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The Tides of War

Canton Rescue Kilcummin

James McLoughlin (1909-1992), left, is awarded a silver goblet on November 23, 1991, by Swedish Government representative, Anders Sjodin, in recognition of his heroic rescue of the survivors of the SS Canton off Kilcummin Head n August 1940. Photo: Dorothy Evans, Brookfield Journal.

August 1940 was also the month in which one of the most courageous and difficult rescues of shipwrecked seamen took place off the coast of Ireland during World War 11. The rescue took place off Kilcummin Head when local fishermen showed skilful seamanship and noble humanity when they risked their lives in treacherous seas to row out three miles to tow to safety a lifeboat full of weary sailors in danger of being smashed against the rocks by a north-west wind blowing at almost gale force.

At 5.30am on Friday, August 9, 1940, the unescorted Swedish motor merchant, Canton, was hit by one torpedo from U-30 and sank 70 miles west of Tory Island. The ship was on its way to Liverpool from Calcutta via Freetown, carrying 3,000 tons of pig iron, 2,700 tons of linseed, 1,152 tons of general cargo and 1,034 tons of hessian.

Two lifeboats were launched; the captain and 15 crew were never heard from again, but the second boat with 16 men reached the Mayo coast at about 10am on Sunday morning, August 11, 1940.

By the time they came in sight of the Kilcummin shoreline at 10am on Sunday, August 11, 1940, the 16 seamen (13 Swedes, two Norwegians and one Filipino) were exhausted and cold after two nights being tossed about in a cramped lifeboat in a wild North Atlantic. Dejected, the survivors were in no fit state to row their vessel through the heavy seas, avoiding reefs and skerries, to the small harbour near where General Humbert’s French Forces landed in 1798.

Following in the family tradition, Jim McLoughlin (1909-1992) was a marine pilot since he was 19, guiding cargo boats into Killala Bay and up through the narrow silt reefs of the Moy Estuary to Ballina Harbour. He owned a 22-foot blue and white skiff he named St. Anne which he used for coastal fishing along with seven other men, relatives and close friends, including his younger brother, Mike.

Alerted by the coastwatchers at Kilcummin LOP, who had spotted the lifeboat in difficulty about three miles off Kilcummin Head, Jim McLoughlin and his comrades did not hesitate for one minute when they looked out over the bay from the cliffs at Croagh Mor and saw the plight of the men aboard the lifeboat. Within minutes, they had launched St. Anne into the dangerous sea swell that kept all boats harbour-bound that inclement summer Sunday.

The crew of St. Anne on that day comprised James McLoughlin (31) Skipper and Michael McLoughlin (24), who were brothers; John McLoughlin (70) a cousin of the previous two men, John Kelly (33), John Langan (60), William Knox (40) all of Parke; William Hughes (60), Ballinlena, and Thomas Hughes (40), Kilcummin. 42

The drama and gallantry of the rescue could well have turned into a terrible tragedy for Kilcummin, but for the seamanship and bravery of the crew of St. Anne. Over 80 years later those of us who are familiar with Kilcummin’s big waves can appreciate the enormous courage shown by the men of St. Anne to even attempt to row beyond the shelter of the wave-lashed harbour.

Rowing out three miles through the treacherous currents and high-rolling seas, the Kilcummin men saw that the lifeboat was almost twice the size of the skiff and taking water. A collision would see them all drown. There was no response to calls to take a tow line; the lifeboatmen who were crouching under a tarpaulin were cold, seasick and losing hope of rescue. Bravely, Jim McLoughlin jumped from St. Anne into the lifeboat and as the survivors slowly emerged, he secured the line and took the tiller as the oarsman in St. Anne began pulling for home.

“The haul home was tough going for the rest of them. The much larger lifeboat had 17 people and a lot of water in it and they had to keep ahead enough at times so that she wouldn’t bear down on them. They were cold, wet, and tired. As they approached the little harbour, they could see cars full of people as well as ass-carts and bicycles and those on foot and horseback from all over the region.” 43

As the Canton crew came ashore at Kilcummin, one of the crew who was a Filipino “fell on his knees, blessed himself, and kissed the ground ” 44. Some of his comrades were not as lucky; the bodies of Edwin Andersson, from Malmo, Sweden, and Heikel Sverin, both Canton crewmen, came ashore later in the month in Donegal and two empty lifeboats from the steamer also washed up.

