WORK on a memorial to honour more than 500 Norwegian refugees who made East Renfrewshire their home during the Second World War is now underway.

The Neilston War Memorial Association (NWMA) had to put its plans to complete the project on hold four months ago as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

However, with lockdown restrictions now being eased, builders have been able to get on site at the village’s Kingston Park.

Barrhead News:

The memorial garden will feature 27 Norwegian birch trees, planted to remember the 27 Americans who courageously sacrificed their lives to save refugees on their ship – the SS Henry Bacon – in 1945.

Barrhead News:

There will also be two benches and a memorial lectern.

The civilian refugees, from the island of Soroya, were evacuated in February 1945 by the Norwegian Military Services and the British Royal Navy.

Mostly children, women and the infirm, they had been forced to flee their war-ravaged homes when Soroya was besieged by Nazi forces.

They were transported to Scotland in a convoy of 38 merchant ships, accompanied by the Henry Bacon.

However, it was far from plain sailing.

Leaving Russian waters, the Henry Bacon suffered engine trouble and was subsequently attacked by 23 Luftwaffe bombers as it struggled to catch up with the rest of the convoy.

As a result, the boat was sunk and many of the crew sacrificed their lives to save the civilians, all of whom were rescued.

Not only did all of the refugees make it to Greenock alive, their number grew along the way when one woman gave birth to a baby boy during the journey.

They were taken to the Kingston Camp, in Doublehedges Road, where they stayed until September that year.

Barrhead News:

Built on ground that is now the Kingston Estate, several Nissen huts had been quickly assembled for use by evacuees from Glasgow but, instead, these became a safe haven for the refugees.

Matt Drennan, secretary of NWMA, told the Barrhead News: “Coronavirus delayed our plans for the installation of the memorial in April and, sadly, the visit of 30 Norwegian friends to Neilston was cancelled.

“But we are happy to announce that we met with the builders at Kingston Park last week and, under the direction of our architect, Alan Hickey, the work in the park has started.

“Two bespoke memorial benches will be a pictorial of the rescue of over 500 Norwegians and the RA64 convoy that delivered the refugees to the Kingston Camp.

“The benches are stunning and a representative of such a bold and daring historic rescue.”

Matt has also thanked all those who have supported the plans for the memorial garden.

He added: “We will endeavour to get this project complete as soon as possible.”