Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Paddy and the U-boat

This is a third-hand true story, as told to me by the son of the central character, Paddy.

Paddy was Irish, he went to sea at an early age, sailed on a variety of ships and eventually worked himself up to owning and skippering a ship of his own. First ship he skippered was sunk by a German U-boat during World War I, second one was too, and the third one bankrupted him. Eventually he emigrated to Canada, settled in Baie Comeau, and his son grew up to be a merchant marine sailor too, got his captain's papers and spent half a lifetime sailing up and down the North American Atlantic coast. Now he (the son, that is) is happily retired in Toronto.

This story is about Paddy's second ship. Paddy was out there off the coast of Ireland, when they spotted the U-boat. It had risen to the surface and the U-boat's captain was out on deck hailing Paddy's ship. The German captain gave Paddy a choice, he could be bombed or torpedoed, whichever he preferred. I'm not sure what Paddy replied, and the German captain wasn't either because although he spoke perfect English, Paddy's thick Irish brogue was beyond him. So the U-boat captain got into a little lifeboat and had his men take him to the ship he intended to sink.

Paddy waited for him on the deck, and as the German captain climbed the Jacob's Ladder onto the ship, the two men cried out in surprise and delight, and embraced each other heartily. The tears flowed. Turns out that before the war they had sailed together as young men on a Norwegian whaling ship in the North Sea. In fact Paddy had saved the young German's life after he was seriously injured in a whaling accident.

After the emotional reunion they retired to Paddy's quarters to discuss the situation, and again the German captain offered Paddy the choice of torpedo or bomb. He told Paddy that he could not shirk his duty to the Fatherland in time of war, but he would certainly ensure that Paddy and all his men would be safely off the ship in lifeboats before the deed was done. Paddy chose the bomb.

True to his word the U-boat captain allowed time for Paddy and all his men to depart the ship in the lifeboats.

The U-boat submerged and disappeared and the men in the lifeboats waited.

They waited twenty minutes and nothing happened.

They waited another twenty minutes and still nothing happened, their ship still sat at a safe distance away.

In all, they waited a couple of hours in the lifeboats, no bomb went off, no ship exploded.

Finally, Paddy ordered the men in his boat to row him back to their ship. He climbed the ladder up onto the ship's deck and ordered his men to paddle safely away. He looked around, finally ending up in the galley where he found a note on a table.

The note said that not even for the Fatherland could his old friend bring himself to leave Paddy on the sea in a lifeboat, there was indeed a bomb but it was defused and the note gave directions for where to find it.

Paddy found the bomb, it was sure enough defused, and he called his men to return to their ship. They sailed away unscathed.

Unfortunately Paddy's next encounter with The Hun ended less happily, he survived but his ship was sunk.

I heard this story this afternoon, in my woodcarving class, the narrator swears it is true and that it can be found in the archives.

Today was the first day of classes in the new year, it was good to see my friends from last year in the weaving and woodcarving classes.

I am at a stage with my carving that I need our instructor's help, but she is busy with a new student for the first couple of classes, so I spent most of the class wandering around looking at other students' work and chatting. In this class there are four women and eight men, and I am one of the younger ones. Several of the men are in their eighties and full of interesting stories. Such as this one.

I also chatted with a fellow student who grew up in a Japanese internment camp in Kaslo, BC (during World War II). He said it was fun for him but maybe not so much for his parents. They started out in a hotel room, and later were moved to a little house. His father was required to do forced labour at another location, building roads. He said his father was a tiny man, it was hard to imagine how the Canadian government thought he was suitable for hard labour on road construction, but eventually they saw the light and returned him to his family in Kaslo.

The instructor tells me that I may have to switch to another class if I want more instruction, I hate to leave this class because these people are so great, but I may have to do it if I want to get anywhere with my carving.


20th Century Woman said...

What a great story. I hope if you have to change classes that you hear good stories there too. Isn't it nice to be one of the younger ones? Usually in any group I am the oldest person present, but I play bridge occasionally with a group here on the island, and all the others are older than I. It's a pleasant change.

Wisewebwoman said...

what a wonderful story, Annie!
Good on you and the carving classes. You will probably meet more interesting people wherever you go!

Annie said...

Hi 20CW, I agree it is pleasant to be one of the younger ones. In Toronto I am surrounded by relentless youthfulness, My Wednesdays at the Mimico Adult Ed Centre are a welcome reprieve. Not that I aspire to be the youngest person in the room, but simply to be among those who are at least my own age, and those who have had even more life experience than I. One grows to appreciate that.

Hey WWW! I'm sure you're right, interesting people are my raison d'etre! The fellow who told me the Paddy story was just full of stories, I had to cut him off eventually. He definitely had the gift of the gab!

Barbara Anne said...

I love that story and am so glad you listen to the stories that are there to be told. Thanks for sharing this one!

Wishing you wisdom in choosing which carving class to be in.