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The 'Battle of Iquique' and the Family Krohn-Nilsen

The following story was sent by our member Dacre Watson

My deep connections with Chile go back to that day and, quite possibly, had the battle not taken place, I would not be here today.

According to my family history, my Grandfather’s elder brother (by some 20 years) was on a cruise in the Pacific as a Midshipman in the Norwegian Navy. They came upon the battle as it was ending and, wisely, stayed offshore until the next day when they put in to port. My Great uncle went ashore to look around and quickly developed an admiration for both the town and surrounding desert. So much so, that he wrote to his younger brother, my Grandfather, stating that if he ever had the opportunity he should go to Chile if life in Norway did not suit him.

Coming from a naval family, my Grandfather broke with tradition and went to university in Kristiania (now Oslo) and became a chemical engineer.

I won’t bore you with the many adventures he had, but when life in Norway did not work out (divorce and job loss) he did indeed travel to Chile to take up employment as senior chemist with the Compañía Salitrera de Chile, living in Maria Elena in the Atacama. In travelling to Chile, he had left his three children in Norway and when he suggested that they might like to join him there, my Mother travelled out alone to Chile by ship at the age of 12, landing in Tocopilla, not that far from Maria Elena where she led a most extraordinary life with her Father. Her younger brother and sister also came later and while my uncle was educated at the Grange, they both went back to Norway after a few years.

My Father was British and travelled out to Chile at the age of 21 in 1928 as a Chartered Accountant for Price Waterhouse. He loved Chile and fully embraced its culture and way of life. His main job with PW was auditing the “Oficinas” up in the Atacama which is how he met my Mother. Unable to afford married life on a PW salary, he joined Mauricio Hoschild Mining, eventually becoming it’s CFO. I was born in Valparaiso but at the time, my parents were living in La Paz, Bolivia, which we left to go back to Santiago in 1949 and where I grew up (also going to the Grange).

When the Nitrate industry collapsed, my Grandfather was offered a job down in Quellón, on the southern end of Isla de Chiloe, at the time a busy shell fish port though somewhat off the beaten track to or from anywhere. He started another family in Quellón where as a skilled pianist and painter, he integrated fully into the life there, known as Don Guillermo. He died in 1973 and is buried there.

It would appear that he was much loved by everyone and there is a park in Quellón named after him: Parque Don Guillermo Krohn-Nilsen. I was down in Quellón about four years ago and with my Mother’s maiden name in my Chilean Passport it soon became apparent that I had a larger group of “familiares” than I had originally thought.

I was very fortunate in my professional life in that I was able to travel to Chile several times a year and, COVID permitting, I hope to continue this. Since I retired I have been back most years to see family and friends.

If I allowed myself to, I would miss the country terribly.

So, had it not been for that battle on that day……………………?

Dacre Watson on right arriving by air in Tocopilla on an FC-2 of LAN Chile about 1933

Guillermo Krohn-Nilsen about 1928 at home in Maria Elena

Guillermo Krohn-Nilsen at home in Maria Elena about 1929

Lise Krohn-Nilsen and Dacre Watson about 1938 just before they were married. Valparaiso.

Home of Krohn-Nilsen family in Maria Elena about 1928

Arne Krohn-Nilsen on right in Maria Elena about 1929

Lise Krohn-Nilsen on right, my Mother about 1929 in Tocopilla. Her sister Eva is on the left.


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