REID: Uncle’s three-day adventure lost at sea made for movies

REMEMBRANCE DAY: War stories make our problems trivial

Reporter Amy Reid's great uncle (second from right) was one of three airmen who were lost for sea at three days before being rescued by an African fisherman (far left). Photo as it appeared in the Vancouver Sun in 1941.

It’s quite something to read about your family in a newspaper when you’re a newspaper reporter.

Turns out, a relative of mine had an experience that a Vancouver Sun writer said, “contains all the adventures of a novel.”

Today, we’d say it’s the kind of story movies are made about.

My great uncle, E. J. Trerise, was one of three airmen forced down in the Atlantic off the coast of Africa in 1941 who then converted their Amphibian plane into a sailboat by using parachutes as sails and paddled a dinghy for 24 hours before they were finally picked up by a native African fishing boat. They were lost for three days.

The story began on March 1 of that year when the three men became lost from the Royal Navy ship in which they were attached during a patrol flight. They set their plane down on the sea after running out of gas.

“The landing was all right,” my uncle wrote to the newspaper, “and then we set to work hoisting sails, the material being the parachute silks. Very shortly we were drifting ashore at two or three knots.”

The water was choppy that first night, “so we streamed drogues from the bow to keep the plane headed to wind,” he said in his letter.

At dawn on March 2, they spotted land.

“We decided to try to make the shore in our rubber dinghy,” my uncle wrote, “the main point of debate being whether or not the dinghy would be attacked by sharks, as we were in shark-infested water.”

A shark appeared during their first attempt, driving them back to the plane.

Later, noticing land had become further away, they decided to try their luck on the dinghy a second time. Their luck ran out on another front.

“After about three hours we were alarmed to find that the dinghy was losing air at the intake valve,” my uncle said. “That was stopped, but the dinghy was rather limp, so we again turned around and pulled for the aircraft.”

But the obstacles just kept coming.

“We found after an hour that the wind was taking the airplane away from us faster than was our progress towards it,” he wrote. “There was nothing to do but head for land and hope for the best.”

They rowed through the night, keeping an easterly course with their compass, and he likened the exercise to “trying to steer a saucer.”

They saw lights in the distance and set off distress flares and Verey lights, but they attracted no apparent attention.

By dawn, they were about three miles from land, by their best guess. But the tide just carried them back out.

“About midday, a ship was sighted on the horizon heading towards us. We set off the remainder of the distress flares and Verey cartridges.”

But the ship altered its course away from them.

Things were looking grim.

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE STORIES IN OUR SPECIAL REMEMBRANCE DAY EDITION.

But alas, luck was about to finally be in their favour.

“We had attracted some attention ashore and soon a native boat was alongside taking us aboard, just about in time, too, as the dinghy would not have kept us afloat for more than an hour.”

African fisherman Richard Graham took the three men in his boat on a 300-mile journey to a British port, where their ship was.

After learning of this story, and attempting to imagine what this must have been like, it’s hard to continue complaining about the things I so often do.

Suddenly, my problems seem trivial.

Many of us have relatives connected to one or both of the World Wars in some way or another. This Remembrance Day, let’s take a moment to remember and thank all of those who fought and dedicated their lives during these times.

Lest we forget.

amy.reid@thenownewspaper.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Suspected drugs, counterfeit cash seized during distracted driving stop: Surrey RCMP

Police said incident happened near 152nd Street and Fraser Highway

Fate of five-district policing model in Surrey rests with new police board

Whalley/City Centre, Guildford/Fleetwood, Newton, Cloverdale, and South Surrey districts formed under McCallum’s watch in 1998

Surrey teacher wins provincial award for his work teaching art to students

Clayton Heights teacher Dennis Memmott recognized with award granted by his fellow art teachers

Guilty plea withdrawn in West Kelowna murder trial

Tejwant Danjou’s application to have his impromptu guilty plea removed was accepted by the court

Notorious South Surrey fugitive captured in California to face murder trial in Canada

Brandon Nathan Teixeira submitted to extradition during court proceedings Thursday in Sacramento

Cheslatta Carrier Nation and Rio Tinto sign a historic agreement

Co-operation crucial to stem dropping Nechako Reservoir level

Hundreds of B.C. firefighters ‘climb the wall’ for BC Lung Association

The charity fundraiser saw participants climbing up 48 storeys

Stories of sexual assault at B.C. tree planting camps ‘shocking but not surprising:’ advocate

Contractors’ association is working with trainers to create respectful culture

Lawyer gets house arrest for possessing child porn

Maple Ridge resident gets nine-month term

Police renew appeal in help finding missing Maple Ridge woman after vehicle found

Ridge Meadows RCMP released a new photo showing the missing woman walking east on Dewdney Trunk Road

Canada prepared to monitor for community spread of COVID-19: Tam

The U.S. confirmed one case of the new coronavirus, or COVID-19, in California Thursday

Decade-long health care battle draws to a close today in B.C.

Dr. Brian Day began his battle a decade ago against the B.C. government

Most Read