I, in my turn, commission - in consequence of my approaching trip to the United States - Brigadier Erik Wickberg that he during my absence deal with all relevant matters.
Karl Larsson Commissioner
Commissioner Karl Larsson's signature witnessed by: Ivar Sörman
When I saw this paper I realized that this probably is the only existing written evidence of my father's most secret mission during WW2. He was then a Salvation Army officer, stationed in Stockholm (Sweden). Officially he was private secretary to Commissioner Karl Larsson. In reality he was "secret agent" to General George Carpenter in London
At this time the international storm clouds were gathering over Europe. The Nazi leader Adolf Hitler had produced one crisis after the other in recent years. Although all of them seemed to have been settled by diplomatic means, this time it didn't look like diplomacy would work. Hitler had broken the München agreement. After having annexed Böhmen and Mähren from Czechoslovakia he had declared that he had "no further territorial claims in Europe". But shortly afterwards he occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia. Now there was a threat of armed conflict over the so-called Polish Corridor. If war broke out not only Germany but all surrounding countries would be in the danger zone. The work of the SA would be made difficult. But there was hope that through mediation by neutral Sweden it would be possible to keep in touch.
This was in 1897. After five strenuous years she needed a rest and was called back to Sweden. In March 1903 she married my grandfather, David Wickberg, a SA officer she had met some years earlier. Their children Erik and Tott were born in 1904 and 1906.
In 1912 David Wickberg was ordered to take his family with him to Berlin to become Principal of the SA Training College. This order might seem peculiar since David did not know a word of German. Perhaps it was counted on that Betty would help him until he got going. And so she did. This move was the reason why my father Erik as an eight year old attended school in Berlin and learnt to speak German like a "Berliner". This was to be very useful to him later.
Shortly after, David was appointed Educational Officer at the Training College in Stockholm. Later he had a long row of appointments at HQ in Stockholm. At this time it was unusual for SA officers to live at the same place for several years. This however did happen to the Wickberg family, and was why Erik could complete his junior high school education (Sw: "realskolexamen") and also graduate from a business school, where he learned shorthand and typewriting, before his father David's next appointment outside Stockholm.
In 1922 David was sent to Berne (Switzerland) as Principal of the Training College. The boys where only 18 and 16 and there was no choice other than to bring them along. The hard Bernese regulations for foreigners forced the SA in Bern to offer them some job at HQ. So Erik became secretary to the Field Secretary and learned a lot about SA administration before he himself entered the International Training College (ITC) in London as a SA Cadet in the fall of 1924. Already while he was in his training session, the Training College Principal in Berlin, Brigadier Max Gruner, applied to IHQ for help from an officer who knew German well, but also knew about the the training at ITC. The idea was to build up the Training College in Berlin with the London equivalent as a model. There were not many candidates to fit that description. Actually they could be counted on the thumb of the left hand: Erik Wickberg. And thus, after a short term of field practice, Erik Wickberg to his amazement (at the age of 21) found himself as probationary Captain and Education Secretary at the Training College in Berlin (1925).
Hardly had he accommodated himself to this situation when the next unexpected change occurred. In its wisdom the leadership at IHQ had appointed the Danish Colonel Julius Nielsen as new Chief Secretary (CS) in Berlin. The Colonel had served as Divisional Commander in Sweden and spoke a mixture of Swedish and Danish -- but he could not speak a word of German, and also his English was not very good. And this time there was no German speaking wife to help him out.
It was realized only shortly before the welcome meeting for Colonel Nielsen that an interpreter was badly needed, and quickly! Where to find someone to translate from Swedish-Danish into German? Well, the left thumb was there! Erik received the emergency order to attend the meeting and act as interpreter.
Although Danish and Swedish are very related languages, there are big differences, and it was no easy task for a young man with no former experience of this kind. But it seemed to work well enough, and immediately Erik was - despite furious protests from the Principal - taken from Training College and installed in the new CS's office as private secretary and interpretor. The poor Colonel couldn't even answer the telephone himself!
This appointment proved to be good training for young Erik. In a draft for his memoirs he has written about Julius Nielsen:
He showed an unlimited confidence in me and thereby laid an extremely good foundation for my future development. He was the only chief I can remember to go on his knees and pray with me before our cooperation started.
In an unpublished manuscript ("Between the lines"), Dad relates the story of three leading officers at HQ who stepped into the office of the CS, Colonel Stankuweit, clothed in brown shirts and armlet, complete with the Nazi swastika.
With a 'Heil Hitler' (the greeting phrase ordered by the Nazis) they stepped into the CS's office and required that the SA should 'adjust' itself to the new regime. The English Commissioner Howard and the German CS Stankuweit met to take a stand... Stankuweit asked me (his secretary) what they ought to do. I did not hesitate: 'Dismiss these officers. If you do not, you will totally lose hold of the situation...'
We had no telephone in those days, so Mother Margarete was taken completely unawares (and very shocked) when Dad came home late and told her we would be leaving in the morning. We were just to pack the most necessary items and leave -- husband, wife and three children ages 9, 6 and 2. And so we did. It turned out later that Vega was the last ship to leave England before the war. The German attack on Poland was announced on the radio the day after our arrival at Stockholm on September 1, 1939.
