The Canadian Viking Battalions

The Canadian Viking Battalions

Left: Captain Endre Johannes Cleven was killed in a car accident before he was albe to take his men to war. Right: Cap badge of the 197th Battalion (Wik.Com.).

When the 99th Battalion was set up in WWII, it was not the first attempt at setting up a “Viking Battalion”. Canada had entered the War in 1914, but still had not introduced conscription, despite the dwindling number of volunteers. In order to boost recruitment among Scandinavians living in Canada, two separate attempts were made at raising battalions from their specific ethnic group, the 197th Battalion, nicknamed “Vikings of Canada” and the

Manitoba was the state which had the highest proportion of Scandinavian immigrants in Canada, and the capitol Winnipeg became the 197th’s basis. Its commanding officer was Lt.Col. Alfonso Gomez Fonseca, a man of Danish-Spanish origin. In February 1916, he recived permission from the Canadian War Department to raise the battalion from Norwegian, Swedish, Danish and Icelandic immigrants living mostly in Western Canada. Their training commenced at Camp Hughes outside Manitoba. One of the other founders of the battalion was Captain Endre Johannes Cleven from Skudneshavn in Rogaland. He had sailed to sea at the age of 14 before emigrating to the United States in 1893, and later moved to Canada where he became a central figure in the Norwegian ex pat community. He was killed in a car accident before the battalion shipped out.

Independent of the 197th, an Icelander named Thomas H. Johnson, acting on behalf of the so-called Scandinavian Committee, was given permission from the Winnipeg state government to raise another Scandinavian battalion. After much squabbling, Danish immigrant Hans O.A. Albrechtsen was given commission as a Lieutenant Colonel and became its commanding officer. He had previously served in the Danish Royal Guard and the Canadian Militia. When Johnson’s attempt was refused by the War Department, the Scandinavian community was in uproar. The 223rd Battalion "Canadian Scandinavians" was finally approved by the Labour Department.

Up until the formation of these two battalions, many Scandinavians living in Canada had a feeling that this was not their war. Also, many fellow Canadians were suspicious of them, either not able to distinguish them from Germans or suspected they harbored pro-German sentiments. Formation of these battalions "did the trick". Also, many had happened upon hard times because of a recession that had hit Canada in the first WWI years. Enlisting became a way out of the misery. The Scandinavian battalions shipped out to England in May 1917. However, maintaining two distinct Scandinavian battalions proved to be too impractical. They were both disbanded and the men transferred to the 11th Reserve Battalion and from there distributed as replacements to other Canadian units.

Sources:

Brandal, Brazier & Teige,De ukjente krigerne.Nordmenn i første verdenskrig.Oslo: Humanist Forlag 2014

Meek, John F. Over the Top! The Canadian Infantry in the First World War. Orangeville, Ont.: The Author, 1971.