Two Ships

Andrew O’Hagan

The early railroads were rough maps of Victorian fancy. Trains and human hearts, in those days at least, were similar engines, chugging along on fresh steam or dank air. The Victorians cared about going forward: they meant to conquer all the worlds beyond their own, and no matter of geology, or history, or finance, was too big for their ambition, or too small for their genius. The story of the great railways is also the story of minor lives, and how they were made, or altered, or destroyed, with the coming of the new machines. People have been travelling from one great place to another forever, in their heads, but to move over the distant world – to be carried quickly on wheels, or propelled fast over water, or carried supersonically through the air, or through space, to some faraway place – must count for a lot in what it means to be modern. The carriages that carried us, the sustaining vessels, have a central role in our recent tales. We are intimate with our modes of transport. These vehicles are now close to us by nature, by desire and by design. Transport promises a future, just as it carries the remembrance of selves and places and things passed. Ours is a world of pictures coming and going at speed. Few of us now live, or would care to live, with the guarantee of being in one place for ever. But the British live with these thoughts of expansion and speed just as their empire is shrinking to nothing.

Canada always seemed like a fair place to end up – the scramble westwards hastened by the demand for furs, and by the unholy business of the Gold Rush. The Great Canadian Pacific Railway, completed in 1885, was to bring ‘Western Civilisation’ to the simple parts of North America, and from there to the even simpler parts of the Orient. In 1887 the Earl of Harrowby reported that the railroad was ‘perhaps the greatest revolution in the condition of the British empire that had occurred in our time ... It had brought the Pacific Ocean within 14 days of the English coast.’ The company that built the railroad wanted to expand the world until it met itself on the other side, and said hello, in English. They began to invest in a fleet of ships, urgent vessels, that would bind the glittering trade routes between England and Canada. The Canadian Pacific Railway sent its first president to London: he, too, spoke of civilising Australasia and the Orient, and he found able listeners at the Post Office, at the Chamber of Commerce and at the Colonial Office. The man came back to his company and ordered ships.

SS Montrose had been built by a Middles-brough company called Sir Raylton Dixon and Co, and was launched in 1897. It was a steel vessel weighing 5431 tons; it was 444 feet in length and 52 feet wide. It was neither a big ship nor was it especially fast. It made about 12 knots. The steamer’s first owner was Elder, Dempster and Co, who ran it on behalf of a South African shipping company. The ship was intended to carry cargo, and was fitted out with giant refrigeration chambers: but these were replaced with berths, and she spent her first few years carrying troops to the Boer War. In 1900 she carried the entire Dublin – Denbigh Imperial Yeomanry, along with their many horses, to the South African coast. The ship was later brought into service on the Beaver Line, a company of ships sailing between England and the prosperous shores of North America. The Beaver Line was bought up by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1903.

Canadian Pacific ran advertisements in British newspapers telling of the new life; it sent an agent to London to spread the word, to farmers especially, that things could be better if you upped and offed to Canada. At the turn of the century, a travelling exhibition van used to drive all over Britain, high and low, to the remotest villages and the primmest suburbs, passing on the good news about emigration to Canada. The CPR company records, and Lloyd’s List for 1903, reveal the effects of this sudden drive over the hills and byways of prewar British yearning: ‘Evidence of the great “trek” to Canada has been very patent in the streets of Liverpool during the last few weeks. Crowds of emigrants have been thronging the streets, and outside offices of the several steamship companies engaged in the Atlantic trade there have been large numbers of people waiting whilst their tickets were procured.’ A second-class cabin to Montreal, on SS Montrose, would have cost you £7.

Nobody could claim the Montrose was especially plush. It was a steerage vessel: most of the passengers were quite content to bed down in loose bunks deep in the old refrigerators. The heating was fine, and people said the food was a version of adequate. The crossing could be rough. But the Montrose gained the reputation of being a worthy and serviceable little vessel: well run, trusty and as comfortable and quick as you’d get for the money. The passengers could pace the decks without fear of assault or disease (not as new a feature of the crossing as you might expect). Not long after it was bought over by Canadian Pacific, it had a Marconi wireless fitted on board. The man in charge of SS Montrose in 1910, Captain H.G. Kendall, had been second officer on another old Beaver Line ship, SS Lake Champlain, which had been the first merchant ship in history ever to be fitted with a wireless. Now the ships were not so alone at sea.

