Oluf Dietrichson (1856-1942)
Dietrichson was one of the five who skied with Fridtjof Nansen over Greenland in 1888.
Oluf Christian Dietrichson was born 3 May 1856 in Skogn County (now a part of Levanger, Nord-Trøndelag). His father, Peter Wilhelm Kreidahl Dietrichson, was appointed at the age of 28 as the first head doctor at Nordre Trondhjems Amts Hospital, a position he held for 44 years. He was in addition the district doctor in Levanger.
Asbjørn D. K. Eklo, who has written about “People in Levanger”, states about Oluf Dietrichson that he “early on was noted to be an unusually good sportsman in Levanger. He was an active skier, particularly at long-distance skiing in mountain areas. He is also said to be the first person in the district to cycle as a sport, and in this way be brought this sport with him to Levanger. He was the first chairman of the cycle club TVK in Trondheim (Trondhjem Velocipede Club) which was established in 1885 and he was the first foreigner who entered a cycle (velocipede) competition in Denmark, when he in 1887 cycled a track competition in Copenhagen”.
Oluf Dietrichson followed in his grandfather’s footsteps rather than his father’s when he chose a military career. As first lieutenant he organised the first cycle infantry corps in the same way as in France. He was 32 years old when he applied to Nansen to join the Greenland expedition. In his application he took the liberty of “as possibly an indication that I have the appropriate qualifications, to state that I, apart from being used to strenuous treks on the hunting trips that I undertake a couple of months a year, during the winter 85-86 took a ski trip without guide from Tynset in Østerdalen over Foldalen, through the mountains of Rondane to Gudbrandsdalen, from there in to Jotunheimen and back to Gudbrandsdalen, further over Gausdal, Valdres, Hallingdal, Numedal and Telemark down to Hittedalsvandet. In addition I have at other times skied from Røros to Levanger”. The long ski trip from Tynset to Telemark was more than 500 km.
At the same time Henrik Angell applied to join the expedition. He was also a lieutenant in the army and an excellent skier who had crossed Hardangervidda from Bergen to Kristiania a short time before Nansen did the same. It was probably difficult for Nansen to choose between the two, but Dietrichson was finally chosen. Together with Nansen, he tried to learn Greenlandic before they left Norway, with Signe Rink, who had been born in Greenland, as their teacher.
On the extremely strenuous stretch up the east side of the Greenland ice cap from the coast Nansen noted that even the usually so talkative trip-enthusiast Dietrichson became silent and taciturn. Balto told how he, Dietrichson, Sverdrup and Kristiansen chewed tarred rope in lieu of tobacco on the way over the ice cap, and that they could also shave off bits to smoke in their pipes. When they were able to fix sails to the sledges Dietrichson wrote that “all our work consisted only of steering the sledges. The ice is so uneven. The more the speed increases, the more the sledges jump, turn, twist and wind, so that one expects at any moment that they will break in two, but they stand up amazingly. As light and flexible as they are, they yield at every violent blow without it leaving any mark at all on them”.
Nansen told of an evening when they were making camp and it was discovered that a cheese had been left behind at the previous camp. With the limited food rations they had, this was bad news. However, Dietrichson offered to go back to fetch the cheese and he set off on skis in the moonlight. In the early morning he was back with the cheese.
It was not until 12 October that the four other expedition members arrived after Nansen and Sverdrup at Godthaab. Dietrichson wrote in his memoirs: “I wonder what the people will think when they see us? Skin and bone with long hair and bushy beard, and with 3-months’ dirt on our bodies. We were enough to frighten anyone”.
The six returned to Kristiania 30 May 1889 and were received as heroes. When Dietrichson arrived in Levanger a little later, he received another enthusiastic welcome. From Trondheim he, Sverdrup and Kristiansen (both from Steinkjer) had taken the steamer Henrik Wergeland and they were met by the local steamer Levanger in the middle of the fjord. Reidar Strømsøe writes in his “Levangerboka” that the steamer Levanger was decorated with new spring greenery and flags, and was crowded with festive people in their best clothes. After having welcomed the three explorers with salutes and hurrahs, the two ships steamed into Levanger harbour where there was a swarm of small boats decorated with greenery and flags. “Again there were salutes and activity and jubilation as never before when the three Greenland travellers appeared and Dietrichson was led ashore. There were hearty farewells, hurrahs and fanfares when the ship with the two others continued along the fjord to Steinkjer”, Strømsøe wrote. Further: “By the gangway there were Levanger Craftsman’s Society and Levanger town and county shooting association with their banners, and the town’s mayor P.E. Støre gave the welcome home. With music at the front, they marched to Leira where Dr. Dietrichson then lived”.
After the Greenland expedition Dietrichson was appointed captain. He continued in the army and was appointed major general in 1918 and commandant in Kristiansand. Asbjørn Eklo states that, as an older man, Dietrichson argued with the occupying German forces in Kristiansand, but the German officers had such respect for the old general that they did not arrest him. In 1936 Dietrichson was appointed the first honorary member of the Norwegian Polar Club, which was established in 1933.
Major-general Oluf Christian Dietrichson died on 20 February 1942 in Trondheim. He was the uncle of navy pilot Leif Ragnar Dietrichson, who was with Roald Amundsen on the Latham when the plane disappeared near Bjørnøya (Bear Island) in 1928.
Asbjørn D.K. Eklo: Mennesker i Levanger, http://levangervel.no/about.htm
Roland Huntford: Nansen - Mennesket bak myten, Aschehoug, 1996