This is a story about a Dutch
vessel and one of its crew members who recalls a unique story
which took place in Narvik, Norway, just as Great Britain entered
the war against Germany.
I joined the S.S. "Flensburg" a vessel belonging to the Dutch company Halcyon line, in late August 1939 and signed on as galley boy. I was then 14 years old,going on 15,
and little did I know that very shortly our lives would change forever. The S.S. "Flensburg", a
flush deck ship, was quite large and build mainly for the ore trade. This trip would take us to Narvik, Norway to load a cargo of iron ore and then return to the port of Vlaardigen which was close to the port of Rotterdam. However the ore did not stay in Holland but rather it was discharged into barges and then it was shipped via the Rhine to Germany to feed the the German war machine. That would all chance very soon.
When we arrived in Narvik Great Britain had just declared war on Germany and so instead of
going to the loading berth we went to the anchorage awaiting further orders. In the meantime
the German ships anchored there were busy changing the names of the vessel and also the hailing
port. Thus Hamburg was changed to Oslo as the home port and the name(s) were also changed
to make it appear as though the ship(s) were Norwegian. However, some ships of the Royal Navy
were waiting outside the fjords and well aware of those changes.
In the meantime the crew, meaning unlicensed personnel only, had learned that there were mines
floating in the North Sea and a chance to hit one of those mines was not ruled out. What happenned next is something I look back on in wonderment because the crew actually refused to sail without getting some compensation for proceeding into the danger zone. A war bonus so to speak andthe amount was One Hunded Dutch Guilders for every crew member. The captain refused ofcourse and threatened the crew with mutiny.
Then someone from the Dutch Consulate came on board ,conferred with the captain, and they
made an offer in the form of One Hundred Dutch Guilders each for the crew except the boys,
which was myself and the peggey boy. The answer was a resounding no because they argued
that it was just as dangerous for the "boys" as the rest of the crew. Then after a brief conference
it was decided that we should all receive the bonus as mentioned earlier.
After that we proceeded to the loading berth and after loading was completed departed Narvik. But this time the ore would not go the usual route, that is to the port of Vlaardingen and
thence to Germany. Instead our destination was the port of Velsen where they had a blast furnace
and the ore would be converted to steel there. At least that is what they told us, but who knows.
Anyway the rumors about floating mines were true because we saw quite a few on the voyage to
Holland. The cook in the meantime was very apprehensive because he was a German and
feared that if we were stopped by a vessel of the Royal Navy, he would be taken off.
When we arrived in Velsen de captain at first refused to pay the One Hundred Guilder bonus
because he thought that there was nothing we could do once we were moored in Holland.
He was wrong. Shortly after we tied up a delegation consisting of several crew members went up to see him and what exactly took place I don't know but we all received the bonus.
But, we were also fired. Yes, all those that had taken part got their walking papers. Sometime
later I asked to see the captain and asked him why I could not sign on for another voyage. His
answer, "you are also a bandit." So I was discharged as well. After that we hired a bus to take
take us home, in my case Vlaardingen, and the rest of the crew to Rotterdam.
When I arrived home my Mother wanted to know where I got the 100 Guilders because in those
days that was a lot of money and my wages were a mere 22 Guilders a month. But I lived in a
small town and the news got around like "wildfire." After that all was well and I had quite a story
to tell. A few weeks later I joined the S.S."Stad Haarlem," a vessel that belonged to the same
company as The S.S."Flensburg" but this time we would be heading for South instead of North
to Narvik. The ore trade was more or less finished and thus began the grain trade form Argentina.
In closing I would like to say that we had on that voyage to Narvik quite a few unmarried man who came for Rotterdam and that would make a big difference in the decision to demand a bonus
for proceeding into what was essentially a danger zone. For instance if we hada"normal"complement, i.e. married man with a family and children, then this would not have taken place.You can hardly blame them for ships were not that plentiful and after all they had responsibilitiesat home.Well I hope you enjoy this story ,which I have also written in
Dutch, almost 63years after the fact.