For several years after 1910 one of the popular songs in the music halls of Great Britain went like this:

Oh Miss le Neve, oh Miss le Neve
Is it true that you are sittin’
On the lap of Dr Crippen
In your boy’s clothes,
On the Montrose
Miss le Neve?

Had she not been the victim in the case, Mrs Belle Crippen, a music-hall chanteuse herself, would have been among those to sing such a song. As it was, she had the least fortunate role in that weird tragedy of unfortunates, the Crippen case, which is perhaps the best remembered of what Orwell once called ‘the old domestic poisoning dramas’. Dr Crippen, a bespectacled, respectable man, who lived in North London, killed the lady, cut her up and buried her in the coal bunker. He then took up with his lover, a young thing called Ethel le Neve. Like many murders before and since, the one carried out by Dr Crippen came to be seen as a reflection on and of its time. All manner of local customs, fashions, ways of speaking, ways of believing, ways of wanting, seemed to come together in that horrible tale.

The Montrose was in port at Antwerp on 20 July 1910. It was due to sail to Quebec. There were reports in all the papers that a warrant had been issued for the arrest of Dr Crippen and his paramour. They had been spotted at a Brussels hotel, but were lost track of soon after. SS Montrose set off from the quay. Kendall, the ship’s captain, takes up the story:

Soon after we sailed for Quebec I happened to glance through the porthole of my cabin and behind a lifeboat I saw two men. One was squeezing the other’s hand. I walked along the boat deck and got into conversation with the elder man. I noticed that there was a mark on the bridge of his nose through wearing spectacles, that he had recently shaved off a moustache, and that he was growing a beard. The young fellow was very reserved, and I remarked about his cough.

  ‘Yes,’ said the elder man, ‘my boy has a weak chest, and I’m taking him to California for his health.’

The fairly Sherlockian Kendall retired to his cabin to scrutinise the Daily Mail. There he found Scotland Yard’s descriptions of Crippen and le Neve. He then arranged for ‘Mr Robinson and son’ to take meals with him at the top table.

He thought the boy Robinson ate things a little delicately. The Montrose dining-room was considered a pleasant place to be, but the two passengers who’d caught the Captain’s eye seemed anything but easy. Kendall and the older gent roamed the deck together; the wind blew up once, revealing a revolver in Mr Robinson’s pocket. That was enough to confirm Kendall’s worries. He went down below, and gave his wireless operator a message to be sent to Canadian Pacific’s office in Liverpool. ‘One hundred and thirty miles west of Lizard ...’ it said, ‘have strong suspicions that Crippen London cellar murderer and accomplice are among saloon passengers ... Accomplice dressed as boy; voice, manner and build undoubtedly a girl.’ Kendall later recalled ‘Mr Robinson sitting on a deck chair, looking at the wireless aerials and listening to the crackling of our crude spark-transmitter, and remarking ... what a wonderful invention it was.’

Inspector Dew, from Scotland Yard, got the message and jumped on a faster boat, the Laurentic. He expected to overtake the Montrose, and land at Newfoundland, before the slower boat arrived. He wired Kendall to warn him of his plan. There are two versions of what happened next. One has Inspector Dew coming onto the Montrose, being introduced to Mr Robinson by Captain Kendall, and then grabbing the passenger with the words: ‘Good morning, Dr Crippen.’ Dew thereafter put the man, and his girlish son, under arrest. The other version of Crippen’s last moment of freedom on the Montrose has him cursing Captain Kendall, and placing a hex on the ship, as well as the spot they stood on. This version has something on its side: the Empress of Ireland, captained by the resourceful Kendall, sank four years later near the same spot, with great loss of life.

The Montrose was soon forgotten again. It continued, though, to ferry a less fearsome cargo of émigrés and holidaymakers across the cold water of the Atlantic. In the summer of 1914, the Montrose stood again in Antwerp, next to another of the Beaver Line ships, the Montreal. The latter ship was full of coal, but its engines had been removed for repair. Suddenly, the German advance began, and both ships found themselves crowded with Belgian refugees. They had to leave the harbour in haste: Montrose would have to drag the listless Montreal out to sea. The new war refugees lay about the deck; some sat cheek by jowl in the dining-room; many more were packed into the old refrigerators and the saloons. The Montrose managed to drag the Montreal as far as the Nove, and then our ship continued on its way to Gravesend.

