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.
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.