Queen of the Forrest
The power of thoughtful giving
Posted on: 16th December 2015
In May 1940, Hitler’s army invaded Norway. Norway’s reigning monarch, King Haakon VII, met with his government to seek guidance on whether to accept Germany’s demand that Norway should surrender. Norway’s military position was hopeless and German occupation was inevitable. However, King Haakon counselled against surrender explaining “for my part I cannot accept the German demands. It would conflict with all that I have considered to be my duty as King of Norway since I came to this country nearly thirty-five years ago.”
His government agreed. Norway did not surrender and instead its king and his cabinet were forced to flee. At great cost (over a 1,500 men were killed because the ship carrying the Norwegian refugees, HMS Devonshire, refused to give up its position to warn other British ships that two German warship were dangerously close), the British Navy safely brought King Haakon and his ministers to Britain.
From the relative safety of London, the Norwegian Government was able to establish itself and operate as a government in exile. King Haakon attended weekly cabinet meetings and made regular broadcasts on the BBC World Service in Norwegian. In these broadcasts, he provided his people with information, raised their morale and acted as a figure head for the resistance movement back home. He was so loved by his people that his image became the symbol of Norwegian resistance to Nazi occupation and Norwegians took to wearing coins bearing his image incorporated into jewellery and clothing. On 7 June 1945, King Haakon and his family sailed back into Oslo on board HMS Norfolk where they were met by cheering crowds.
To show its continuing gratitude for the support that the British gave Norway during the World War Two, Norway gifts the British people six Christmas trees every year, the most famous of which stands in Trafalgar Square (the other five go to Coventry, Edinburgh, the Orkney Islands, Sunderland and Newcastle). The trees are chosen years in advance and lovingly nurtured to maturity. The criteria for choosing which tree should go to Trafalgar Square’s? Simply that it should be the ‘Queen of the Forrest’ – a high bar indeed.
I admire Norway’s choice of gift and its commitment to repeating the gesture of thanks on an annual basis so many years later. I find the effort that the Norwegians put into selecting our trees, the years that they spend caring for them and the selflessness of their determination that we should receive their most beautiful specimens quite humbling. It proves that, when it comes to giving presents, it really is the thought that counts.