Military wives become first all-female team to re-create iconic WWII mission

Photographer: Matt Larsson Clifford © copyright 2022. MOD News Licence.

A group of 12 Military wives have become the first all-female team to conquer one of the most inhospitable environments on Earth, Norway’s Hardangervidda Plateau, in tribute to the WWII Heroes of Telemark.

During WWII the Heroes of Telemark battled the elements for four months to sabotage Hitler’s plans to create an Atomic bomb.

Retracing their steps, the women of the Forces Wives Challenge endured temperatures ranging from zero to -10c while skiing 5-10 hours every day.

Photographer: Matt Larsson Clifford – Matt Larsson Clifford © copyright 2022

Their trip took them to three of the original shelters, where they worked as a team to collect snow for water and chop wood to start a fire for ration pack dinners. Even serious injuries didn’t stop their determination – one of the team who broke her elbow on the trip walked the entire route in snowshoes with her arm in a plaster, instead of skiing.

Heather Sharp, Founder of Forces Wives, an Army veteran and full-time reservist, united this group of strangers through one common aspect, having a partner in the military. Equipped with her Army training she brought together a dream-team of Armed Forces family to accomplish her dream of retracing the steps of the Heroes of Telemark.

Heather said:

“We are hugely inspired by the story of the heroes of Telemark, and it’s something that I’ve always longed to do. So when the opportunity came, I just thought it would be absolutely fantastic to go and do it with a team of women. It’s never been done by a team of women before and the fact that we’re all military wives is fantastic.”

This group of phenomenal women have been on several adventures before, such as bracing 70mph winds on the summit of Scafell Pike, but Norway’s Hardangervidda Plateau was one of the most challenging. Having achieved it successfully, within the time restraints they set themselves, the Forces Wives have made history as the World’s first all-female team to retrace the steps of the WWII Special Forces Operation.

Brian Desmond has organised and led 75 Heroes of Telemark tours over 19 years and was moved by the team spirit of the women. He said:

“The commitment, the focus and the team spirit within the group has been very special – it was really moving actually. They’ve proved themselves through the training and the completion of the challenge itself.”

The team received messages of support from Sir Ranulph Feinnes, Bear Grylls and Tracy Edwards.

They team operated in 3 sledge teams of 4 with each member pulling the sledge for 20 minutes before handing over to a team-mate.  This was distributed entirely evenly across the whole 85+ kilometres – no matter what their skiing ability was.

The team carried out a re-enactment of the power plant attack in winter camouflage whites like the original saboteurs wore in 1943.

Photographer: Matt Larsson Clifford – Matt Larsson Clifford © copyright 2022

The women paid their respects at a memorial to Professor Tronstad, the Norwegian chemist who informed the British of Hitler’s accelerated production of heavy water for an atomic bomb.

The team also laid a wreath to remember the lives lost in the failed Freshman glider operation.

Drawn from across the UK and abroad, the women of the Forces Wives Challenge are from a range of different fields, including HR, Life Sciences, law and Clinical Research, and some are military veterans themselves.

This was Ailsa Snaith’s first trip with the Forces Wives, which she joined long-distance from Saudi Arabia where her RAF husband is deployed. This journey has created new memories for her:

“At destination’s end this journey has brought new friendships and camaraderie, peace in times of turbulence and a sublime sense of having passed through one of the most beautiful places on Earth. I am taking away so many amazing memories and profound gratitude to the brave men known as the ‘Heroes of Telemark’ for their fortitude, skills and resilience.”

Jo Young felt this experience gave her a new view on life.

“I feel an immense personal sense of pride and achievement, with a renewed enthusiasm for life and clarity of thought.  Alongside this is a very humbling appreciation and thankfulness for what those incredibly brave men endured in their mission.”

Wiltshire-based Boo Forster-Haig who runs her own business in Sports Rehabilitation is inspired by her children.

“Being a role model for my children is my driving force and inspiration for going on.”

Karen Hockenhull from South Wales is a mother and HR Professional, taking part in these adventures to figure out who she is when she isn’t a working mother.

“’It’s amazing to be in a community of other women who understand, who get it and who can support each other. I’m absolutely delighted to be here. I’m actually quite stunned and humbled to be amongst these incredible women.’

Based in Salisbury, Hannah Evans is currently on maternity leave and brought her second daughter into the world earlier this year. Her father served in the Royal Navy and her husband is a British Army medic. She said:

‘I’ve met a group of phenomenal women, all of whom are inspirational and we’ve come out of this with some lifelong friends already.’


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