Wexford pays homage to its heroes in poignant ceremonies

By David Tucker

Published 30/06/2015 | 00:00

On Sunday evening on Crescent Quay and laying of wreaths on Barry Day and unveiling of memorial to the Kerlogue were Helen Duggan, Peter Adams, Cllr George Lawlor Sargent First Class Jamilah Posey and Albert Lacey
On Sunday evening on Crescent Quay and laying of wreaths on Barry Day and unveiling of memorial to the Kerlogue Paul Kehoe laid a wreath

WEXFORD honoured its heroes in a poignant series of ceremonies at Crescent Quay, with tributes paid to the father of the US Navy Commodore John Barry; to those who lost their lives at sea and to the valiant crew of the little ship MV 'Kerlogue' who saved 168 German sailors from the jaws of death 72 years ago.

For the families of the Kerlogue's crew attending the ceremony, it was recognition at last by the town of their role in an amazing wartime rescue.

Both Mayor Cllr George Lawlor and Minister Brendan Howlin paid tribute to the 10 men of the 'Kerlogue' for their bravery in plucking to safety the Germans whose destroyer and torpedo boats had been sunk in an engagement with the British Navy in the Bay of Biscay in 1943.

The mayor said the rescue of the Germans 'must rank as one of the most amazing events in this country's proud maritime history'.

Cllr Lawlor said it was a selfless act on behalf of the captain and sailors on board the Wexford merchant vessel who, until it was too dark to carry on, picked up as many of the 700 men floundering in the cold, dark water as they could.

A large number of descendants of the crew were present at the ceremony and wreath laying, some carrying photographs of the men of the 'Kerlogue'.

Anna Kelly, from Kennedy Park, whose father Dick Roche, was a crew member, described the ceremony as 'just brilliant'.

'You would have to ask yourself why it too long,' said Anna, who had attended a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the rescue in Dun Laoghaire.

'I could never understand why nothing was done here, but we're all delighted that it has been. The grandchildren were all down for it and my brother Jim came from Cobh and he was as proud as punch,' she said.

Paddy Grannel, the son of crewman Tom Grannell, said he was very pleased with the way things went.

'I can imagine all the 10 lads looking down, my father included, and saying "what's going on here, we were only doing what anyone would have done",' said Paddy.

Alison O'Reilly, from Drogheda, said the ceremony had been very emotional for her and other members of her family.

'We never knew our grandad (chief engineer Eric Giggins) and it was quite a moment for us,' she said.

She said her late grandmother had always described her husband, who suffered from post traumatic stress disorder and alcoholism after the war, as a lovely man.

'It was a beautiful service and the mayor was very passionate in his speech.. I'm glad I have made a connection with that part of my life. My grandmother had always want to bring all of us along.. she only just missed it, dying on February 13. She was always quite angry that he was never commemorated,' said Alison.

While the rescue was 'remembered' in Dun Laoghaire 22 years ago, this was the first official public recognition by Wexford town of the role played by the men in saving the stricken German sailors.

Following his rescue, Lt.-Commander Jaochim Quedenfelt, the highest-ranking German saved by the 'Kerlogue', wrote of 'the little ship bravely moving through the enormous waves to pick up more and more of my comrades.'

A week after the rescue, the German ambassador to Ireland, Dr. Eduard Hempel, wrote to the Kerlogue's captain, Thomas Donohue, calling the 'exemplary deed worthy of the great tradition of Irish gallantry and humanity'.

During Sunday's unveiling of the limestone memorial inscribed with the names of the crew of the Kerlogue next to the tourist office, the German Embassy was represented by its First Secretary Peter Adams. The memorial is within sight of the location of the site which was once home to the Wexford Steamship Company, owners of the 'Kerlogue', where TK Maxx now stands.

The wording reads:

This memorial is erected to the memory of the brave crew of the Wexford Coaster 'The Kerlogue' who heroically rescued 168 injured and shipwrecked German sailors from the Bay of Biscay on December 29th 1943.

The Kerlogue crew on that fateful day were;

Captain, Tom Donohue, Dungarvan, Chief Officer Denis Valencie, Dublin, 2nd Officer Patrick Whelan, Wexford, Chief Engineer Eric Giggins, London, 2nd Engineer, Joseph Donahue, Wexford, 3rd Engineer Gary Roche, Wexford, Bosun, John "Chum" Roche, Wexford, Tom Grannell, Wexford, Dick Roche, Wexford, Tom O'Neill, Wexford.

The new memorial unveiling followed the more usual wreath layings at the Commodore Barry Statue and Maritime Memorial, with more than 200 people turning out despite the cooler, windy conditions.

The national anthems of Ireland, the United States and Germany were played as the smartly-turned out naval service honour guard stood to attention, the flags of the three countries and that of the council at times flying almost horizontal in the breeze.

Wreaths were laid by Minister Howlin, who had earlier inspected the honour guard, Mayor Lawlor, Minister Paul Kehoe and Sgt First Class Jamilah Posey on behalf of the United States, by Philip Dillon, on behalf of the Barry family and by John Fowler, on behalf of the Commodore John Barry branch of ONE Wexford.

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