Ireland may be the only country in the world where World War Two was referred to as an “Emergency” but in the early days of that global conflict, the action hit home on a personal level when the Leitrim Observer’s legendary owner Patrick Dunne witnessed the rescue of the crew of a torpedoed ship.
The conflict may have been less than two weeks old at the time, starting on September 1, 1939, but our edition of September 16, 1939 recorded, on the front page, “Thrilling experience of Carrick men - Witness rescue of torpedoed crew”.
Opening the report, the Observer recorded “Passengers on board the American liner “Washington”, comprising hundreds of tourists including Mr Patrick Dunne, proprietor “Leitrim Observer”, his brother, Mr. John Dunne, jeweller, Carrick-on-Shannon, and Mr John McLoughlin, Wine Street, Sligo, returning from a holiday to the United States ... had the most thrilling experience of their lives on Thursday night, when between the Azore Islands and the Coast of Spain, they saw from the decks of this great liner, flying the Stars and Stripes, the rescue of the crew of a recently torpedoed vessel, which was carried out in the best traditions of the sea.”
The report carried the account of several Belfast members of the crew of the sunk ship, a Bristol freighter named the Olive Grove which was on her way to London with 6,000 tonnes.
In a scene unlikely to have been repeated later in the War, the report told of how the German U-Boat had given the crew of the Olive Grove time to escape on their life-boats before sinking the ship and then waited until the “Washington” came along to rescue the stranded sailors.
“When the crew told the passengers of the ‘Washington’ how considerately they were looked after by the U-Boat captain and his men, hearty cheers were given, which the German Captain acknowledged. Courtesies were then exchanged, the ‘Washington” steered for Cobh and the submarine disappeared in the darkness to the accompaniment of ringing cheers.
“The rescued crew did not seem very much the worse for their harrowing experience and gave Messrs. Dunne and McLoughlin their autographs as souvenirs of a historic occasion. It was certainly a thrilling end of a holiday and has left a lasting impression on all who witnessed it.”
The back page of the Observer also carried a detailed analysis of how the supply of Oil would effect the war, written by Harold Callender of the New York Times.
The outbreak of the War also led to a call for farmers “to rise to the occasion” and ensure that there would be an adequate food supply in the country. “Appealing to members and officials to encourage farmers to grow wheat and beet, Mr. M. O’Reilly, TD, Chairman of the Meath Agricultural Committee, said that if the farmers and even people with small holdings, co-operated with the Government, there would be no shortage of food in this country.
“He suggested that the Committee’s instructors should give a series of lectures on wheat and beet growing and that vocational schools should co-operate in an effort to preserve fruit supplies.”
Other news told of how a benefit match would be played in the Bee Park in Manorhamilton on Sunday, September 17, between a Manorhamilton selection and a Blacklion and Glenfarne selection - “This will be a great match as the pick of North Leitrim players will be taking part. In addition, Mick Moran, the well-known County players, who is an official of the Land Commission and is presently engaged around Manorhamilton, will be seen in action.”