SS Montrose tired very young. She was sold to the Admiralty at the end of October 1914. It was felt that the best way to make the ship serve the war was to fill her holds full of cement, and to sink her as a block ship, just outside Dover harbour, where she might prevent the too easy arrival of German U-boats. The work of cementing was still in progress a few days after Christinas that year, when the Montrose broke from her moorings, and drifted away, until she foundered on the Goodwin Sands. The watchmen on board were saved at the last minute. The loose sands at this point had claimed hundreds of ships over the years; so many that the place became known as the ‘ship-swallower’. The South Foreland lighthouse, built just over the way in 1843, shone for miles over these dangerous waters. It was from this lighthouse that Marconi sent its first true wireless message, to a lightship 13 miles out, on the very day the SS Montrose was hunched.

The mast of the Montrose stood out of the water at the Goodwin Sands, at low tide, until the morning of 22 June 1963, when it finally broke away, and was carried off to sea.

As the bus winds its way through the first hills of Argyll – ridges over three thousand feet, jagged like animal teeth – you can see that the Highlands start here. The signs of modern tourism are everywhere: oddly familiar now, weirdly at home with other signs to do with the slow business of the past being lived out, or pulled away from. The years have seen people go from here in very large numbers: gone south mainly, or else found themselves a passport to some other place entirely. On the Argyll side of Loch Leven, the first housing scheme in the area was built for the families of those who stayed behind; it was paid for by the British Aluminium Company. The other local industry, slate quarrying, was established in Ballachulish two years after the massacre at Glencoe. But other sorts of roof cover have brought that industry down too. Those who stayed working on the land after the last war collected oats, potatoes, turnips and hay. Even as late as 1951, the town of Ballachulish could boast of 87 horses, compared with 27 tractors. Now the roads are mainly filled with buses covered in odd writing, filled with people holding up cameras.

Allan Kerr worked with trees after the last war. His white bungalow looks over Loch Linnhe, up from the main road, where the buses pass. He is 76 years old. I came up the path that day with a map in my hand. His French windows were wide to the world. Mrs Kerr, gathering her things together for a day doing meals-on-wheels, had the look of someone much younger than she is. Clear air and good water, a friendly doctor and an active life. As they stood by their modern window, with their pink faces, the Kerrs seemed like a living advertisement for Bupa.

‘I don’t know a lot about the ship’s early history,’ he said, ‘I just know about the end of it all.’ I asked him when he first saw the vessel.

‘In 1939 I was 19,’ he said. ‘Nineteen, and I wanted to sign up for the war – in the Navy – but when I applied they told me I’d have to go to the Labour Exchange; there was nothing for me. But then I got a letter. It said that there was a ship being refitted in Glasgow, and that I should join that as midshipman. The ship was sitting in Yorkhill Basin – I went down there in October 1939, and a lot was going on. It was the first time I ever saw HMS Forfar.’

Allan Kerr then trained, with other officers, in the business of naval gunnery. Nearly all the engineers on the ship were Liverpool men and all the stokers came out of Glasgow. The ship was only a short time in the hands of the workmen at Yorkhill, and gunnery trials were later carried out in the Firth of Clyde. There were a lot of cruisers and destroyers at the mouth of the river, even in those early days of the war, and many of them had been, like the newly-named HMS Forfar, peacetime passenger liners which were converted for battle. The job of the ship was to make sure that supplies did not get through to the enemy from neutral merchant boats.

The ship’s company was 300 strong. Mr Kerr brought out a photograph of the ship’s officers, taken on board while the ship stood in Glasgow, on the day it was visited by the town council. The photograph is full of men in dark uniforms, and women from the council with their elegant hats and fur collars. The younger men, the junior officers, are sitting at the front, cross-legged on a worn carpet, in the ship’s best place, a room filled with mirrors. There is pride and optimism in the faces of these men. The rest of the ship’s company – the ratings – were to be found elsewhere on the ship, with their own expressions no doubt, but the photographs of these men are lost now, or were never taken.

