Pat Poland reflects on the remarkable time when The Nazis arrived in Kinsale
It was Saturday morning, 19 January 1946, when local solicitor Dick Hegarty left his home in Kinsale, Co. Cork, to take his usual bracing walk along the pier. World War Two had finally come to an end just four months’ before with the surrender of Japan to General MacArthur in Tokyo Bay.
Although Éire had been neutral in the conflict, it was a time of austerity, shortages, and rationing. Most people just wanted to put it all behind them and get on with their lives.
Hegarty, lost in thought, was suddenly confronted by two men dressed in naval uniform who blocked his path. Almost immediately, his eyes alighted on the decoration that both men were wearing, for it was none other than the German decoration known as the Iron Cross, with the Nazi Swastika at its centre.
The senior of the two introduced himself, in excellent English, as Korvettenkapitan (Lieut Commander) Martin Clemens of the Kriegsmarine, the, now-defeated, German Navy. They were, he explained, escaped Prisoners-of-War having sailed to Ireland from St Nazaire on the Atlantic coast of France. Their group of fifteen comprised six officers, eight other ranks, and a civilian. Would he mind directing them to the nearest police station, bitte?
Clemens had been the commander of a flotilla of mine-sweepers. With the surrender of Germany in May 1945, he and his crews were taken Prisoners of War at St Nazaire, and interned there. They had been treated tolerably well by the French Navy, but they had learned that soon, they would be transferred under the control of the reconstituted French Army, many of whom had served in the Resistance and whose aversion to the Germans was no secret.
Thus, they had decided to make their escape to a neutral country. One thing they were adamant about; they did not want to be returned to France where they were certain that a ‘reception party’ would be waiting to greet them.