The history of the Memorial Hall
The Seamen's Memorial Hall in Stavern is the national memorial for seafarers who perished in the First and Second World Wars.
In gratitude for their "willingness to sacrifice and acts of valor," the memorial was erected in honor of the many seafarers who lost their lives during the First World War.
Inaugurated by King Haakon on August 1, 1926
Altough Norway was neutral during the First World War, Norwegian ships and seafarers were heavily affected. At least 2,100 seafarers lost their lives in war-related shipwrecks during
the First World War, of which over 1,400 were Norwegians. Additionally, many seafarers perished in wrecks where the cause was unknown. The Seamen's Memorial Hall in Stavern was erected in gratitude for all the seafarers in the merchant fleet who sacrificed their lives during the First World War.
The idea for such a memorial hall came from the British government, which had a special coal transport agreement with the Norwegian government during the First World War. The surplus from this transport agreement was to be set aside for a fund called the “Coal Fund of 1917,” which would benefit the seafarers after the war. It was money from this fund that financed the project.
The board of the national retirement home for seamen in Stavern was tasked with developing the project, and on November 1, 1921, a building committee was formed. Based on the premise that the memorial should be located in a Norwegian archipelago with a clear view of the sea, the building committee set out to find a suitable location. The choice fell on Kruttårnskollen, an area owned by the Ministry of Defense but transferred to the building committee with the condition that the property should not be fenced and that the construction material should be sourced from the site.
A nationwide architectural competition was launched in April 1923, and by the deadline in October 1923, 84 submissions had been received. Submission number 12, called “Bifrost,” created by the Oslo architects Andre Bjærcke and Georg Eliassen, was awarded the first prize. Bifrost is meant to symbolize the path (the bridge) from Earth to Valhalla, as described in Norse mythology. This is represented by the unique design of the entrance, with a wide staircase divided into two sections at the bottom, narrowing to one section leading into the Memorial Hall. The timeless and pyramidal shape also expresses both a mausoleum and a maritime landmark, as well as a historically designed pyramid-shaped burial form.
Master builder V. Thorenfeldt from Larvik was selected for the construction. The work began on June 4, 1924, and the foundation stone was laid on October 4, 1924. The building material (stone) was extracted from the site, hewn, and fitted. The hall has a width of 16 meters and is 22 meters high.
The building was completed in 1926, and the official opening was performed by King Haakon VII on August 1, 1926. Representatives from the parliament, government, as well as relatives, the military, and the shipping industry were present. A laurel wreath in silver, presented by the representative from the parliament, was placed in a mortar on top of the altar under the hall’s compass rose.
An increasing number of deceased seafarers are included in the Memorial Hall
In the crypt,
copper plaques bear the names of deceased seafarers from both world wars. After the First World War, memorial plates with 1,208 names were created by the newspaper Norges Handel og Sjøfartstidende. Similar memorial plates with 1,262 names of Norwegian and foreign seafarers were sent to the Norwegian Parliament. These included seafarers killed in mine accidents in 1919. The memorial plates also listed the names of all ships lost during the war but did not include the names of deceased seafarers on Norwegian ships requisitioned by Great Britain. When the Memorial Hall was to be opened in 1926, new memorial plates with 549 Norwegian names were added, representing the so-called “missing ships.” Foreign seafarers were not included in these plates. In total, 1,748 Norwegian and foreign deceased seafarers were listed on 11 copper plaques after the First World War.
The Second World War also had a profound impact on seafarers. In 1952, 17 plaques were erected, containing a total of 3,456 names of individuals who perished in the Norwegian merchant fleet. In the mid-1980s, it was decided to include so called “home fleet seafarers” as well, those who sailed in German-controlled waters. However, it was not until 2015 that these seafarers’ names were engraved on separate copper plates. In 2017, author Jon Michelet and the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association funded the inclusion of more than 900 foreign seafarers who lost their lives in the Norwegian merchant fleet during the Second World War.
The website Minnehallen.no provides detailed information about these more than 8,000 deceased individuals and the 1,500 ships they perished with. The memorial plates can also be examined more closely on the website’s page titled “Virtual Visit to the Memorial Hall”.
Today, the Memorial Hall remains Norway’s official memorial for deceased seafarers in the merchant fleet during both world wars. The memorial is normally open to visitors from May 15 to August 31. Additionally, days like May 8 (Liberation Day) and May 17 (Constitution Day) are often marked at the memorial.
