Today I had the great honour of meeting Per Waaler, one of the last remaining Norwegian fighter pilots of WWII. At 94, his mobility is a bit reduced, but he still possesses excellent eyesight and hearing, and walks quite briskly with a cane or a crutch to support him.
He was one of only six or seven pilots to make it into the air on the morning of April 9th, 1940, flying Gloster Gladiators, when the Luftwaffe came roaring in. He flew in a flight of five, led by Rolf Tradin. As they spotted the Heinkel 111s, Do-17s and Ju-88s, Tradin radioed "We attack! Every man for himself!", and they each went for separate targets. These men were flying inferior Gladiators, greatly outnumbered, and yet they didn't hesitate an instant. The first-ever aerial combat over Norway was rather lopsided, but the Gladiators gave as good as they got, with Waaler claiming one destroyed, probably a Bf110. When he landed to re-arm his Gladiator was shot up by a strafing 110. Waaler barely managed to jump clear. "We should have gotten more of them!" he said.
Later in the war he served as an instructor at Little Norway in Canada, training Norwegian pilots. After recovering from an accident in which a student stalled his plane on landing, he volunteered for Bomber Command, as by now (1943) the tide was turning, and he felt he could be of more use as a bomber pilot on the offensive. On May 24, 1943 he was flying his last ride as "second dickie" before qualifying as a Halifax captain, when the plane he was in was attacked by a Ju-88 over Dortmund, and shot down. Waaler and three others survived, but the remaining four crew members died.
He spent five days on the run, but was eventually captured, and spent the rest of the war in Stalag Luft III, helping with The Great Escape, but not actually escaping himself. Interestingly, two of the three that got away were Norwegians.
I asked him if he knew of the horrific loss rates suffered by Bomber Command crews when he volunteered.
He simply nodded his head. He still volunteered.
I am in awe. I have met, shaken hands with and talked to a true hero.
One of the Tiger Moths we keep at Kjeller is the actual plane in which he did much of his flight training in 1937-39! He flew in it again on April 9th 2010, on the 70th anniversary of the invasion of Norway. Here he is on the left, with another hero: Lt. Gen (ret.) Wilhelm Mohr, 93, former Chief of the Royal Norwegian Air Force, Spitfire pilot and former commander of 332 (Norwegian) Sqdn. at North Weald.