Netflix’s “War Sailor” takes us back to probably the darkest phase of human history, when the world was broken into fragments, and our greed and desire for material possessions had caused the ruin of whatever we stood for and waged a war against humanity. Written and directed by Gunnar Vikene, “War Sailor,” a three-part limited series, uses a real-life backdrop to tell the story of a man named Alfred, who was one of the 30000 Norwegian sailors who sailed for the Allies in World War 2. Sir Philip Noel-Baker, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, was of the opinion that without the Norwegian sailors and their merchant ships, the Allies would have lost the war. So, let’s try to understand the outer and inner turmoil in Alfred’s life and what impact the war had on it.
‘War Sailor’ Plot Summary: What Is The Series About?
It was the year 1939, and the world stood on the brink of another war. Alfred Garnes and his friend Sigbjorn Kavalvag were finding it hard to get any work, and they knew that if they had to fend for their family, they would have to take up jobs that paid them well. Sigbjorn had asked Alfred to be part of a shipping crew, but Alfred was not able to make up his mind. Working with the shipping company meant that they would have to sail across the world, and keeping in mind the recent developments, it was not an advisable thing to do. There was always the threat of German U-boats, i.e., submarines, destroying the ships at sea, and Alfred didn’t know whether it was better to die of poverty or be killed at sea by an enemy vessel. There didn’t seem to be any nobility in either, and Alfred decided to choose a way that would give him a better chance to earn some money and provide for his family.
Alfred confronted his wife Cecilia and told her about his plans to sail around the world for eighteen months while being scared that she would get angry for abandoning them. But Cecilia was a practical woman, and she knew that whatever her husband did, it was in their best interest. Maggie, Alfred’s daughter, didn’t take his decision to leave very nicely. She was reading in the newspapers how Norwegian ships were being blown up in the sea, and she was not ready to see her father meet a similar fate. Maggie was scared that her father would go to a war-stricken land and put his life at risk. Her intuition was telling her that something bad was going to happen, and she wanted to do everything to make her father stay back. She hid his identification papers in the hopes that, if he wasn’t able to find them, he wouldn’t leave the house. Maggie left the house because she didn’t want to see her father leave. Alfred left his wife and three kids and embarked on a journey, the perils of which he understood well and knew that his family did too. The irony of Alfred’s life was that he had to go away from his family to make sure that they had enough to survive. Alfred had no clue if he would be able to ever see them again, but he kept the hope alive in his heart and told himself that one day, everything would be fine, and he would come back to them.
Why Was Alfred Asked To Serve The Allies?
Alfred’s ship encountered a lot of people stranded in the sea, and though they tried to save as many as they could, it was a herculean task as they were not allowed to stop the ship at any point. The risk of a German submarine bombarding them was omnipresent, and that is why the orders were to keep moving, no matter what. In 1940, in the Atlantic Ocean, Alfred and the crew saved a couple of people, one of whom was Aksel Andreson. Aksel was not even 16 years old, and Alfred was reminded of his own son as soon as he saw him. It broke his heart to see such a young boy going through so much in life and facing death on an everyday basis. Alfred became very protective towards him, and it was the beginning of a beautiful relationship between them.
One day the captain informed Alfred, Sigbjorn, and the rest of the team that Germany had taken over Norway, and he had gotten orders that all Norwegian ships would now be under King’s command. He told them that because there was a shortage of manpower, a few crew members were supposed to be transferred to a ship named MS Frostenack. The option of going ashore was not given to any able-bodied man. Alfred and Sigbjorn both had doubts about whether they were up for this mission. They were not soldiers who were trained in warfare, and obviously, the thought of stepping a foot into the perils gave them nightmares.
Death became a constant companion, and Alfred and other crew members lived each day entertaining the possibility that it could be their last. Alfred often told Aksel that he didn’t have to put himself through such misery, and the young boy always replied that there was no one waiting for him back home, so it didn’t make any difference to him even if he went back. He considered his crewmates to be family, and he knew that they were all he had. Their eyes lit up the moment somebody gave them the news of what was happening back home, and probably the only thing that was keeping them alive was the fact that one day they would be reunited with their family.
By the year 1942, approximately 334 Norwegian ships had fallen prey to the attacks of the Axis forces, and Alfred and his team also had a near-death experience when their ship suffered huge damage, but somehow, miraculously, they were able to reach the shores of Malta. People started clapping as if they had achieved a great feat by being able to survive and come back in one piece, but the crew knew that it was no achievement but a tragedy that should never have happened in the civilized world. Due to the foolishness of a few men with bloated egos, the entire world was set ablaze, and the people had the audacity to camouflage their selfish motives and call it patriotism. In one of the most gut-wrenching scenes of “War Sailor,” Aksel tells his colleagues that it was his birthday and that he had turned 16 that day. Alfred, Hannah, Sigbjorn, and others sang a birthday song for Aksel while the aerial bombardments were making the ground quiver. Amidst all the fear, chaos, and hopelessness, these were the moments that reinstated the faith of people in humanity and gave them hope that one day it would all be over.
How Does Aksel Meet His Fateful End?
