German Bight – a story of WW1 at sea

“Dogger – Cyclonic four or five. Moderate. Fog banks. Poor or very poor. German Bight…”

“It’s not the German Bight! Because we kicked them out of it!”

The only time I saw my Grandfather angry was in 1956 when someone accidentally left the wireless on long enough for him to hear the shipping forecast.

I knew he had been in the Navy during the War – the Great War – but I never thought to ask him about it. Back then everyone had had it up to here with war. But it was when they renamed one of the shipping forecast areas that I found out a bit about it. Looking back, I wish I’d asked.

But after that day I was scared to.

“Do you know what it should be?” he fixed me with a stare, turning my knees to jelly.

“N.. no, Grandfather.”

“Heligoland, that’s what it should be called,” he said, suddenly smiling. I didn’t remember seeing that before. “And we fought the Germans there and we won.”

I was thinking of a reply when he glared again. “They said it was foggy, didn’t they?” his voice suddenly tremulous.

“Yes, Grandfather.”

“It was foggy then too. I was on the Arethusa. We were about to hit one of their destroyers, when out of the fog came two cruisers. They hit us twenty, thirty times. It was… Do you know what happens to someone caught in a cordite fire? You think they’re all right but … it takes hours for them to die. No-one knows about it now. And now nobody ever will because they’ve taken Heligoland away.”

Nowadays whenever we listen to the shipping forecast, I tell my children ‘It’s not the German Bight, because your Great Grandfather fought the Germans there.’

I don’t know that they listen, though.

© M. Willis 2013

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