The survivors were welcomed with kindness and compassion by the people of Kilcummin who gave them food and beverages. After receiving medical attention from Dr J.J. Igoe, Ballina, and Dr Madden, Dublin, the mariners were conveyed to Ballina by military lorry where they were met by the Shipwrecked and Mariners Royal Benevolent Society and the local branch of the Irish Red Cross Society. Arriving in Ballina, the stricken seafarers were declined entry to the local hospital as “the number of patients was so great at the time that there was no accommodation for them”. However, the matron lent 24 blankets which were later returned. 44

The sailors were taken to Enniscrone where they were accommodated in the local school. Later, travelling to Dublin they were accommodated in various hotels including Jury’s, College Green, and Rothesay Hotel, Eden Quay. The crew left Dublin in stages between December 1940 and March 1941 to join the Swedish vessel, SS Mansuria, bound from Liverpool to Petsamo, Finland.

Some weeks after the rescue, Ballina businessman, E. M. Boshell, local representative of the Shipwrecked Mariners Society, and also a member of Ballina Harbour Board, and also Lloyd’s Agent at Ballina, recommended the Kilcummin fishermen for recognition for their bravery to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

It wasn’t until November 1991 that Jim McLoughlin, then 82-years-old and living in the United States, was finally recognised for his bravery when a Swedish government representative, Anders Sjodin, presented him with a silver goblet with his name and the date of the rescue engraved on it. 45

The 16 sailors rescued off Kilcummin were Oscar Andreas Johansson, Gothenburg, Sweden (married) 2nd engineer (left Dublin on 28th March 1941 to join the Swedish vessel SS Mansuria which was docked in Liverpool); Per Oscar Johannesson (46), 4th engineer, Gothenburg, Sweden (Left for Grimsby 5th December 1940); Karl Gustaf Siegfried Thorsson, AB Seaman, Karlaham, Sweden (left 14th March 1941); Nils Axel Ekberg, Motorman, Gothenburg, Sweden (left 14th March 1941); Henrik Teodor Henriksson, Carpenter, Helshineborg (left 28th March 1941); Ove Hagbert Olofsson, Motorman, Sweden (left 14th March 1941); Holger Teodor Forsberg, Steward, Sweden (left 28th March 1941); Harold Kristiansen, Norway; Erling Andersen, Norway; Nils Gottard Westberg, 1st Officer, Sweden (left 28th March 1941); Evald Oliver Andersson, AB Seaman, Sweden (left 28th March 1941); Karl Viktor Johansson, AB Seaman, Sweden (left 28th March 1941); Paul Gunar Wihlborg, Second Officer, Sweden (left 14th March 1941); Zosimo Tabudlong, Philippine Islander; Agne Natanaal Kortz, Motorman, Sweden (left 14th March 1941). 45b

Upwey Grange

Bodies from MV Upwey Grange, sunk off of Achill Head by U-37 on August 8, 1940, came ashore along the Mayo coast. Image: Public Domain.

On Wednesday morning, September 11, 1940, coastal watchers at Kilcummin found a body dressed in a naval uniform washed ashore. Papers found on the body, identified the remains of Cadet Geoffrey Charles Butcher, Appletree Cottage, 21 Fairfield Road, Orpington, Kent. He enlisted on the 17th of June and was aged 19 years. Other papers bore the marks “Imperial Transport”.

He was one of three crew members of MV Upwey Grange whose remains were washed ashore along the Mayo coast after the ship, heading for London from Buenos Aires, with 11 passengers and a cargo of 5,500 tons of frozen and tinned meat was hit by one torpedo from U-37 and sank 184 miles west of Achill Head, on August 8, 1940.

