Obituary: Torgrim Hannas
Thursday 03 December 1998
His father Torleiv Hannaas - as he spelt it - was born in 1874, and came from Evje in Setesdalen, southern Norway. The son of a farmer, he was from 1918 professor in Norwegian at Bergen University. He was a serious book collector, who kept half his salary for his hobby and gave half to his wife to look after the house and five children. He died in 1929, and his celebrated collection was sold at auction two years later.
Torgrim, the fourth child and only boy of the family, was born in 1916, and was schooled at Bergen and at Voss. He completed his national service and then obtained a BA in German, English and Geography at Oslo. His doctoral dissertation on Old Norse philology was more or less completed, but had not been submitted when the Germans occupied the house where he had been living, and it was lost .
Hannas fought in the Norwegian army for a month until the ceasefire in 1940 and then joined the resistance. The family home was a celebrated safe house during the occupation, and both his mother and his younger sister Magnild were decorated for their work.
In April 1943, Christian Tonseth and Gustave Merkesdal ("Raven"), two friends and colleagues, were arrested by the Gestapo, but Tonseth shot the escort and they escaped. He joined Hannas for a journey to England on the "Shetland Bus", one of the little boats that plied between occupied Norway and the Shetlands. After they missed their boat, Tonseth and Hannas, later joined by three others, hid for two weeks in a cave on the tiny uninhabited island of Sammungsoy, not daring to light a fire.
For the voyage, they finally stole back from the Germans a confiscated boat, one of the half-diesel fishing boats which had been the mainstay of the clandestine traffic. Five set sail on 27 May; the journey of 62 hours included a breakdown which would probably have been fatal if the engine had not responded after 40 minutes of drifting. "We had only a pocket compass and a map of Europe, so we dared not aim for Shetland. But we hit land at Wick," Hannas wrote.
This was in fact almost the last successful voyage to Scotland or the Shetlands in a fishing boat, as the Germans became more ruthless and more experienced; the traffic was not seriously resumed until American submarine chasers arrived in late 1943.
After being debriefed in London Hannas was recruited into Norwegian military intelligence. He returned to Norway shortly after the war where his first job was interrogating the Germans who had surrendered in Finmark, north Norway, and arranging their repatriation.
In 1946 in Oslo, he married Linda Saunders (nee Morris) who, with her daughter Julie ran the boarding house he had stayed at in London. They had some translation work but were finding it difficult to make ends meet, and lived in the family home in Bergen. Hannas related how, not long after this, "my old Norwegian army boss caught up with me again, and offered me a job with Nato, complete with an office in the Norwegian embassy in London, half a secretary, and a fantastic salary."
Hannas and his wife moved to Bromley on the southern outskirts of London and started part-time bookselling. Their first catalogue was issued in Spring 1957, though Hannas did not become a full time bookseller for another two years. He was naturally interested in Scandinavia in which he became the English specialist; a second string to his bow was 18th-century English literature, which started with his buying two tea chests of very fine books for pounds 5 at a local sale.
For more than 30 years T. & L. Hannas issued two or three eagerly awaited catalogues a year; indeed one of 18th-century pamphlets elicited the order "send all" from a Californian university. In 1984, the business moved to Winchester and in 1993 the last catalogue, no 92, was issued, and the remaining stock sold to Maggs.
Kenneth Maggs had advised the Hannases on how to be a good bookseller all those years ago when they were starting out. Both Linda and Torgrim had made their own private collections, as many booksellers do. She bought children's books, toys and jigsaw puzzles, and wrote the standard work on the latter, while he bought Scandinavian dictionaries.
He donated his collection of some 700 titles to the British Library (duplication was almost non-existent) where it has its own "HAN" shelfmark. It includes a unique copy of the first English-Norwegian dictionary, and many other rarities.
Torgrim Hannas was a lovely man; his straightforwardness and courage (which he would never admit to) got him into several scrapes in civilian life. For example, he was led from the Antiquarian Books Association a few years ago for saying, what everyone knew was true, that many past presidents had been members of an auction ring. He is survived by his estranged wife Linda and by his companion of several years Nan Hiorns.
Torgrim Hannas, intelligence officer and bookseller: born Bergen, Norway 28 August 1916; married 1946 Linda Saunders (nee Morris); died Winchester 20 November 1998.
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