Curator's Choice: Undercover in Norway

MGH 4580. Clip is from amateur film by secret agent in German-occupied Norway, 1944

Film Curator Fiona Kelly highlights a hidden gem in the IWM film archive featured in the recent BBC series Lost Films of World War II.

We were delighted to provide the BBC with 20 minutes of footage from our Second World War collection, ranging from the only known amateur film of the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk, colour film of women making rifles in a former furnishings factory in Glasgow, scenes from El-Alamein and a series of films shot by a Navy Captain from 1939 showing the war at sea.

Operations by Secret Agent in German-occupied Norway was filmed by Oluf Reed-Olsen who joined the Resistance when Norway was invaded by Germany in April 1940 and then escaped to England. He then travelled to Canada where he joined the Royal Norwegian Navy Air Service, and in 1942 trained in Intelligence and later joined the SIS (Secret Information Service). He shot this film in southern Norway in 1944 on an undercover mission to record wireless transmitting and other operations linked to reporting to British SIS of German shipping movements out of Oslo and Kristiansand. The film is a rare example of wartime undercover activities. Reed-Olsen survived the war and later wrote about his experiences - the IWM also holds some of his private papers and a sound interview.

(In the case of film archives such as IWM these films are not ‘lost’ at all but have been accessioned into our collection, catalogued  and are available for viewing and licensing, subject to the agreement of the rights holder, where applicable.)

The IWM film archive contains a wealth of amateur material from the 1920s onwards; these films often reflect activities not covered by official film and were shot on 8mm, 9.5mm or 16mm, often by serving Army and Navy personnel who flouted the regulations on amateur filming. 

Lost Films of World War II tells the story of what it felt like to live in wartime Britain, told through the eyewitness accounts and cine films of ordinary people. It is available to view on BBC iPlayer until March 2020.