All three lifeboats got away from the ship safely and Captain William Ernest Williams ordered them all to hoist sail and make for Ireland. The wind was favourable for this, blowing strongly from the west, but the sea conditions were poor and the speed with which they had had to abandon their ship rendered them vulnerable to hypothermia. With Williams in the lead, the boats kept company for a few hours, but in the rough sea and swell, the boats were separated. 46

HMS Vanquisher came to the rescue of the first lifeboat. The second boat had made about 180 miles in three days and two nights and was within 50 miles of Achill Head when they were rescued by the Cardiff steam trawler, Naniwa, and on August 13; forty-eight crew members and eight passengers were landed safely in Cardiff.

We will never know the exact circumstances of what happened to Captain William’s lifeboat in the numbing cold of the turbulent North Atlantic, but we get some insight into the possible fate of the small boat from the account given by rescued First Officer Ellis, referring to the third day of their lifeboat ordeal.

“Things were, by now, very unpleasant; we shipped much water and baled continuously. A very high sea was running with a strong westerly wind; frequent squalls of moderate gale force from NW made a nasty cross sea.” 46

Nothing further was heard of Captain Williams’s boat. He was lost along with 31 crew members, one gunner and three passengers, including Upwey Grange’s Chief Engineer Major Clifford Mackrow (48) and Cadet Geoffrey Charles Butcher, “both of whom were known to have been in Williams’s lifeboat”. 47

Clifford Major Mackrow’s body was washed ashore at Inishkea. He was a married man who lived at 49 Castleview Gardens, Ilford, Essex. He is buried in Kilcommon Church of Ireland Churchyard, Belmullet.

The bodies of two other crewmen from Upwey Grange were found in Mayo; AB George James Walters (47) was washed up at Achill Island and he is buried in Achill Holy Trinity Church of Ireland graveyard; Third Officer Edgar Hugh Mayes (33) from Northhampton is buried in Termoncarragh cemetery.

An Irishman William Francis O’Donnell (30), an engineer on the M.V. Upwey Grange, also died and he is commemorated at Tower Hill Memorial in London.

H.M.S. Patroclus

On Sunday, November 3, 1940, HMS Patroclus, an armed merchant cruiser, was 150 miles west of Bloody Foreland when she was torpedoed by the German submarine U-99. Royal Navy Reserve Seaman, Harry Kirkpatrick, was one of 56 of her 319 crew lost in the attack. His body was washed up at Cushlecka, Mulranny, and found by Patrick Moran, Cuskleacka, at about 10am, on December 18, 1940. He was buried in Achill Holy Trinity Church of Ireland Churchyard in Achill Sound. An only son, a wristlet watch found on the body was later forwarded to his mother in Orkney.

S.S. Nerissa

The last photo was taken of S.S. Nerissa only hours before she was torpedoed. The photo was taken by Sgt. Deryck McCusker, a member of No. 224 Squadron RAF, stationed at Limavady, Co. Derry, from a Lockheed Hudson, sent to escort the ship on the last leg of its voyage to Liverpool. The aircraft circled the Nerissa for about 5 hours. Three other planes were sent from Coastal Command, the last one leaving Limavady at 1657 hrs and returning to base at 2146 hrs. This left Nerissa without an escort. She was torpedoed at approximately 2230 hrs that evening. Photo Courtesy Deryck McCusker /

New research by myself and Bill Dziadyk, a retired Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), has made it possible to identify a number of unknown S.S. Nerissa victims, buried in Mayo in 1941, after their bodies were washed ashore following the sinking of the Canadian troopship, 80 nautical miles off the Donegal coast on April 30 1941.

Extensive research in the National Archives of Ireland has shed new light on the fate of the Nerissa victims whose bodies were washed into coves and onto beaches from Donegal to Clare.

“Amid the terrible screams and cries of the drowning, Lieutenant Colonel G.C. Smith (Royal Canadian Armored Corps) heard Joseph Lomas cry out for his wife Elizabeth and 3 children until it was clear there would be no answer, ever.” 47b

The last heartbreaking cry of a distraught father realising his wife and three little children had drowned amid the unspeakable terror as S.S. Nerissa sunk within four minutes of being struck by torpedoes fired from U-552.

