When Danes were joining the British Army in great numbers

Peter Lyderik

Hyper Active Member
Danes in the British Army 1945-48


In september 4th, 1945, a recruiting office opened in Vesterport, Copenhagen. Outside were a long queue of about a thousand young Danes, between 18 & 32. The war with Germany was over, as with Japan. The Danes were applying for enlistment in the british army, with the object of making it possible to demobilize british soldiers earlier than the postwar duites in the Empire otherwise would allow. This was the result of an offer by the Danes, followed by a formal request from the british government.

More than 20.000 danes asked for application forms, more than half sent them in. Less than 2500 applications were approved. They came to serve in India, Palestine, Kenya, Sudan, Suez, Italy, Greece, Libya, The Gold Coast, Bermuda and other places the army sent them. They served in about 72 different locations, spread over 42 regiments. Among them The Buffs, Gloucesters, Paras, Bedfords & Herts, Lancashire Fusiliers, RA, AS& H, KSLI, SWB, RASC, Seaforths, Inniskillings, West Kents. Some never came home, their service ended by accidents or hostile attacks. They undertook to serve for three years, and the transports began in the winter of 1945/46 (Train from Denmark to the Hook of Holland, then ferry to the UK).

Danes at War in the British Army of 1945-1948


During the summer of 1945 the new Danish government following the liberation was busy making new laws which retroactively made it punishable for Danish citizens to have served in armies of other nations in particular that of Germany as well as having profiteered from wartime trading with Germany during the occupation but they also passed a very different type of legislation allowing Danes to be recruited into the British army. Instead of 1 year national service Danes could now volunteer for with the British for a minimum of 3 years or until the current state of emergency was revoked. However recruiting did not open until September 3rd 1945 after Japan had officially surrendered.

While the intial proposal was supposed to give Denmark a chance to fight on allied side, it did not materialise with the end of hostilities, so why was the official Denmark willing to agree to such an arrangement which sent Danish men to fight for a forreign power for an undefined duration?
There was a feeling that Denmark had not contributed as much to the allied cause as other nations

There was as a political wish to demonstrate that Denmark truly were one of the allied nations despite having initially collaborated (if under severe pressure) with the Germans

To strengthen Danish-British diplomatic bonds as well as gaining international good-will

Great Britain still needed soldiers for policing actions and this was a way to show gratitude by replacing war-weary British troops and speed up demobilization

Furthermore a hidden agenda has also been mentioned. The politicians that came back to power in 1945 were for many of them still stained by the collaboration with the Germans. Even if it was seen as a nescesary evil of the German occupation the politicians were trying to distance themselves from the past where as the resistance fighters were seen as the great heroes. Unfortunately many of the strongest resistance groups came from the political factions that had been persecuted first in particular the communists. As the resistance groups had yet to hand in their weapons this early after the liberation. The established politicians feared that these “radicalsâ€￾ would seize power riding on their popularity or even worse if forced out be armed and willing to attempt a coup. It would therefore be a good way to get them out of the country by advertising their patriotic duty of helping out the liberators of Denmark.

The men recruited were aged 18 to 32, however more than 75% were below the age of 25. 16% had prior military experience and a number of these had been in the resistance movement. There is however no statistics on how many of the volunteers had been resistance fighters.

Following a 6 weeks basic training in Canterbury the volunteers were split into specializations, there was a drive to have Danes serving together but there were no Danish units as such however â€￾The Buffsâ€￾ (Royal East Kent) regiment was a particular favourite having historical ties to Denmark as well as being the unit Danish volunteers during WWII had been gathered into.

Danes served all over the Empire in policing actions and garrison duties such as Singapore, India and Palestine. Some were killed in action.

In 1948 demobilization of Danes started and many of them returned home to a Denmark which had mostly forgotten about them. There were no official welcoming receptions or recognition. The promises that they could transfer their achieved ranks in the British army to the Danish army were dashed. They had become tokens in a political game for manuvering in post-War Europe and their history largely ignored.

Luckily some veteran associations and individuals have conducted investigations into this, see for instance http://www.danes-at-war.dk
Picture is taken from Khayat Beach War Cementery where the Danes who fell in Palestine is buried, including one of my relatives.

Suggested reading: Rasmus Mariager – Danskere i Krig 1936-1948

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