They were a long way from home, their country was occupied by Nazi-led Germany, and arriving in Dumfries in June 1940 must have been bewildering for hundreds of Norwegian troops and refugees. 

Instead, as they poured off a train at Dumfries station, their request for directions to where they could find the Norwegian military authorities was met with not the tiniest element of surprise.

  “Oh yes, now then,” was the response one Norwegian soldier later recalled being given from one local. “You can’t miss it.”

The directions were simple: “Walk downwards by Kings Arms Hotel on the left, round the corner and straight down to the bridge over the river, and a short walk up the hill on the other side, you turn left again, he was told.

“Straight down the street you will find Troqueer Mills, and that is where the Norwegians reside’.”

Eighty years ago this month, Dumfries became the unofficial ‘capital’ of Norway as the first of well over 1,000 mainly blonde, blue-eyed exiled Norwegian soldiers and fishermen made the ancient royal burgh their temporary home. 

Within days of the first 300 arriving to set up camp within the red sandstone walls of what where once the largest tweed mills in Dumfries and complete with its remarkable frontage resembling the Doge’s Palace in Venice, the Norwegian army command arrived. 

The distinctive ornate red brick and sandstone building with its towering arched windows overlooking the River Nith – now known simply as Rosefield Mills - would soon become the base of the Norwegian army in exile. 

Over the following months, Dumfries – with its historic links to Vikings - would become a welcoming home to a new generation of Scandinavian rebels who, determined to defy the occupying German government, would spend their time honing skills ready for the day they would reclaim their land.

This year was to have seen commemoratory events to celebrate the landmark anniversary, with hopes to have had a newly restored Rosefield Mills at their heart. 

However, despite being bought two years ago by Dumfries Historic Buildings Trust and with funding from Dumfries and Galloway Council, a charitable trust and the Architectural Heritage Trust to save it from neglect, Rosefield Mills remains untouched, with weeds sprouting from the roof and its grand windows smashed. 

Yet in June 1940, it was a buzz of activity as Norwegian soldiers and fishermen exiled to the town became familiar with their new surroundings. 

There were among 3000 Norwegians who escaped to Britain after Germany’s invasion of their homeland.

Most were soldiers, but others had crossed the North Sea in small boats or whaling vessels, refusing to accept the Vidkun Quisling’s government’s order to return or make their way to German or neutral ports. 

Indeed, among one group of 300 sent to Dumfries on June, 28, 1940, were 250 whalers of the merchant fleet. 

Throughout early summer, hundreds alighted at Dumfries station, sometimes to be met by dignitaries such as the Provost, the Town Clerk or local people with existing links to Norwegian business or family, to be shown the way to the riverside Mills. 

As numbers grew, the building which once roared to the sound of looms creating the finest tweed was transformed into a training camp for displaced Norwegians anxious to join the resistance. 

More than 1,000 were billeted in Rosefield Mills, before larger barracks were built at Carronbridge, north of the town. Within a year, the town’s Scottish Norwegian Society had been formed, and a permanent base named Norway House (Norges Hus) established.

“Many had lost everything but their spirit and will to fight, but they are still free,” observed Norwegian Kristian Jahr, who arrived in 1940 from Capetown where he was in the Guards, and who later made his home in Dumfries and worked as a part-time correspondent for Reuters News Agency. 

“In those days one in five of the population were from Norway,” he said years later in a newspaper interview. “But we never formed into cliques, we mixed with the locals readily just as they welcomed us with open arms.

“Many of the Norwegians were whalers and they were rather flushed,” he added. “The pub-owners and innkeepers were pleased to see them. It was a happy time.”

Similarities between the Norwegian and Doon Hamers’ sense of humour, the landscape and links with the sea forged bonds – and often led to romances between exiles and local girls. 

It’s thought over 200 Norwegian soldiers went on to marry Scots’ women, with some remaining in Dumfries but most setting up home in Norway after the war. 

Meanwhile, the Norwegians, including over 100 women, launched a library, held concerts and language classes and a variety of social gatherings took place. 

One was a football match between the visitors and Queen of the South – slightly one-sided due to nine members of the Norwegian team being Oslo Olympic Games medalists. 

Town clerk James Hutcheon wrote: “I have been told by Norwegian friends that Dumfries reminded many of them of their own towns and countryside, which was now the cause of tremendous anxiety to them in view of Nazi occupation.

“The Nith which runs through Dumfries is tidal. Perhaps our Norwegian friends felt that they were not as yet too far from the sea - the same sea which is ever near them in Norway.”

The soldiers went on to be deployed across Scotland as part of defence forces, including spells at Tain and Callander, while the Army HQ remained in place for five years in its building close to Greyfriars monastery, where Robert the Bruce slayed Comyn. 

As the war drew to an end, a special farewell party was organised in the town for the remaining Norwegians.  

Even now, a wreath-laying ceremony takes place and the Norwegian flag is raised at the town’s Midsteeple to mark the town’s role in Norwegian military history. 

However, events to mark the 80th anniversary of the Norwegians’ arrival have been placed on hold. 

And Rosefield Mills’ future as a centre for arts, community events, exhibitions and markets, appears in limbo after Dumfries Historic Buildings Trust was last year turned down for a Scottish Government regeneration grant. 

According to Katharine Wheeler of The Stove Network, an arts group which has created a website and whale sculpture which highlights the Norwegian links, contact remains strong. 

“We are really interested in keeping the connection going, particularly in contemporary ways.  “We would love a really good trail that the groups of Norwegians who come can follow.  “And we would love to see Rosefield Mills refurbished.”