Alfred wanted Hanna and Aksel to go back home, so he made the arrangements and told them to lie to the inspection officer that they were suffering from some ailment. Alfred and his colleagues were serving on a ship named Falkhanger at that time, and they got word that they were going to sail towards Murmansk, a highly volatile area where approximately 23 ships were destroyed in the recent past. Kjell told the brothers that it was a suicide mission, and if they went ahead with it, they wouldn’t be able to see the light of day. They decided that they would have to abandon Falkhanger and make an escape to stay alive. Alfred would have left, but he saw Hanna and Aksel returning to the ship because Aksel’s conscience didn’t allow him to lie to the medical examiner and abandon his friends. He wanted to be with Alfred till the very last moment, as he was all he had in the name of a family. Alfred was moved by the gesture. He felt responsible for Aksel, and seeing that little kid show such integrity, Alfred also decided to stay back. Kjell was the only one who escaped, and as much as Sigjborn wanted to join him, he just couldn’t leave his friend behind. Sigbjorn had promised Cecilia that he would bring back her husband and his conscience didn’t allow him to betray the trust she had put in him.
The inevitable finally happened, and Falkhanger was attacked by a German submarine. The ship sank, but four people, i.e., Aksel, Alfred, Sigbjorn, and another crewman, were able to save themselves, and luckily, they found a huge plank that could accommodate them all. The German boat was still there, and seeing the four of them in such a miserable condition, they felt sympathetic toward them. The commander of the German ship ordered his men to give some morphine injections to the men so that they could use them if the pain got unbearable. Alfred and Sigbjorn knew that Aksel would not survive, so they used morphine to give him freedom from his misery. It was Alfred who had given him the morphine shots, and after he pushed the dead body of the little kid into the ocean, something inside him was also lost forever. Alfred and Sigbjorn also had to kill the fourth crewmember, as he became deranged and disillusioned from the traumas he had suffered.
Meanwhile, Cecilia was given the news that Falkhanger had sunk, and the dean of Bergen believed that nobody had survived. They had no clue that Alfred and Sigbjorn were still out there, surviving against the odds and trying their best to return to their homeland.
‘War Sailor’ Ending Explained: Was Alfred Able To Reunite With His Family?
Alfred and Sigbjorn were fortunate enough to be rescued by a ship, and they were taken to Halifax, Canada, where they received proper medical care. They knew that their bodies would heal slowly, but they still didn’t have any clue how they would ever be able to adapt to a normal life after what they had gone through. They still had nightmares, and they knew that they were not going to get rid of them anytime soon. They heard the cries of their friends whom they had lost in the sea, and sometimes they woke up in the middle of the night as they thought that a submarine had launched its torpedo and that it was coming at them with full force. Alfred was informed by an officer that his entire family, i.e., Cecilia, William, Magdeli, and Olav, were killed during the bombing in Bergen. But in reality, they were still alive, as they had escaped the city just before it was bombed. Since there were no survivors found the next day after the attack, it was presumed that Alfred’s family must have met their fateful end. Alfred knew that he had nowhere to go and that it was useless to go back to his homeland. He wrote a note for his friend Sigbjorn and, without telling him where he was going, left the hospital.
Sigbjorn went back to his country and finally found Cecilia and Alfred’s kids, showing them the letter that Alfred had left for him. Cecilia told Sigbjorn that she had no clue that they had been found, and all this while, she believed that they had died with the entire crew of the Falkhanger. Sigbjorn had decided that he would stay with Cecilia until he found a steady job for himself. Cecilia was haunted by loneliness for all the years she had spent without her husband. After Sigbjorn returned, she started craving companionship even more, and she wanted to give life a second chance and find a reason to be happy. Sigbjorn had a great relationship with her kids, especially with little Olav, and she started dreaming about a life with him.
One night, Sigbjorn and Cecilia shared an intimate moment, and they didn’t have any qualms about it. But that feeling changed drastically when Sigbjorn got a letter from Singapore saying that Alfred had been found and was still pretty much alive. Sigbjorn went to bring Alfred back from Singapore, and he knew that he would have to take a step back from Cecilia’s life and forget that anything had happened between them. Alfred came back to his home, and Sigbjorn chose to go back to his job as he had no reason to come back to his country.
The war sailor finally reunited with his family, but that happiness was short-lived, and he realized that things would never be the same again. His own child, Olav, felt more attached to Sigbjorn than to him. Olav had never seen his father, and he always treated him like a stranger who had come to stay with them temporarily. Alfred wasn’t able to cope with the fact that his own family didn’t feel that emotional connection with him, and it had become an obligation for them to stay together. Alfred, himself, was dealing with a lot of issues and traumas, and he knew that he would have to put up with them as there was no escape.
The war had changed the entire world, and Alfred’s family was no different. They still lived together under the same roof and pretended to be one big happy family, but deep down, they knew that the waves of the ocean had corroded their foundations. Alfred had forgotten how to laugh, and Cecilia had stopped doing things that made her happy. Both Alfred and Cecilia had made compromises, and the good times they once spent together seemed like a fictional story that never existed in reality.
At the end of “War Sailor,” Sigbjorn paid a surprise visit on Alfred’s 70th birthday, but the meeting didn’t turn out as Sigbjorn would have expected it to. The silences were uncomfortable, and Alfred didn’t have anything to share with his friend. Somewhere, he knew why Sigbjorn had chosen to not come back, but they never spoke about it. Sigbjorn left soon after, and Alfred went back to his mundane life, knowing that he couldn’t blame anyone for what had transpired and that he would never be able to gather all the scattered fragments and make them whole again.