That Noise Never Left Him

Tyrone republican Sean Mallory reflects on the horror of war.

Here on the Quill I read Anthony McIntyre's review of the book HHhH and especially the comments that followed in reference to WWI and WWII and realised that a lot what was said in those comments I could also endorse. 

I thought about the references to the films and their portrayals of war. Some allude to its glory. Some allude to a mixture of both glory and savagery but emphasising for propaganda reasons, whether factual or not, that the greater degree of savagery always lay with the enemy. While other films quickly deteriorated in to a ‘Hollywood’ style of gross exaggeration of fiction, invincibility of the nation portrayed through the actions of the actor and incorporating mass killings mixed with scenes of loads of blood and gore and bore absolutely no resemblance to what its initial objective to the viewer was or anything factual for that matter. 

The Rambo films, with the exception of First Blood, are such a genre with the legacy of Vietnam and America’s unwillingness to accept defeat. 

All of these films portray the victor’s side and very seldom are films made about the looser except in Ireland where we are good at loosing! 

There are extremely brilliant exceptions to this and besides those mentioned in the comments I also believe that All Quiet on the Western Front is perhaps the film that best portrays humanity’s fall from grace. A film more pertinent as we approach the anniversary of the battle of the Somme.

The papers and media in general are full of accounts of the bravery of soldiers who fought on the British side but not one mention of the German soldier or how he faired in the battle. 

I have read as many newspaper articles as time allows me on the Somme and I have no intention of
detracting or belittling the appalling butchery that went on for several months but I would like to try and put a human face to the enemy by relating an account from a journal of a U-Boat submariner during a later war, WWII, and specifically when he was on his first attack of an Atlantic convoy. 

Like those accounts of the Somme years before, I hope those who read this realise that there are people on both sides, just people.

While in Germany many, many moons ago, Annie Wilkes, my sister and who by the way, is oblivious to this stage name, gave me a pamphlet type booklet that she had picked up in East Germany on her student holidays and that was translated in to English. It was the English translation in an East German book shop that attracted her to it. She thought that I might be interested in it.
It was an excerpt from a journal of a U-Boat submariner who was assigned to the sonar station on his U-Boat. A terrifying way to fight a war, both for the crew, those being stalked by them, and they in turn being stalked by the escorts of the convoys.

In one part, the journal refers to this young submariners first few missions in the Atlantic during WWII and that during a successful strike by his U-Boat and against the Atlantic convoys he was told to be on alert for enemy destroyers escorting the convoy before the strike and especially afterwards as the U-Boat would be giving it’s approximate position away once it launched the torpedo.

The mariner was a ‘rookie’ so to speak and had never experienced actual combat conditions and so was unduly attentive and nervous throughout the attack. I suppose he wanted to impress his captain and the rest of the crew in the command area who I’m sure were apprehensive as to his abilities. One slip and they would become the prey.

Anyway, it was a successful attack but later afterwards, the young mariner reporting to his captain, informed him that he would never forget the noise of the ship creaking as it sank but that mixed in with that was a strange noise that he couldn’t identify and faded in to silence as the hull imploded under the pressure of the ocean. The captain quickly waved it off as possibly debris moving about the hull of the ship as it sank. The young mariner began to explain that it wasn’t that, as it wasn’t a metal grinding noise or anything like that, and that he had never heard it before even in his training. He could identify or explain away, all or most of the other noises but not this one. Once again the captain dismissed his curiosity with a similar explanation and then distracted him by praising his work.

It wasn’t until the young mariner returned to base in France and while out celebrating their success he found himself in conversation with other more experienced crews that he happened to mention the noise. Some members of the other crews were reluctant to talk about it but one among them was and he stated that they must have been in close to pick that sound up but would he try and describe what it sounded like by comparing the sounds around him now in the crowded and rowdy café. The young mariner after a while looked at the other crew member and understood there and then what it was.

The other crew member went on to explain that it was the screams and the frantic attempts of members of the sinking ship’s crew who were trapped below decks and trying to escape. Most likely trying to alert the rest of their crew as to their plight. They probably realised they were below water and their screams and desperate efforts to escape was simply a hopeless attempt to live. Sometimes you will hear, most times not. When you do, keep it to yourself. The men don’t like it. It unnerves them.

That noise never left him!

We all have this image of the crews of ships hit by torpedoes jumping over board to escape. We never have the image of the crew being trapped below decks and sinking to their impending death .... horrific to say the least. 


  1. Great piece Sean cheers.

    Chilling. Can't imagine anything worse than being a submariner in War. We should always remember there are at least two sides in any conflict.

    Another WW2 drama springs to mind is 'Conspiracy' about the Wannsee conference, in which the Shankill's very own Kenneth Brannagh wins an Emmy portraying Reinhard Heydrich.

    Amazing how coldly they could discuss genocide like it was a cup of tea.

  2. Conspiracy is a great film Steve - chilling, as you say

  3. Sean Mallory says

    Steve, I didn't catch that one but I will. When you reach a stage such as the Nazis did when human life had no longer any value then there really is something wrong with society.....but it has happened again and again and continues to happen in Palestine.....very sad state of affairs.