The Patriot

The rural cycle path between the Danish towns of Fredensborg and Humlebaek passes through the small village of Soeholm. What many non-Danes don’t realise is that advanced cycling infrastructure in Denmark is not just an urban phenomenon, there are cycle ‘highways’ between many rural towns.

Cutting across the countryside as it does, the double-lane path from Fredensborg to Humlebaek and the coast, is not only shared with mopeds, but with the area’s large equine population!

Each year in Soeholm, on the 23rd of April, a small bouquet of flowers appears next to a granite memorial stone. The stone lies discreetly by the roadside in the village and is easily overlooked. Several years ago, however, curiosity got the better of me. So I parked my bike and took a closer look. Checking the stone, it revealed an inscription about a 20-year-old man:

‘Here fell Gerhard Johansen, 23 April 1945. In the fight for Denmark’s freedom, a German bullet ended his life.’

Denmark was invaded and occupied by its larger southern neighbour in April 1940. The nation’s resources, infrastructure, and media were taken over by the occupying power.

Not long after, Gerhard became involved with the Danish resistance movement. It was dangerous work for a 16-year-old. Initially, he took part in the distribution of underground pamphlets. Later on, he joined armed resistance groups helping with weapon transports for his local area in North Sjaelland.

In early 1945, the Gestapo became aware of Gerhard’s activities and he was forced to give up his studies at technical college and go to ground.

On the 23rd of April 1945, Gerhard had agreed to meet with a policeman, who was also in hiding. The two met clandestinely at the local co-operative dairy, ‘Soeholm Mejeri’, to exchange some ‘illegal’ papers. A German patrol in the area noticed them. Gerhard Johansen attempted to escape on foot but he was cut down by machine gun fire as he fled.

His body was buried in an anonymous grave at the local church in Fredensborg, just a few kilometres away. One month later, Denmark was liberated. With the occupation at an end, Gerhard Johansen received a proper burial in Humlebaek cemetery.

Today, a large memorial stone marks his grave. On it there’s a sculpted likeness of the face of young Gerhard. The gravestone bears the inscription: ‘If a people will live, some must die’.

As a Scot, Gerhard Johansen’s courage is especially poignant. Scotland is essentially occupied by its larger southern neighbour. The nation’s resources, infrastructure and media are controlled from a foreign capital. However, unlike young Danes during the Second World War, Scots don’t have to fight for their freedom, all they need to do is choose self-determination at the ballot box.