Allan Kerr is very young in the officers’ photograph, with his hands clasped. In his white bungalow he passed me another snap. I looked at his hands. One of them had fingers missing from it ‘This picture,’ he says, ‘was taken from my family house in Port Glasgow. I was on leave, and I went back to join the ship in Glasgow one morning. But the ship was just departing as I got there. So I raced after it, shooting down the road, to join it at Greenock. But I stopped off to take that snap from my house on the way.’

The picture is blurred. The Forfar’s two funnels look very dark against the water of the Clyde. The picture makes the ship look indefinite and misty. It looks like a ghost ship. Allan joined the Forfar at Greenock, just in time, and it sailed out from the Clyde estuary, out past the islands, and into the dangerous waters of the North Atlantic.

Before the war, HMS Forfar was called SS Montrose. When the Admiralty took over passenger liners to employ in the war effort, as armed merchant cruisers, they would sometimes change the ship’s name. The reason for this was simple: they already had a Royal Navy ship of that name. It is a long-standing custom that no two ships in the Royal Navy, or in the British Merchant Navy, may have the same name. And so it was with SS Montrase. It became the Forfar, no doubt – according to a recent informant in Liverpool – because some wag at the Admiralty was in the habit of doing the football pools. Or he may have been interested in Scottish league football itself. But the ship that Allan Kerr joined at Glasgow was the successor to the old SS Montrose, by that date long sunk on the Goodwin Sands.

The Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company of Govan started to build the second Montrose in 1920. Canadian Pacific paid one and a half million pounds for the job. It was one of the new passenger liners, set to work the very popular Liverpool to Canada tourist route, and it was a big ship, over sixteen thousand tons. It was launched on 14 December 1920 by Lady Raeburn, who was the unsmiling wife of the then director-general of the Ministry of Shipping. When the ship sailed on her maiden voyage from Liverpool, in the spring of 1922, she had accommodation for first, second and third-class passengers. The best dining-room was made up like a room in a Tudor mansion: strips of wood panelling; fine tapestries hanging here and there; leather chairs, ceramic bowls filled with daffodils on long tables; black and white tiles on the floor; and acres of mirrors.

In the lounge there was a grand piano. In the children’s room there was a white wooden rocking-horse. In the drawing-room there was a large painting of Napoleon Bonaparte hanging above the fire. There were ornate tiles in the staterooms, but no daffodils in third-class dining. The ship was said to be busy with music and noise and children. It was a holidaymaker’s place. You could dance here, and drink before an open fire, or just read quietly in a corner on your own. There was a wind-up gramophone in one of the little saloons, and newly beaded girls would primp up their hair, and swing their legs here, in time to the glamorous new music. Every bed coverlet had ‘Canadian Pacific Ocean Services’ stitched into it.

Steam was provided by ten boilers all burning oil fuel. The two funnels were tall and widely spaced; the designers intended this to give the ship a ‘balanced appearance’. But the ship – just like its sister ships the Montcalm and the Montclare – had some rather ugly sets of davits (pairs of beams hanging over the sides), the displeasing appearance of which was to be borne on grounds of safety. It was believed they could launch all of the ship’s 24 lifeboats in two minutes.

The ship struck an iceberg in the Atlantic on Easter Monday 1928. It had been moving slowly though dense fog when the accident happened. The bow was crushed, as were two sailors, to death, when ice crashed down onto the deck. But the ship was repaired and back on duty in a matter of months. The Montrose became well known at the docks of Montreal and Liverpool over the next ten years. Like its predecessor, it was a trusty, untroublesome vessel, full of life and the attendant sorrows of departure. Many of the voyagers in the Thirties followed in the footsteps of the earlier Monrtrose’s passengers: emigrants, looking to a better life on the other side. The second Montrose would sometimes make trips from Cardiff, the valleys of South Wales being no stranger to hopefulness of that sort either.

The King and Queen, with Princess Elizabeth, sailed out for the Coronation Naval Review in May 1937. Commander T. Woodroffe made a live radio broadcast from the event, which was much listened to, and much remembered, for relaying this, the last of the grand naval spectacles before the war. It is also remembered because Commander Woodroffe was drunk. ‘The splendour of the uniforms,’ he said, ‘and the dressing of the Royal Marines, and their steadiness, is something really to remember for the rest of one’s life. I can hear the cheering of the foreign ships – the Dunkirk, the New York, the Moreno – as they cheer his Majesty.’ Just as he says this you can hear the cheers go up from the gathered ships of the fleet. The commentator continues, as the royal yacht passes by: ‘There she goes, the most lovely, swan-like thing passing by. She is an old yacht built for Queen Victoria, and she’s not modern. She epitomises I think the English – British, I’m sorry – sea power. There is the Enchantress. All ships enchant you. In the dim, dim distance I can see a few destroyers, battleships, cruisers, aircraft carriers. A wonderful, great fleet, with flags flying.’ The broadcast peters out on a mangled rendition of ‘God Save the King’.