Elizabeth Lomas (26) with her children, Terence (6), Joan (4) and Margaret (3). Photo courtesy

His desperate cries were the last that was heard of Joseph Lomas (31) as, he, along with his wife, Elizabeth (26), and their children, Terence (6), Joan (4), and Margaret (3), drowned in the icy waters of the North Atlantic.

The tragic end to their young lives is symbolic of all the young lives cut short during World War 2’s longest battle that took place off our western shores, just beyond the tranquil horizon, as if in some surreal parallel universe.

When I began researching this article, two years ago, I had no idea that my investigations would discover that the unidentified bodies of two of the Lomas children had washed up on beaches in North Mayo during the early summer of 1941; the final paragraph in their short lives can only now be written.

Because of wartime secrecy, the Gardai did not have access to casualty lists from ships torpedoed off our shores. Thus, the identities of the two children who washed ashore in Mayo in the early summer of 1941 have remained a mystery for over eight decades.

This part of my research took place in late May 2021, and, on reflection, my discovery now seems a rather strange coincidence in light of the synchronicity in time, almost exactly 80 years to the day when the bodies from Nerissa began to wash up along the Mayo coast.

A one-paragraph report in the Western People (May 31 1941), under a sub-heading, entitled “Husband, Wife and Child?”, caught my attention and immediately I knew that there had to be a connection with the Lomas family.

The “Western People” of May 31 1941 reported the finding of the body of a naval officer at Doonfeeney, Ballycastle, and three bodies of a child, adult male and female at Rossport (Kilgalligan).

The 14-line article came under a report of the finding of a man in a naval uniform near Ballycastle who can also now be identified following historic investigations carried out by myself, and Bill Dziadyk.

Among the unknowns that can now be identified were brother and sister, Terence (6) and Joan Lomas (4), the youngest victims to be washed ashore along Ireland’s west coast during the Battle of the Atlantic.

Also identified, 81 years after his death, is a heroic young Canadian naval officer who in the final terrifying minutes before Nerissa sunk beneath the waves had helped the two children into a lifeboat.

Sub-Lt. Barnett Harvey

Sub-Lieutenant Barnett Harvey was just 20-years-old when he drowned along with 206 other passengers and crew aboard S.S. Nerissa, bound from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Liverpool. The unescorted steamer sunk within four minutes of being hit by two torpedoes at about 10.30pm on April 30 1941.

Sub-Lieutenant Barnett Harvey (20) from Courtenay, British Columbia, Canada, lost his life in the sinking of SS Nerissa and is buried in Ballycastle graveyard, Co. Mayo.

From Courteney BC, Harvey found his final resting place in Ballycastle graveyard where his unmarked grave has now been identified and efforts are underway to have his burial place suitably marked.

Harvey’s valiant efforts to save the lives of Joan and Terence Lomas were mercilessly dashed when the U-boat commander, Erich Topp, fired a second torpedo into Nerissa which capsized the lifeboat in which the children along with their parents, Joseph and Elizabeth, and sister Margaret, had taken refuge.

Tragically, if the U-boat commander had only fired one torpedo into Nerissa the Lomas family, and many others, would have been saved along with the 84 others who survived the sinking and were rescued by Royal Navy ships which brought them to Derry. But the impact of the second torpedo explosion overturned Lifeboat No. 2 into which the family had scrambled with the help of Sub-Lieutenant Harvey. All the occupants, including Harvey, were thrown into the sea and perished.

Homesick and unable to settle in Canada after escaping the London blitz in 1940, Joseph Lomas, a carpenter, was bringing his wife and young family back to Charlton where Elizabeth’s mother, Ellen, lived. They were only hours away from safety in Liverpool when they perished.

The Lomas family story is one of the great tragedies of the Battle of the Atlantic; their terrible fate is symbolic of today’s refugees and how the innocent suffer most in war.

Like so many victims of the Battle of the Atlantic that were washed ashore, little Joan Lomas had no identification on her body when discovered at Dooyork, a short walk from the beautiful seaside village of Geesala.

Still dressed in the one-piece blue and red pyjama suit which her mother had put her to bed on that fateful night, she was buried in Geesala cemetery where the location of her unmarked grave can be identified following my research.