Thus it was that there was no "extra holiday". Dad reported to Karl Larsson, and soon it was not Berlin but London that turned out to be isolated. The victorious German armies quickly invaded and conquered Middle Europe, became allied with Italy and prepared for a strike on Russia. Only Sweden, Switzerland and Portugal were "outside" the conflict. But the mail to and from even these neutral countries was intercepted by the war-making parties and censored. The contacts with London had to go by telegram.
On April 9, 1940, we woke up to the news that the Germans had occupied Denmark and Norway. It became very clear that we had to take into account that even Sweden might be occupied. How would the occupying German armed forces react if they found an "English" Salvation Army, corresponding with the London Salvation Army and reporting on the situation in Europe?
After discussing this with his staff, Karl Larsson decided - on Erik Wickberg's recommendation - to tell General Carpenter that the war situation made it necessary for him to cease all communications with London. This was done and announced in Stridsropet (the SA weekly magazine in Sweden) on June 7, 1941. What was not announced was that Erik would not only continue to handle the correspondence with the affected parts of Europe but would also, on his own authority, take full responsibility to make those contacts with London that were deemed necessary. It was understood that he should not report on this. Karl Larsson should have the "deniability" of any collaboration with London and could use Erik as the scapegoat if the matter was found out.
General Carpenter never transferred Erik Wickberg to the Swedish territory. In theory he remained appointed to the IHQ in London, on special mission in Sweden. But he changed to Swedish SA uniform trimmings and was presented as "Secretary of Special Affairs" to Commissioner Karl Larsson.
Adjutant Erik Wickberg, stationed at International Headquarters in London, has on account of the disturbances of war arrived, together with his family, in Sweden which is the Adjutant's native country. He will take up a temporary assignment at Headquarters.
Adjutant Erik Wickberg from Overseas Dept. at IHQ, who at present is placed in Stockholm, has been promoted to the rank of Major.
Major Erik Wickberg has been promoted to the rank of Brigadier. We congratulate!
The SA was treated in various ways in the different countries. In most places the work could be carried out, but at times there where prohibitions and hardships. It was difficult to get through with economic and practical assistance and to keep the pieces together while waiting for better times.
In another memorandum that I found in my father's files Karl Larsson states:
The sudden dissolution of The Salvation Army in Holland and the further steps in a similar direction, which we had cause to fear (in Elsass-Lothringen a similar prohibition had occurred) called for swift action. Even though we have not been able to prove that our actions have saved the existence of our work in the different countries, it is nevertheless so that the work has been able to continue everywhere. In our archives we also have letters of gratitude, which the leaders in the different territories sent after the break with IHQ, and those leaders whom I personally have met, have all been in full agreement concerning the precautions which we have taken.
The History of the Salvation Army, Volume Six, 1973, by General Frederick Coutts states: "The upshot was that in San Francisco on November 12th (1944) the Commissioner (Larsson) met Commissioner Charles Baugh, then the Chief of the Staff, and was able to give a faithful account of the faithful stewardship during those years when contact between International Headquarters and the continent of Europe had been broken.
So Karl Larsson prepared for his absence from the Swedish territory by issuing a number of memoranda and commissions to take care of the work during his absence. Among other things, he now had to put Erik's position into writing to make it possible for him to continue under a new leader.
But the circumstances were still very delicate and secrecy must be maintained. The Commission shown above was not typed out in the Commissioner's office but probably in our home on Erik's private typewriter. He had a second-hand Remington collapsable typewriter that he could bring with him on travels. I recognize the style. It had bigger type than usual ("Large Pica") and the left dot over the Swedish "ö" was missing. The Commission was signed by Karl Larsson and witnessed only by the Commissioner's "ordinary" private secretary, Ivar Sörman, who must have been informed of what was going on. As far as I understand, this was the only original and was to be kept by my father. No copies were allowed, and in case of emergency the document must be destroyed.
Dad once instructed me: "If something happens to me, take the contents of this box, shred them into small pieces and flush them away in the toilet." I did not know nor did I ask (dangerous!) what the secrets might be; but then there was a war on and it felt quite natural to me (14 years old) that such precautions might have to be taken.
But the General did make other regulations. He appointed my grandfather (Commissioner David Wickberg who had recently retired from service in Switzerland and was now, aged 74, living in Stockholm) to take command of the territory. Thus we have the reason why David Wickberg is recorded as TC for Sweden from 1944-45 while Karl Larsson is stated as 1935-45.
By the time Commisioner Larsson returned to Sweden the War was over. General Carpenter had chosen a successor, and Karl Larsson - willing or not - had to retire at last.
However, good circumstances eased Dad's turnover to new assignments.
Karl Larsson had instructed him to start organizing a Post War Relief Service. When the war ended this plan was realized and kept Erik very busy. Then Erik's appointment was changed once again. General Carpenter made one of his few overseas visits by daring to go to Sweden in a rebuilt "Flying Fortress" (American bombing plane). It had to pass over Norwegian territory at a high altitude and with hostile enemy aircraft still around. But all went well and Erik met his highest Chief and acted as his aide and translator at his visit in Sweden and Norway. Carpenter told him during this visit that he now was to be officially transferred to the Swedish territory and become Divisional Commander in Uppsala
So father's service passed over into a more "normal" career. But that is another story.