One of those ships in the dim, dim distance was the Montrose. She had been chartered that day by the Royal Empire Society, and she carried passengers from Liverpool to Spithead for that giant display of British naval power. All who were there say it was a grand day; all the more so as it was a show of greatness that would soon enough seem diminished. Within a few years so many of those fine ships would be sunk, and a great number of those who cheered for their king that day would be dead. The Second World War was to be almost lost at sea.

Winston Churchill once said that the only thing which really frightened him during the war was the U-boat peril. For several years the Germans displayed a horrible talent for sinking British ships, and there seemed at the time no obvious way around it. The German U-boat captains were thought to be fearless and brilliant: they would routinely sail into the middle of a convoy in heavy weather, firing off every torpedo they had on board, disabling one ship, sinking another, and then diving beneath the waves, dogged by depth charges, but somehow getting clear, and making off. The captains of these submarines became national heroes in their own country.

Otto Kretchmer was a dark enemy. With a devoted crew on U-99 he ripped more than 100,000 tons of British shipping to bits during the war. He had a good mind for naval strategy, strong nerves, a quick eye, a kind of reckless reason and a stomach galvanised to the purpose, which was the annihilation of all enemy forces at sea. He became a Hitler favourite, though he considered himself to be merely a decent and disciplined sailor, bent to the unpleasant task at hand. He was no great lover of humanity, perhaps, but he loved the sea, and the sea-going vessels with their strange part in the affairs of the world. Kretchmer had two sides to him: one of them, after the sinking of the Canadian steamer Luimneach, caused him to bring his vessel to the surface, and then to throw cigarettes and bandages into the surrounding lifeboats. The other side of him allowed not a glimmer of mercy. ‘Kretchmer had never really thought seriously of the people who manned the ships he sank,’ said one man close to him. ‘They were the enemy, and if they were human beings as well, it had not bothered his conscience.’

On 2 December 1940 Kretchmer was guiding his U-boat over some messy waters to the west of Ireland. At 3.15 a.m. one of his assistants wrote in the log: ‘Impossible to maintain speed. Reduced to half-speed, making about five knots over the ground. Boat being pushed under water by the force of waves.’ But they sailed on. At about 5.40 a ‘large, ominous shadow appeared in the darkness less than half a mile away.’ It was the Montrose, now the armed merchant cruiser HMS Forfar. Kretchmer went up to full speed and gave the order to fire. A torpedo dashed through the turbulent water.

The Forfar was hit Kretchmer could see that someone on the ship was firing red and yellow lights into the air, trying to locate the U-boats, but he turned into an attacking position, and then fired a second torpedo, which hissed off and struck the target under the bridge. The Forfar then sent out a distress signal. One of Kretchmer’s officers remembered the Forfar’s crew firing ‘round after round of starshell, the lights of the flares glowing palely over the black, writhing sea’. Kretchmer let off a third torpedo, which hit the Forfar somewhere forward. Kretchmer was confused and surprised by the fact that the crew of the Forfar did not seem to be making for the lifeboats. Some of the ships he had sunk recently had survived in the water longer than they might have, thanks to the amount of floatable material they carried. He could see oil-drums bobbing around the Forfar. The ship’s men clearly thought they could keep her afloat.

Kretchmer went to within 800 yards. His fourth torpedo hit the stern. The Forfar now lay low in the water. More than an hour had passed, and daylight was coming up. Kretchmer fired one last torpedo at the stern. The ship buckled and snapped, and within minutes was engulfed. It sank reluctantly beneath the waves. Kretchmer told his officers he was shocked. He couldn’t believe the ship had not lowered more of its lifeboats. The crew of U-99 took their last look at the debris of the Forfar. They knew nothing of the ship, or of the men on board. But later that day they sank another ship from the same group. A junior officer climbed out to the U-boat’s conning tower some time in the evening, when they had made it to a safe distance. He climbed up, and added another two flags to the dozens already fixed there. Each had a horseshoe printed on it. Two more dead ships.

