Walking in my father’s footsteps in a place where WW2 affected him profoundly, I had a strange experience – Mike Edwards

Mike Edwards’ father Donald arrived at Stavanger in a British destroyer at the end of the Second World War to discover piles of human hair on the quay

Growing up in Inverness, I only ever returned home from my travels by plane, train or automobile from the south. Although there was no Psychopomp to guide me over, as far as I was concerned the Kessock Bridge may have spanned the Styx because the lands beyond it were alien to me. Anyway, as a good Inverness Caley fan, the Black Isle was Ross County country, where women ate their young and men married their sisters.

Although neither of us knew it then, my geography teacher at Inverness High School, a huge intellect called Stuart Semple, shaped my life. He introduced me to the Earth and I fell in love with maps. Give me an atlas and I will pore over contour lines and oxbow lakes all day. It was while perusing such a tome that I made the gargantuan teenage discovery that there were, in fact, cities further north than Inverness, many in Norway.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

My father, Donald Edwards, would have been 100 on Hallowe’en this year, but was never going to live that long. Conscripted into the Royal Navy at 18, he bore the silent scars of the Atlantic convoys. As some kind of coping mechanism against the U-boat wolfpacks trying to kill him every day, he became addicted to the tot of rum and cigarettes he was given by the Navy as a nostrum. The U-boats didn’t kill him; the drink and fags did.

Donald Edwards served in the Royal Navy on British Atlantic convoys that were hunted by Nazi U-boats (Picture: Frank Brooks/Fox Photos/HultonArchive/Getty Images).Donald Edwards served in the Royal Navy on British Atlantic convoys that were hunted by Nazi U-boats (Picture: Frank Brooks/Fox Photos/HultonArchive/Getty Images).
Donald Edwards served in the Royal Navy on British Atlantic convoys that were hunted by Nazi U-boats (Picture: Frank Brooks/Fox Photos/HultonArchive/Getty Images).

Shaven-headed women

A career as a railway clerk followed but he was taken at 62, when I was barely out of my teens. Although he kept his war under his hat, he did speak volubly about his destroyer coming alongside in the Norwegian port city of Stavanger, at the end of the war. He said he saw hundreds of German helmets and weapons on the quay and, beside it, piles of human hair.

The provenance of the former was obvious, he only understood the latter when he saw open lorries carrying shaven-headed women through the streets. The girls’ crime? To have had German sailors as boyfriends. This affected him profoundly.

Read More
Here are 15 facts you need to know about World War Two on VE Day
Mike Edwards' father Donald served with the Royal Navy during the Second World War (Picture courtesy of Mike Edwards)Mike Edwards' father Donald served with the Royal Navy during the Second World War (Picture courtesy of Mike Edwards)
Mike Edwards' father Donald served with the Royal Navy during the Second World War (Picture courtesy of Mike Edwards)

I felt it apposite that my latest European trip as an Army Reserve officer was to the very same town, where a top-secret Nato exercise is ongoing. In a brief respite from the war between Redland and Blueland, I ducked out for a few hours and ambled around the same harbour.

The sun on my face and the wind in my hair, I fought to be close to my dad and regretted how life had been for him – to have lived through the war but never to have seen his son grow up, graduate, work in television, become a published author, serve in Iraq and Afghanistan, and get the OBE from the King.

I sat in a weatherbeaten waterfront café, where my muse continued. I don’t know if I said it out loud, whispered or thought it, but the instant my brain formed the words, “I wonder if you came here, Dad”, I contrived to kick my shaky table, knocking over my cup of scalding coffee, which shattered on the floor seconds after it emptied itself on me.

I’m not religious, I don’t believe in God, the Devil, or Karma. But I have no doubt this Stavanger sentience was no clumsy coincidence.

Related topics:

Comments

 0 comments

Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.