Sources for the history of the Memorial Hall:
– Marthinsen, T. & Det Nasjonale aldershjem for sjømenn i Stavern. (1996). “For offervilje og sjømannsdåd: Sjømennenes minnehall gjennom 70 år”. Stavern: Komiteen. (Available digitally on the National Library’s website)
– Koren, E. (2020). “Hedret og glemt : Krigsseilerne fra første verdenskrig og det norske samfunnet” (1st edition). Bergen: Fagbokforlaget.
The Decoration of the Memorial Hall
In addition to the copper plates bearing the names of the deceased seafarers, the Memorial Hall is richly decorated. Hanging on the walls between the columns in the hall are 11 laurel wreaths, symbolizing an achievement and marking the end of the First World War with the signing of the Armistice on November 11, 1918. The 11 wreaths represent the 11th month, the 11th day, and the 11th hour.
The artistic decoration was not completed at the opening in 1926. In 1930, a sculpture competition was held, and sculptor Nicolai Schøll was chosen to undertake the task. The decoration was completed in 1938.
On the frieze resting on the hall’s 12 columns (Epistyle), there is a sculpture frieze consisting of 4 bronze relief plates, each measuring approximately 7 meters and in life-size. The friezes depict life at home and at sea, with war and destruction, and are the artist Nicolai Schøll’s pictorial representation of the seafarers’ deeds and dangers during the war.
The relief plate facing south depicts peaceful life in a fishing village. Three generations of children and grandchildren are portrayed. One of the sons sits on a net mender and tells about life at sea and how life is out in the world. Two boys standing and mending nets eagerly listen and later go to sea.”
The relief plate facing west depicts loading and unloading aboard ships. Symbolically, the cargo is sacks of grain. Everything is peaceful until a mate comes down into the cargo hold. He wears a uniform cap, a double-breasted pea coat with two stripes on the arm, holds a telegram in his hand, and shouts that war has broken out and that all hands must prepare the ship on deck.
The relief plate facing north shows a seafarer coming out of a deckhouse with a rocket and an ammunition box on his shoulder. Another seafarer sailor stands at full attention behind an airpipe with a lifebuoy and lifeline ready. The plate further shows the explosions caused by mines or torpedoes, and one can see ship fragments flying around and seafarers falling, wounded, or deceased.
The relief plate facing east depicts the homecoming. One can see the ship being moored, symbolized by a rope and bollard. It is further shown that the brothers go ashore. He wears a cap, a single-breasted pea coat indicating that he has risen in rank to non-commissioned officer, and carries a lifebelt in his hand, symbolizing that he has been saved.
The artist has also symbolized the sorrow over the one who passed away, as the sister and father reach out to someone falling. Then comes the symbol of peace with a person in regular work attire holding a shepherd’s staff in hand and a sheepdog with a collar by their side. Next is the one who was- saved, now in their ordinary fishing attire and with a lifebuoy under their arm. They have turned their back on the past, and their gaze is directed forward to the life that continues.
The artist Schøll also created the legendary statue in the crypt called “The Wave” (BØLGEN). It depicts a wave rising and pulling the seafarer down into the depths. One can see how he tries to protect his head as it goes down first, and how he stretches his arm out to the side to stop the rotational movement. Originally, this sculpture was cast in plaster but was later recast in bronze.
The website Minnehallen.no
On Minnehallen.no, there are records of approximately 8,000 deceased seafarers and nearly 1,500 sunken ships from both world wars. They can be searched on a dedicated page for advanced search.
The texts and images of seafarers from the Second World War are mainly sourced from the book series “Våre Falne” (Our Fallen) published between 1949 and 1951. The book series is freely- available on the National Library’s website, www.nb.no.
The extensive work of building and updating the initial website for the Memorial Hall was carried out by Hans Olaf Sørum, the longtime leader of the supervisory committee for the Seamen’s Memorial Hall. When he passed away in December 2018, the task of developing new website pages was transferred to the Centre for the History of Seafarers at
War, at ARKIVET Peace and Human Rights Centre in Kristiansand. Through a three-year project, all person and ship profiles were checked. This comprehensive project was made possible through financial support from the Sjømannshjelpen Foundation and the former Vestfold County Municipality.
Exterior Photos of and around the Memorial Hall