“Remember Oban.” Is a familiar rallying cry for disenfranchised Romanichal.
Even now seventy years after the event it is still a raw subject, and one that will always garner a heated response. There was no real reason for it to have happened, if the situation had been left it would have ended peaceably for all concerned; but those who called themselves our liberators felt they needed to make a statement. Looking at the events that lead up to, and followed Oban, it is easy to see why what happened thirty years later in Andover, happened. It is also easy to see why many Romanichal still look upon modern society, and especially the ruling elite, with such distrust.
It was the summer of 1942, for nearly four years mainland Europe had been a warzone. The allied armies of the Danish Hegemony and Russian Empire had slowly pushed their way south and west, only three of the ten Gypsy Kings still remained in power, and the High King in Rome was looking at the dissolution of the federation of nations his position had ruled over for over nine hundred years. All that stood in the way of the encroaching armies was Spain, France and England. Due to treachery, by the end of ’42 England stood alone, even the High King had stepped down so as to save lives and aid the transition of power.
But England had always been different; whilst its own King bowed down to Rome, he had not always followed Rome’s lead, a tradition the incumbent King continued. As Europe ended the year under new rulers and with occupying armies encamped in their major cities, England settled down to the long wait for the expected invasion.
It had been a thousand years since Danish ships last set sail on a mission to claim England. Then it had been Saxon swords that had kept them at bay, now it was Gypsy bullets. But this time the Danes wouldn’t be giving up, and they had help.
Early in February 1943 the Danish invasion started along the Northeastern coastline. From Newcastle to Grimsby thousands of ships, and tens of thousands of troops were landed. Overhead squadrons of bombers laid waste to towns and cities far inland. In the south the armies under the Russian flag landed from Margate to Portsmouth. The plan was for the two forces to establish beachheads and move inland, the Russians would head for London, the Danes Leeds, from these bases they would carve up the country between them.
But resistance was fierce, the Russian beachhead nearly failed, thousands died and the sea for miles turned red. The Danes met with less resistance but still lost troops heavily, the air support was hindered by bad weather off the North Sea and a combined force of Northumberland and Scottish infantry kept the Danes pinned down on the beaches. If the bad weather had held the invasion would have been lost, but as it was, on the third day, the skies cleared and the aircraft carriers launched wave after wave to take out the strengthening defenses.
By the end of February the Russian’s were in sight of London, the Danes had already taken Leeds and had moved to establish strong supply lines east to the coast. The defenders were pushed back at every turn, already news was reaching the populace of mass evacuations across the sea to Ireland, it was reported the King still held the capital but had made plans to send his family across the Atlantic.
As the invasion entered its second stage, establishing local government and repression of opposition, news came of the evacuations from Oban. So far the Danes had failed to cross the border into Scotland; much of the far north of England was still in local hands, the defenders making the invaders pay for every inch. For the Danes history was threatening to repeat itself, they were sandwiched between the Scots in the north, and descendents of the Saxons in the south. But this time round there was no Alfred to lead the resistance, and as soon as the Irish began landing along the western coasts the invasion was a done deal.
As the defenses collapsed, and three separate forces began carving the country up, all eyes turned north; and the focus of the Danes turned to Scotland. According to diaries left by the Danish commanders, there was talk of leaving Scotland to the Scots. Even though part of a United England, they had never bowed to the King in Whitehall, let alone the High King in Rome. But as plans were afoot to negotiate a peace treaty; news came that the Royal family was bound for the evacuation port at Oban. All plans for a peaceful settlement were abandoned and the Danish force re-launched its attack on Scotland.
March 14th 1943 dawned bleak and cold; the harbour in Oban was packed with boats and ships, the quay a mass of humanity, pushing to get away. Most of the boats were doomed to sink, many had planned to get away to Ireland, but with their supposed allies now siding with the invaders that plan was dead. The aim for all was to get across the Atlantic, the Americas was a beacon of hope, where national allegiances were forgotten, and English, Scot, Dane and all nationalities lived side by side as one nation.
The Royal family had made it safely from London, a party of thirty strong, aunts, uncles, retainers; and at the core the three young children of King Marcus III. As the throng gave way to allow them to pass overhead the drone of engines could be heard, there clouds were low; no-one could tell whether the planes were friend of foe. As the children were hurried along up the gangway aboard a steamer the terrifying scream of engines was heard.
The Valkyrie bomber was the latest addition to the Danes armoury. A single propeller dive bomber carrying six high explosive bombs, as well as heavy caliber machine guns. Three of them pierced the cloud cover from the North and came screaming along the coast like their namesake out of legend. The mass of people on the dockside panicked, many were pushed over the side into the water, becoming crushed between the wall and ships. Those that didn’t fall tried to get aboard the waiting ships. No-one saw what happened to the young Prince and his sisters; they vanished beneath a swamp of bodies. As the bombers entered the harbour their pilots opened fire.
To say it was a bloodbath would be an understatement. The Valkyrie was designed for use against tanks, their munitions ripped the people on the docks to shreds, no-one stood a chance. As the planes cleared the docks three more followed them in, they too opened fire, and as they passed overhead released their bombs. The steamer that was at anchor ruptured, a bomb must have hit the something vital, house sized plates of hot metal slammed into the retreating crowds, the screams of the dying drowned out the sound of the first wave of bombers turning, and taking their second run across the dock.
In little over thirty minutes Oban had been reduced to a charnal house. The six bombers flew over several times, the docks and then the town was obliterated. After, when questioned, the pilots couldn’t answer why such indiscriminate brutality had been necessary. If the young Royals had been the target then surely the docks would have sufficed. But then no-one really knew if the Royal party was there, it had only been a rumour, a speculation. Years after, when the new regime finally bowed to pressure and held an inquiry into March 14th, it was the pilots who were convicted of war crimes, it was said they exceeded their orders by targeting the town.
Just over one thousand bodies were recovered, the firestorm had been so great it is believed the death toll was higher, and bodies had been incinerated. Today, Oban has a memorial for the fallen, there is a special ceremony attended by relatives. But for the Romani nation the memory is a living thing, Oban, along with the atrocities at Andover thirty years later, continue to be an open wound that festers at the heart of modern Europe.
All Rights Reserved © Philip Norris July 2012