedition to reach the South Pole and Nansen recommended Gran to him as a ski instructor.

The British Antarctic Expedition, led by Scott, landed at Cape Evans in 1911 with Gran the only Norwegian in the party. His diary, with passages read out in Robert Foden’s presentation, describes the way Gran felt about being in a British expedition when the Norwegian Roald Amundsen was racing to the South Pole ahead of them.

Gran was part of the search party which eventually found the bodies of Scott and his companions frozen to death in their tent having reached the Pole after Amundsen. Gran travelled back to base camp using Scott’s skis.

Trygge Gran was awarded the Polar Medal by King George V.

The next stop for any adventurer was in the rapidly developing technology of flight. Trained at the Bleriot Flight School in Paris, Gran was the first person to successfully cross the North Sea on 30th of July 1914 from Cruden Bay, Scotland to  Jæren, near Stavanger, Norway, in a time of 4 hours and 10 minutes. The weather was so poor that for most of the flight he was only 100 feet above the sea.

As we know, in 1914 war broke out which was to envelop the world. Norway was neutral but Gran joined the Royal Flying Corps under the alias of Teddy Grant, a Canadian, as part of 39th Squadron. Gran was at this time a member of the Norwegian Flying Corps. His real identity was revealed and after resigning from the Norwegian service he rejoined the Royal Flying Corps under his real name. His exploits as an air ace included a ‘dog fight’ with German ace ‘Hermann Goering’, which he found out after the war when the two became friends.

For his courage during World War I, Trygge Gran was awarded the Military Cross.

Gran’s adventurous life continued after the war including being a member of the 1928 search party looking for Amundsen. Amundsen disappeared on 18 June 1928 while flying on a rescue mission for  aeronautical engineer Umberto Nobile in the Arctic. The search for Amundsen and team was called off in September 1928 by the Norwegian government, and the bodies were never found.

On 9th of April 1940, the independent nation of Norway was invaded by Nazi Germany. This is covered in the excellent film, The King’s Choice. Gran was a member of  Norway’s fascist party, the Nasjonal Samling, which was set up in a Quisling Government by the Nazis. After the war, trials were held and Gran was convicted of treason in 1948 for which he served an 18 month prison sentence.

Gran went on to write about his adventures and give lecture tours. In 1971 a memorial to his flight across the North Sea was unveiled in Cruden Bay. He died on 8th of January 1980, aged 91.

This fascinating talk by Robert Foden was done in his usual informative and entertaining way. Here is a link:

Fiona Grahame