In one of those strange coincidences, Joan Lomas is buried next to the grave of Robert Mackay Sutherland (27) in Geesala cemetery. Sutherland’s mother’s maiden name was Mackay and it was also the maiden name of Elizabeth Lomas, Joan’s mother.

It is hoped to have a suitable headstone erected in remembrance of Joan and her family and their great tragedy.

Joan’s brother Terence (6) was also washed ashore in late May 1941 at scenic Kilgalligan beach located between Rossport and Carrowteigue, along with an adult female and an adult male. Terence was almost certainly buried in the nearby Kilgalligan graveyard, the exact location of his grave and that of the two adults remains a mystery; although it is likely all three were buried together as, at the time, it was assumed they were a family.

Harvey’s Medals

Historic documents in Ireland and Canada have made it possible to identify Barnett Harvey, but the finding of his grave in Ballycastle in May 2022 revealed a remarkable story involving three Catholic medals found on his body when it was discovered washed up on the rocks at Doonfeeney Upper on May 25, 1941, by local man, Thomas A. Heffron.

The religious medals may not have saved Harvey from death in the North Atlantic, but in a strange twist of fate had he not carried the medals on that fateful voyage his grave would never have been located.

Barnett Harvey was an Anglican, but because of the medals, it was assumed in Ballycastle that he was a Roman Catholic and, therefore, given a Catholic burial in an unmarked plot alongside the graves of the local dead. His burial was recorded in the Ballycastle Parish Register of Interments for May 1941, including an addendum mentioning that it was believed he was a Canadian naval officer.

Without the medals, likely to have been given to him by a Catholic friend as he embarked on a dangerous voyage to war, Barnett Harvey would have been buried in the so-called “Strangers’ Plot”, a corner reserved in cemeteries in times past for the burial of unknown persons and the unbaptised. This is where most of the bodies washed ashore in Ireland during the war were buried. The location of these unmarked graves in most cases is no longer known. Those who could be identified, mainly military and a small number of merchant seamen, were later given Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstones.

The Master

Gilbert Ratcliffe Watson, the Master of S.S. Nerissa, is believed to be buried in Achill Sound Church of Ireland graveyard.

In Achill Sound Church of Ireland’s graveyard, there are 13 Commonwealth War graves, all related to the Battle of the Atlantic. One of those headstones remembers “A Master”, whose body was washed ashore at Ashleam, Achill Sound, on June 28 1941. As a result of our investigations, we believe that compelling evidence exists to suggest that this was Gilbert Ratcliffe Watson (57), from Kendal, Westmoreland, England, the Master of S.S. Nerissa.

Our research has also established that the bodies of two of the four adult females on Nerissa came ashore in Mayo. As stated earlier, an adult female was found near the body of Terence Lomas at Kilgalligan. I have been unable to locate documents in relation to these bodies in the National Archives which might have indicated whether or not this was Elizabeth Lomas.

But I believe it is not unreasonable to imagine that in those final terrifying moments, a mother would have held onto one of her children; and for any surviving relatives, there is some small consolation in believing that she was buried with her child in the remote Mayo cemetery overlooking the beach where they came ashore.

However, there is only a remote possibility that the remains of the man washed ashore at Kilgalligan were those of Joseph Lomas as the great majority of the 207 Nerissa casualties were adult males.

Second Woman

The body of a second adult female washed ashore at Grangehill, Barnatra, (near Belmullet) at about the same time, May 23 1941. There is not enough evidence to make a positive identification, but from what facts are still available I believe it suggests that the body was that of recently married Joy Stuart-French (35), born Vida Joyce Jones, from Warracknabeal, Victoria, Australia. She was the wife of Major Robert Stuart-French (11th Hussars), a native of Cobh, Co. Cork, where his ancestral home was the Marino House Estate, between Rushbrooke and Fota in Cork Harbour. The woman’s remains were buried in Termoncarragh cemetery on the Mullet peninsula where I have been able to identify the location of her unmarked grave.

