Anna's constant reminder of the Kerlogue rescue

Published 04/02/2014 | 05:42

Anna Kelly, the sister of one of the brave Wexford men who saved 168 German sailors from certain death during World War Two, has a constant reminder of their bravery in her home at Kennedy Park.

Taking pride of place there is a picture of the dramatic rescue painted by one of the Germans saved by the crew of the Kerlogue and presented to her family at a reunion in Dun Laoghaire 20 years ago. It is one of a number of similar paintings they received that day.

Anna's late brother Dick Roche was a member of the Kerlogue's crew, though he spoke little of the day the little ship came to the aid of the desperate men.

The ship, owned by the Wexford Steamship Company, was carrying a cargo of oranges from Lisbon to Dublin on December 29, 1943, where she was alerted to an SOS being signalled from a German aircraft over the Bay of Biscay.

Steaming to the aftermath of a battle between British cruisers and German warships, three of which had been sunk, the Kerlogue's crew was greeted with a scene of horror.

More than 700 German sailors were in the debris and oil-filled waters, many of them wounded and crying for help.

The Wexford ship managed to rescue 168 of the men before she left the scene of devastation.

Many of the survivors were plucked from the sea in twos and threes by the light of flares after darkness fell.

Two of the wounded Germans died during the voyage back to Ireland where the survivors were interned for the duration of the war.

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

Anna said a recent article in this newspaper, marking the 70th anniversary of the rescue, brought tears to her eyes.

On the 50th anniversary of the rescue, the Kerlogue's crew and members of their families, including Annie, attended a reception hosted by President Mary Robinson with a dozen survivors and their wives.

'One of the survivors did a painting of the boat in the water and presented it to us, it was signed by them all,' said Annie who represented Dick on the day as he was unable to attend.

However, Dick was reunited with the survivors when some of the men came to Maudlintown and met him.

'The men came and met my mother Annie and father in Harbour View in Maudlintown. We went over to the pub in John Street with them,' said Anna.

She said her father, however, spoke little of the rescue, perhaps unwilling to relive the terrible scene.

Another of Anna's brothers James lives in Cobh, while her other siblings Imelda Conway, John and Tony still live in Wexford.

The crew list of the Kerlogue was: Thomas Donohue (master), Denis J. Valencie (mate), P.J. Whelan (2nd mate), J.A.Roche (bosun), Thomas O'Neill and J. Grennell (able seamen), Richard (Dick) Roche (cook/steward), Eric W. Giggins (chief engineer), J. Donohoe (2nd engineer), G. Roche (3rd engineer).

- David Tucker

Wexford People

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