Allan Kerr took me into his kitchen and served up some soup. It was bright in there: a tiny space filled with mature domestic application. Buffed surfaces; good order about the microwave; small curtains boiled white. Before we lifted our spoons, Allan put his hands together, and asked for silence while he said Grace. A flavoursome sense of the Church of Scotland sat there with us at the table. Mr Kerr had survived to live something of an orderly life, and a thankful one at that.

On first watch the night of his ship’s sinking, Allan Kerr wrote a note in the ship’s log: ‘2300 – parted company with destroyer escort.’ He remembers it was a black night, with no moon, and Kerr eventually left the watch to his friend Mackay, who waved him off at midnight. From notes Kerr wrote a week later, we get a strong sense of what happened next:

I undressed, said my prayers, and turned in quite happily. My sound sleep was soon broken by a terrific crash. Immediately I was awake. ‘Torpedoed’ flashed through my mind ... never will I forget the eerie silence that prevailed. The engines had stopped and the lights were dimming rapidly. ‘Action Stations’ was sounded on the klaxons, but this seemed to drain the last few dregs from the dynamo, for it petered out and all went black ... I can still remember being annoyed when one of my shoelaces broke as I pulled on shoes ... In the lower chart-room I was able to assist Mr Broadhurst who was holding a light for the navigator, Lt Cdr Kenworthy, whilst he [the navigator] plotted our exact position on the chart.

‘There were about twenty thousand empty oil-drums on board,’ Mr Kerr said to me. ‘We thought we could stay afloat with them as ballast.’ But they went to their boat stations, to turn out the boats and stand by. Air was rushing violently up the engine-room ventilators by that time. The chief skipper – a man who once skippered fishing trawlers – had bundled a bottle of whisky and a bottle of brandy into a bag. As Kerr was preparing his lifeboat there was a crash just below them: a second torpedo. Another one quickly followed, impacting on the port side, and showering these men with water. Kerr remembers shouting ‘Anyone for P2?’, trying to attract men to his lifeboat. But he noticed that the deck was completely deserted. It took a while for people to come to his boat. There were about twenty when a fourth torpedo hit below them again, and blew them into the water. Kerr thought this was the end. But he emerged on the surface, and swam over to a Carley float. He was covered in fuel oil.

The fifth and last torpedo hit the ship soon afterwards. ‘There was a giant column of flame,’ said Mr Kerr, ‘much higher than the main mast And then a ghastly crunch as the after-end of the ship bent inwards, crushing the decks like matchsticks. She eventually turned over, and began to sink slowly and steadily by the stern.’ There were 12 men hanging onto the float, and the water was freezing. As the ship went down, Kerr turned to those nearest him. ‘Well boys,’ he said, ‘there goes the last of the old Forfar.’ He later wondered why he had said something so melodramatic, but it didn’t seem right to him that she should make her last exit unannounced. It was a terrible scene, the end of the Forfar, the end of the old Monuose. Mr Kerr said he would never forget the sight of men sliding down from the ship as it sank, scrambling down the hull, shouting for their mothers.

The ship was gone. The U-boat was gone. And eventually, much later in the day, the survivors were picked up by a couple of rescue ships. Just under half of the ship’s company went down with the wreckage. I asked Mr Kerr why, given the time the ship remained afloat, so many men were lost, and he told me one of the harsher truths. ‘I’m not sure,’ he said, ‘but I believe some of the men below may have raided the grog shop after the first torpedo struck; I think a lot of them delayed, getting drunk in the stores.’

We sat quiet for a while by the front windows, looking down at the loch. ‘I love my old ship,’ Mr Kerr said eventually, ‘it was a terrible loss.’ Then he picked something out of a bag, an old watch, rusted and broken down. ‘I was wearing this as I went down into the water that night,’ he said, ‘the hands are stopped at that exact moment.’

My grandfather was a good bit older than Mr Kerr, and he was a greaser in the engine-room. The last his family in Glasgow heard of him he was having his cigarette allowance docked for bad behaviour. There’s no way of knowing why he didn’t make it to the lifeboats: they had always said he was good on his feet. But I’d come to know that my grandfather was no longer missing: he was beneath the waves with all that broken metal.