There were just two stewardesses on Nerissa – Florence Jones (50) and Hilda Lynch (34), both from the Liverpool area. The courage and sacrifice of the two stewardesses on Nerissa should not be forgotten.

In the madness and panic, as Nerissa began to sink quickly, the two brave women gave their lifebelts to the two older Lomas children and unflinchingly accepted their fate.

Lifebelts were found near both the bodies of Joan and Terence Lomas when they were found three weeks later at Dooyork and Kilgalligan; almost as if the spirits of the two brave women had brought their little bodies ashore.

Our Evidence

In our analysis, we were able to consider the wartime context when the bodies washed ashore, which 80 years earlier, the Gardai did not know because of wartime secrecy.

For those who would like to read Bill Dziadyk’s meticulous presentation of the new facts please click on this link where you will find a copy of a related Addendum which was published with his book, S.S. Nerissa, the Final Crossing: The Amazing True Story of the Loss of a Canadian Troopship in the North Atlantic, detailing what we have uncovered and the analysis and evidence provided by Bill Dziadyk and myself,

Work continues to try and find surviving relatives of the Nerissa victims buried in Mayo, but so far we have been unsuccessful.

Therefore, all publicity arising out of this story is welcome as it might alert any surviving family members to the new information regarding their relatives.

Buried in Belmullet

S.S. Nerissa was the only transport carrying Canadian troops to be lost during World War II.

The sinking of Nerissa resulted in 207 casualties, including military and civilian; and British and Canadian diplomats. This was the third-largest loss of life for a ship sunk by U-boats on the approaches to Ireland and Britain. The 84 Nerissa survivors were transferred from their lifeboats to HMS Kingcup, which took them to Derry.

In war, some families seem to bear an unbearable price for their service and sacrifice as we have already read concerning the MacHale family from Belmullet.

Buried in Kilcommon Church of Ireland Churchyard, Belmullet, is Archibald Graham Weir (55), Pensbury House, Shaftsbury, Dorset, a Wing Commander Royal Air Force and a victim of the Nerissa sinking. His body was found washed ashore at Corraun Point, Cross beach, near Binghamstown, on July 4, 1941. An Oxford graduate, he was a veteran of World War 1 and, at the time of his death, Wing Commander Weir (with a staff of 11) served as Officer Commanding Royal Air Force personnel bound to and from the UK.

RAF Wing Commander Archibald Graham Weir (55) died when the SS Nerissa was sunk off Donegal by U-552 on April 30, 1940. Wing Commander Weir’s body came ashore at Corraun Point, Cross, and he is buried in Kilcommon Church of Ireland graveyard, Belmullet. Image: Public Domain.

His two sons also died in the war. Flying Officer Archibald Nigel Charles Weir D.F.C., died when his Hurricane crashed into the sea on November 7, 1940, after combat with a Messerschmitt Bf 109 off the Isle of Wight. Nigel’s younger brother, Adrian John Anthony (23) was serving as a Major in the 1st Battalion of The Scots Guards when he was killed on February 2, 1944, in Anzio, Italy. He was awarded the Military Cross. 48

When Wing Commander Weir’s body was found washed ashore at Corraun Point, among his possessions was his personal diary; his last entry on the morning of that fateful day was a tender final message to his wife, Mary, looking forward to seeing her within hours.

“Have just come off watch on the bridge from 4-8 am. Marvellous sunrise, squalls, and an upturned lifeboat dead ahead, which gave us a fright until we saw what it was. We are 250 miles from the north of Ireland, and the waters sufficiently dangerous; however, by tomorrow morning all should be well, and one will be able to take a bath without wondering whether the alarm will go into the middle of it. Á bientôt, must go and have breakfast.” 49

In late September after being informed that her husband’s body had been recovered, Mary Weir, widow of Wing Commander A.G. Weir, wrote a letter 49b to Rev. Rodgers, Rector of Belmullet, wondering “…if his signet ring was still there, which is of great sentimental value to us, being made of his parents’ wedding and engagement rings.”

“He just vanished ‘into the blue’, somewhere overseas early in the year, and was almost home again when the disaster happened, and I know nothing at all about his end and very little of his voyagings. Just a few little details pieced together from survivors’ stories.”

