Naracoorte's Norwegian link

ALMOST 70 years have passed, but the links between two families across two generations and thousands of kilometres live on.

As Australians prepare to pay their respects on Anzac Day tomorrow, Norwegian Guttorm Hagen and his wife Brit visited Australia and met with the descendants of former Naracoorte mayor Neil Smith.

Mr Hagen, chief of police in his home town of Orsta, was recounting a story told to him by his late father about a fateful day in the latter stages of WWII.

On December 5, 1944 at Orsta, Norway, the Allies attacked a German shipping convoy hiding in Orsta Fjord.

Leading the attack by 455 squadron, at 2pm on that day, was RAAF Flight Commander Neil Smith.

One of the Allied Beaufighters, piloted by Mildura's Austin Hakewill with navigator Frederick Sides, was hit by flak from a German escort ship during the raid.

In an act of extreme bravery it was reported Hakewill crashed his plane into the escort ship - causing significant damage and casualties to its German crew.

These events were witnessed by a local man, Guttorm's father Sverre - who was just 19 years old at the time.

"My father saw a crew member (Frederick Sides) jump out and he rowed out into the fjord to rescue him," Mr Hagen said.

"He didn't find the man but found his empty parachute."

During that battle two German freighters were sunk and a third ship was destroyed.

After the war Frederick Sides' family went to Norway, and Mr Gagen's to Australia.

They kept in contact and a memorial stone was put in place at Orsta Fjord commemorating the battle.

Each year on May 17, Norway's national day, a memorial service is held at the stone.

Years after the war ended, Mr Smith contacted Guttorm's father and even went to Norway.

On May 17, 2001 he attended the memorial ceremony at Orsta - where information was given to him which eased a burden that had been weighing him down since the day of the attack.

Until then, Mr Smith had believed he had shot down Hakewill and Sides' Beaufighter by accident.

"My father told Neil the fighter had been hit by German flak," Guttorm said.

"This was important for Neil to find out about."

Neil and Sverre became good friends and kept in contact.

Now both are gone, Guttorm and his wife resolved to keep the family link alive,

"We promised Neil we would get to know his family," Brit Humberset Hagen said in Naracoorte on Saturday. "And now we are here."

The Norwegian couple have been in Australia visiting Neil's daughters Katrina Parker (of Edenhope), Fiona Gaston (Maude, New South Wales) and Shellie Peardon (Glenthompson, Victoria) as well as Katrina's daughter Melissa Parker (Melbourne).

Last week they were in Mildura paying tribute to Austin Hakewill before moving on to the SE.

On Saturday they had morning tea at the Naracoorte Aero Club with local Mike Hornabrook and other club members.

Mr Hornabrook also has a link to the Neil Smith story - his uncle served in a RAAF aircrew but unfortunately did not survive. 

Post-war Neil Smith bought the Langkoop farm from Mike's widowed aunt. 

This was adjoining that of Neil's brother Frank, already known to the Hornabrooks, and the friendship between the families has been maintained over the years.

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