Wexford to honour the heroes of the Kerlogue

By David Tucker

Published 09/06/2015 | 00:00

Bogden Burton of Nolan Monumental Stoneworks, Ardcavan preparing the Irish Limestone which will have the names of the crew of the Kerlogue etched on it. It will be unveiled during the annual Barry Day wreath-laying celebrations on the Crescent Quay.
Bogden Burton of Nolan Monumental Stoneworks, Ardcavan preparing the Irish Limestone which will have the names of the crew of the Kerlogue etched on it. It will be unveiled during the annual Barry Day wreath-laying celebrations on the Crescent Quay.

more than 70 years after the wartime rescue of 168 German sailors whose ships had been sunk in a naval battle, Wexford is at last to honour the crew of the ship that saved them.

The limestone memorial enscribed with the names of the crew of the MV Kerlogue is to be unveiled during the annual Barry Day wreath laying at the statue of Commodore John Barry on Crescent Quay on Sunday, June 21.

'It is long overdue that the amazing heroism of Wexford merchant ship's crew should be fully acknowledged by Wexford town,' said the Mayor, Cllr. George Lawlor.

'They were all Wexford seafarers and it is a story of real heroism that should never have been taken for granted,' he said.

The German Ambassador is among guests invited to the ceremony.

On December 29, 1943, the Kerlogue, a 142-foot-long coaster, which was carrying a cargo of oranges from Lisbon to Dublin on behalf of the Wexford Steamship Company, steered towards the aftermath of a naval battle after being alerted by a German warplane dropping flares.

Two British cruisers had shelled a flotilla of German ships from distance, sinking a German destroyer and two torpedo boats. More than 700 Germans - some dead, others burned and injured - were floundering in the ocean. The survivors clung to debris and upturned lifeboats in choppy, wintry seas.

Chief officer Valencie of the Kerlogue described the scene in an interview with writer Frank Forde for the book 'The Long Watch':

'As rafts rose into view on the crests of the giant waves, we could see men on them and others clinging to their sides. At first we did not know whether they were Allied or Axis until somebody noticed the long ribbons trailing downward from behind a seaman's cap, which denoted they were German Navy men.'

Lt.-Commander Jaochim Quedenfelt, the highest-ranking German rescued, later wrote of 'the little ship bravely moving through the enormous waves to pick up more and more of my comrades.'

For at least 10 hours, until well after sunset, the Kerlogue's crew pulled men unto their boat. There was no doctor on board, but the Kerlogue's crew treated the Germans as best they could. Forde, in 'The Long Watch,' said that 'cabins, storerooms, and alleyways were soon packed with shivering, soaked and sodden men; others were placed in the engine room where it became so crowded that Chief Engineer Eric Giggins could not move around to attend his machinery, and so by signs - as none spoke English - he got the survivors to move the instruments he could not reach.'

Quedenfelt asked that the ship travel to German-controlled La Rochelle or Brest to land his men, but Capt. Thomas Donohue refused and headed the Kerlogue back to Ireland, ignoring British instructions to go to Fishguard, on the Welsh coast, to fulfil an earlier agreement with British authorities made in return for coaling privileges.

The vessel arrived in Cork Harbour on New Year's Day at 2.30 a.m. The rescued Germans were interned at the Curragh Internment Camp until the war was over. Two, Petty Officer Helmut Weiss and Lieutenant Braatz, who died during the perilous rescue, are buried in the German War Cemetery at Glencree, Co. Wicklow.

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'.

The rescue was the second involving the Kerlogue which in 1941 saved the crew of a British collier, the Wild Rose, which had been attacked by German bombers.

Between her maiden voyage in 1939 until the war's end, in addition to undertaking one of the most heroic and successful rescue efforts of the war, the Kerlogue withstood damage from an acoustic mine, as well as a withering attack by Allied Mosquito fighter bombers, whose pilots said they mistook her for a French ship.

Wexford man Gary Roche, the father of former government minister Dick Roche, was one of the Kerlogue's crew members. He was blighted by nightmares from the episode.

'My father didn't speak about it an awful lot,' said Dick.

'It was a very painful memory for him. The thing that haunted him, he told me, was the men they had to leave in the water when Captain Tom Donoghue told them they had to head back. He very graphically described all the men, who were barely hanging onto life at that stage, and calling 'comrade, comrade'. I know that image stayed with him through his life.'

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