An Incredible Journey

For most of my son Jeremy’s life, there has always been the Internet. Whereas his generation may have a somewhat cavalier attitude towards the ‘net, I am continually astonished at the power of it as a communications and research tool. In 1994, following my “retirement”, I began to transcribe the entries in my Dad’s prisoner of war logbook. Although I can’t actually remember my Dad reading it, I know it was a very important memento of his war service as it has always been close at hand on the bookshelf in the dining room. The transcription was for my own use, as the book was becoming fragile and I didn’t want to handle it any more than was necessary. But I printed off an extra copy and sent it to the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport in England, along with a request for information on Dad’s submarine, Saracen. In due course, I received a comprehensive package of material which included addresses for Michael Lumby, former captain of Saracen, and Ken Hutchings, a close friend of Dad’s during the war, as well as mention of a television script writer with an interest in Saracen, Terry Hodgkinson. Later that same day, I had an email from Terry introducing himself and providing more information about Saracen and two photos of a plaque in Corsica dedicated to Saracen and her crew and their role in the liberation of Corsica. I wrote to both Ken and Michael and included copies of the logbook transcription. Ken was particularly happy to hear from me and we continued to correspond until his death at which time his wife Eileen took up pen and wrote to me until she passed away. The anecdotes told by these two crewmates encouraged me to continue to research Dad’s submarine service. About that same time, I contacted the webmaster of a site about Corsica, looking for information.  He, in turn, asked me to compose a brief piece about Saracen and her connection with Corsica for inclusion on his site. I also contacted Mark Hickman who maintains a website about Prisoners of War to find out more about the places where Dad was incarcerated. Next came an email from Michel Verstraete who had come across my piece on the Corsica site. Michel’s uncle was a spy whose group was landed on Corsica by Saracen for the purpose of intercepting German transmissions and relaying them to the Allies. They provided much vital information until they were betrayed. One of them escaped but the other two, including Michel’s uncle, were tortured and executed by firing squad. I sent a copy of the logbook to Michel, who took the information from the book and plotted Dad’s escape route through Italy on a map which he sent to me along with his comments, putting Dad’s journey in context for me.  Meanwhile Jeremy, who shares my interest in Saracen, took it upon himself to photograph all the pages in the logbook. He created a website and each week uploaded several pages until the entire book was online. I also came across a website about British Submarines of WWII, authored by Geoff Chalcraft, another new contact who added a link to the logbook on his site. With the logbook and the links, emails started to come in from all corners of the globe asking about Saracen. More and more Saracen families contacted me, and then one day in November 2007, I heard from Dannie Nicholas. Dannie had been looking for my Dad or his family since 1984 and finally found me when the archivist at the submarine museum gave him my name. I discovered that Dannie’s father and mine had escaped and travelled through Italy together before being recaptured. Dannie and I are now fast friends and in regular contact. Between us, we maintain a list of Saracen family contacts and continue to research and share new information about Saracen. We now have almost two dozen people in our Saracen group, including two surviving crew members. In 2008, there was a special ceremony honouring Saracen as part of the 65th anniversary celebrations of the liberation of Corsica. Dannie and several others were able to attend and sent me photos and newspaper articles. Terry was a keynote speaker. In 2013, an even bigger celebration for the 70th anniversary will be held. Hopefully more Saracen families will be able to attend and meet one another. Terry is endeavouring to find a film company who would be interested in making a documentary about Saracen. And recently I made another contact in Italy who has located one of the families who helped Dannie’s father and mine while they were fugitives on the run in the Italian countryside. I have “met” so many interesting people as a result of my research on the internet, made so many friends and discovered so many fascinating stories connected with Saracen, and I’m sure there will be more to come. Long live the internet! How did we ever get along without it?

Copyright 2012 Anne Corke

3 comments on “An Incredible Journey”

  1. ALWAYS interesting Anne!!!

  2. Thanks, Stacey. I’m sure there’s much more to come in the Saracen saga! Cheers, Anne.

  3. Fascinating stuff Anne. You’ve done a great job connecting with people and finding information.

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