I first wrote about the fate of Ole Johan Grimsgaard-Ofstad a few years ago. The Norwegian travelled to Syria in 2015 hoping to get involved in the war. He ended up an Islamic State hostage and dead. Someone who knew Grimsgaard-Ofstad well got in touch recently with a lot more information about this Quixotic right-winger. It’s quite a story.
Knut F. Thoresen is a Norwegian soldier and writer. His most recent book is out now. Nordmenn i krig: 1850-2019 (Norwegians at War) examines how his fellow countrymen have volunteered for every major war, and quite a few minor ones, since the mid-nineteenth century onward. Spain, Bosnia, Korea, WW1, WW2, Rhodesia. If you read Norwegian it’s an essential book and highly recommended.
Thoresen knew Grimsgaard-Ofstad well, first encountering him at school. He shared his memories of this unusual man by email.
He had dark hair and eyebrows like thick slashes of marker pen and a grave somewhere in Palestine. Roger Coudroy died at 35-years-old and remains a minor martyr for people who lean so far to the right they’re practically horizontal.
The first European to die for the Palestinian cause, say the blog headlines. Not exactly. Germans and Bosnians and Britons are buried under Arabic pseudonyms out in the desert, volunteers for Muslim armies during the 1948 fighting that gave birth to Israel. Coudroy belongs to a later generation.
The Belgian engineer died the night of 3 June 1968, apparently when Israeli soldiers shot up a commando from the Fatah faction of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. It was the opening days in the war of attrition that followed Arab defeat in the Six Day War. Palestinian guerrillas penetrated Israeli territory and launched terror attacks on civilians; Israeli planes bombed PLO camps in Jordan and took out Egyptian infrastructure.
The Palestinian cause had a lot of support from young leftists in Western Europe and regimes in the Eastern Bloc. But Coudroy wasn’t a man of the left. Not a chance.
Groovy baby. The swinging sixties meant nothing to most people in Britain. They had jobs and mortgages and marriages and kids and gas bills. Only a select few got to hang out with dope smoking aristocrats in Chelsea or peacock around town in an outfit from Granny Takes a Trip. The class barriers may have come down for a few talented working-class photographers and musicians but they remained firmly in place for everyone else.
The closest the great British public got to joining the psychedelic generation was through the vicarious second-hand thrill of popular entertainment. The Beatles and Rolling Stones sold the sixties dream on vinyl, and movies like What’s New Pussycat? pushed the big screen version. In 1967 the written word got in on the act. Adverts were all over the Sunday supplements and double-decker buses for a new face in town. He had a blond Brian Jones-style cut and fashionable neo-Victorian clothes.
‘You Don’t Listen to Adam Diment,’ said the slogan. ‘You Read Him.’
He was the first psychedelic spy novelist. And he burnt out quick.
The Parc du Cinquantenaire is a large slab of green in the Etterbeek district of Brussels. It is home to some museums, a lot of statues, and a triumphal arch. Foreigners like the park and crowd it out on Belgium’s rare sunny weekends.
Buried in a corner behind hedges and an overshadowing building is a shiny grey stone wall and a monument of an arching pilot reaching for the sky. The wall records all the Belgian airmen who have died in military service since the first biplane wobbled into the sky over the country back in 1908. In the section for the dead of the Second World War is the name R. de Hemricourt de Grunne.
The neatly carved white letters hide a story not many know. Comte de Hemricourt de Grunne was a war hero and aristocrat, but he was also one of only fifty Belgians who fought for General Franco’s right-wing nationalist rebels in the Spanish Civil War. Short, dark, and bushy browed, the Belgian playboy abandoned a life of idle luxury to fight a personal crusade against a foreign government in a foreign land.
On 18 November 2015 Islamic State soldiers in Syria murdered a hostage. A 48-year-old Norwegian man in a prisoner’s yellow jumpsuit was casually shot dead.
Islamic State had been trying to get a ransom for Ole Johan Grimsgaard-Ofstad since it grabbed hold of him in March. His previous captors had given up trying to squeeze money out of the Norwegian government and passed him on to the Islamist fanatics.
Norway refused to pay kidnappers. It tried to persuade Islamic State to let Grimsgaard-Ofstad go free. All the Nordic negotiators got in return was videos showing the hostage suffering the after effects of sadistic torture.
The negotiations were top secret until September when Islamic State published photographs in its Dabiq online magazine showing a grim looking Grimsgaard-Ofstad, along with a 50-year-old Chinese hostage called Fan Jinghui.
The headline read: ‘For Sale‘.