September 1940. Night. Convoy HX72 steams slowly across the Atlantic, bringing vital supplies to the beleaguered British. The convoy is unaware that it is being shadowed by German U-boats, sleek and lethal, preparing to carry out one of the lightning raids that earned them a place among the most feared fighters of the Second World War. Aboard one of the ships -- The Canonesa -- fourth engineer Tom Parnell is on duty in the engine room, not knowing that he will become the sole casualty when enemy torpedoes slam into the already doomed vessel.
The terrible events of that long ago night are retold by Mr Parnell’s grandson in a comprehensive and quite wonderful site called Canonesa, Convoy HX72 and U-100. Weaving together official documents from both British and German naval sources and painstakingly cross-referencing them with personal testimonies, the site reveals one of the war’s all but forgotten tragedies. It puts the battle into context, explaining the importance of convoys to the war effort and the appalling risks run by merchant seaman. It shows what life was like aboard a U-boat (especially when it came under attack) and tells of the charismatic German captains, whose feats often resulted in hero status back in Germany. Unmissable.
The Canonesa shares its last resting place with untold numbers of ships -- including the vastly more famous Titanic, which spent most of its short life in the Harland and Wolff shipyards in Northern Ireland. Judging by the Ulster Titanic Society, they’re still proud of what they built. The society is presided over by 91-year-old John Parkinson who, aged 5, watched the boat as she set out on her maiden voyage. He remembers: "[I] saw the great R M S Titanic being towed by 12 strong tug boats up Belfast Lough, then to go under her own steam with the thundering swishes of the propellers turning up the sea waves -- and away on its maiden voyage to New York." The experience determined the course of his life -- when he left school he took up work in the Harland and Wolff yards.
By its very nature the web is a perfect repository for such personal histories, complementing the work of community bodies such as Ireland’s Clare County Library. The organisation has been collecting local folklore and oral traditions since the 1920’s through subsidiary bodies such as the Clare Local Studies Project. Their home page also has details of services on offer, details of local art events and a short guide to the history of the region (about which the 18th century poet John Clare wrote: "From its agreeable situation, the climate is remarkably wholesome, the air clear and temperate, and the prospect pure and delightful").
Some years ago we worked in a local library on Saturdays. And we remember that the saddest corner of the building was the lost pets area -- a cork board where children would pin blurred photographs of their errant animals in the hope that some kind soul would have rescued the pet and be able to return it. Petsearch UK is the web version of that cork board. Check out the photo file for a selection of cats and dogs that have recently gone AWOL. There are also details of how you can help, a list of local contact numbers and information about the charity (which was established in 1990) and its aims.
Since we can’t, in all conscience, end this week’s column on such a solemn note, we’d also like to recommend tiggeress’s web page, a family site featuring the thoughts of Wendy and Gary Nugent and their four-year-old son Joshua. The site is packed with light-hearted items: if ever I was to become an evil overlord, how to annoy people in a lift (our favourite: "When at least 8 other people have boarded, moan from the back: ‘Oh no, not now, damn motion sickness’"), men’s rules for women and 15 things you can do with your fingers, which is not as rude as it sounds. If you want to speak to Wendy and Gary direct, they confess that they are both IRC addicts often to be found cruising the Virgin IRC network.
See you next week ...