Concluding her letter, Mrs Weir mentioned that her “elder son was killed in action flying six months before his father, but I have a son in the Army and two daughters left.”

Tragically, her second son was taken from her, too. Mrs Weir died in 1972. A ring was not listed among the personal items found on Commander Weir’s body.

Canadian Officer, Thomas Elvin Mitchell (20), a Lieutenant in the Carleton and York Regiment, R.C.I.C., was one of 108 Canadian Army personnel to perish on the Nerissa. His remains were washed ashore at Aughadoon, Belmullet, on May 23, 1941, and found by Anthony Dixon, Aughadoon, during an early morning walk along the shore. Son of Thomas and Bessie Irene Mitchell, he came from St. Stephen, New Brunswick, Canada. He is buried in Kilcommon Church of Ireland Cemetery, Belmullet.

Short S.25 Sunderland of 210 Squadron RAF, Pembroke Dock, on convoy protection duty, 31 July 1940. Image: Public Domain.
U-426, down by the stern and sinking, after attacks by a Short Sunderland flying boat during the Battle of the Atlantic. Image: Public Domain, Royal Air Force official photographer.

By Anthony Hickey

Follow writer and photographer, Anthony Hickey, as he travels around his native Co. Mayo, Ireland.

11 replies on “The Tides of War”

It was fantastic to read the above..
My father was a light keeper at Blacksod, Eagle Island and Blackrock during the war. He told of being on Blackrock when a U boat crew landed looking for supplies and the altercation that ensued.
As my father told it, it was the winter of 1943 and he was stationed on Blackrock as trainee lightkeeper with one other keeper; sorry I don’t have a name for this chap, though it may have been Sweeney. Blackrock lighthouse is over 10 miles west of Blacksod light and Ireland’s most westerly lighthouse. He was stationed there and had as a companion a black dog called “Bess”.
A U-boat crew landed on Blackrock during the night and basically they were looking for supplies of water and food. When they were discovered by the lightkeepers it was obvious that they were armed. And the keepers were under strict orders not to be confrontational.
It got kinda ‘heavy’ when ‘Bess’ decided to protect the island and attacked one of the U-boat crew. The dog was kicked by the U-boat crewman prompting my dad to attack the crewman. A scuffle ensued and my dad found himself locked in a stores cupboard (that was now empty) in the lighthouse with ‘Bess’.”
“The senior lightkeeper was informed not to let my dad out until the U-boat had left.
“And that’s that, not a story about heroics or bravery, but an interesting story that has never been told, to the best of my knowledge.


Mark, thanks for taking the time to comment.
I have been unable to find any documentary evidence of this raid in the historical records. If anyone has further knowledge or information regarding Mark’s story I would be delighted to hear from them.


This was a very interesting article, Anthony. I read it in detail and found it very interesting being originally from the area. That would have taken considerable effort to research and compile. Thank you for investing the time and effort to write what is a valuable record of events that not many people will be aware ever happened.


Niall, thanks for taking the time to read my article. I will be updating the Tides of War during 2022 with further information regarding Mayo and the Battle of the Atlantic that I discovered during my research.


I found “The Tides of War” when researching one of those lost in HMS Mashona, Frederick George Wheeler, originally from my home town, Northampton. I found myself pleasantly diverted from my research by other parts of your site, as well as finding very useful information on the matter at hand. Thank you very much Anthony Hickey.


Dave, thanks for your positive feedback. It’s gratifying when research such as “The Tides of War” is helpful to others.


My mother told me about the little girl on Dooyork beach, she had described her as dressed in a red suit which was obviously the pyjamas. The story always stuck with me, I never knew she was buried in Geesala. My mother was from Dooyork and our field ran down to the shore. Mom was in the Red Cross and attended at some crash landings also during the War


Anne, thank you so much for sharing this important anecdotal evidence.
Over the past year, I have spoken to several people in Geesala but, not surprisingly, over 80 years later, no one could recall hearing this story.
So your recollection of what your mother told you is significant and adds greatly to the documentary evidence that I have been able to find in the National Archives.


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