Saturday 3 August 2013

In the drink

My Beloved's Old Man is in his late 80s now.  About three years ago, shortly after his 85th birthday, he folded his arms and said  that he wasn't going to drive the car any more (which was fair enough as it gave him no pleasure and a turmoil of anxiety).  But he also announced that he wasn't going to push the berluddy mower about the lawn any more either.  That was a bit of a bore because it fell largely to me and we live 80km away.  But it meant that I got to see himself and his good lady wife on a regular basis and get fed a square meal fit for a laborer.  She is such a good cook that it was actually a meal fit for a king.

One weekend about a year ago, I didn't get down there till late and was tempted by a glass of old red biddy to spend the night.  I took the opportunity of being in the dhrink to quiz old Pat about his days at sea.  He was born Cardiff-Irish in June 1925 and was a bit of a scape-grace when he was a nipper.  Not bad at all, but wild and a bit of a joker.  So as soon as he turned 14 and could leave school, he ran away to sea, asking the shipping office to tell his mother after the ship had sailed.  If you do the maths, you'll twig that the Summer of 1939 was perhaps not the most auspicious time to join the Merchant Marine.

I've heard that story before but this time I had a note-book and pen, no distracting children, and a sense of time running out.  With the Socratic method instead of the old-style rubber hoses, I got him to give me a list of all the ships he'd served on between that Summer and the cessation of hostilities when he could return home, to find both his parents dead in the blitz and eight younger siblings to help look after.  In a similar way to The Boy clocking up air-miles in the 1990s, his grand-father travelled a lot 50 years before.  There's another session due to get a better list of the ports Pat called at, but in passing that weekend, he mentioned Leith, Aberdeen, Liverpool, Halifax, Buenos Aires, Fremantle, Wellington, Oran, Alexandria, Glasgow.

You can get a lot of information off the interweb if you have suitable leads and over the next couple of days I was able to get names, owners, tonnage, some pictures and some history for the dozen or so ships before whose masts Pat had sailed during the war.

Today is rather special because in the early hours of 3 August 1942,
the Lochkatrine (part of Convoy ON-115 bound for New York in ballast) was torpedoed and sunk by U-552 at 45°52′N 46°44′W about 1500km East of Halifax.
Pat was one of the 81/90 survivors from that dunk in the Ocean who were rescued by HMCS Agassiz and HMCS Hamilton a corvette and a destroyer of the Canadian navy.  You can see why I don't mind honouring the name of Agassiz even if he had a few dodgy character traits.  A total of 3335 ships were sunk by U-boats in the Second War

The U-552 was one of the few that survived through more than 5 years of war and her Captain on Aug 1942, Erich Topp, lived on in Germany until 2005.  Of 1156 U-boats commissioned by the Kriegsmarine 766 (almost exactly 2/3rds) were sunk.

1 comment:

  1. I've asked but can't get a good answer now. How did he get to Australia and New Zealand? He doesn't remember visiting Asia at all, which doesn't surprise me given the level of activity in that part of the world during the war, but equally to get from New Zealand to North America, and back to Europe going up the pacific coast to the west coast of the US would have had similar military issues. So I'm supposing that they must have gone Australia/New Zealand to Chile? Unfortunately Google maps doesn't have a ship option, but that is a wide expanse of sea skirting the north Antarctic. Ask him next time you are there