Wednesday 20 September 2017

Write side with Michèle Callan

 

Michèle Callan
Michèle Callan
Kim Bielenberg

Kim Bielenberg

Michèle Callan on her new book 'Forgotten Hero of Bunker Valentin', the story of one of Hitler's Irish slaves

You have written a book about Harry Callan. Who is he?

Harry is my father-in-law and I have known him since 1979. I am his carer and we live in Lusk (Co Dublin). He's from Derry, and joined the British Merchant Navy in 1939 and was captured by the Germans. He was imprisoned in a labour camp and forced to help build a U-boat factory codenamed Bunker Valentin.

How did he end up going to sea?

When he was 15, he was sent down to the Labour exchange - and they put him down for the Merchant Navy. He travelled to England and he didn't even know what work he was getting, when he was signed up as a galley boy washing dishes on ships.

How was he captured?

His ship came under fire from a German ship, and he was held prisoner. He was moved to different camps, but then the Germans decided that because Ireland was a neutral country, Harry and 31 other Irishmen could work for them. But they refused to work for Germany.

So, what did the Germans do to him then?

The Irish prisoners were sent to a camp where they were starved, beaten and forced to work digging the foundations for the U-boat factory Bunker Valentin, starting each day at 4am until 6pm. It was slave labour. A lot of political prisoners were there as well. He was liberated in April 1945 and returned home to Derry.

Was he affected by his experience after the war?

Harry was unable to speak about the brutality for decades after the war. He had nightmares because of what he saw for many years afterwards.

How did he end up in Dublin?

He came in the 1950s, when a ship he was working on arrived at Dublin Port. He went to a dance on Parnell Square, where he met his future wife, Anne. He got a job with B&I Line in Dublin. He's 93 next November. He's a great character - and full of life with a dry wit.

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