Archive for May, 2009

Aunt Eleanor Almost Didn’t Come Back

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

In the early morning hours of September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland.  At 11:15 AM on September 3, 1939, England declared war on Germany.  In between those two world-changing events, something happened that went unnoticed by almost everyone in the world: the SS Athenia left Liverpool, England and sailed for Montreal, Canada.

The Athenia had departed Glasgow, Scotland a day earlier, stopping at Belfast, Ireland and Liverpool to pick up more passengers.  One of those passengers was Eleanor Crowley.  Eleanor had been married to Daniel Crowley for less than 10 months and was in England to fulfill family obligations around the death of her aunt.  She had managed to work in a visit or two to see other relatives — with the impending war she didnt know when, or if, she would see them again — but now it was time to head home and be reunited with her new husband.  News of the invasion of Poland had certainly caused him some concern for her safety.

SS Athenia Underway

By the evening of September 3, the ship was about 250 miles northwest of the island of Inishtrahull, Ireland.  Word had reached them of the declaration of war and the mood was somber.  At about 4:30 that evening, the Athenia was spotted by a German U-boat, U-30.  The captain of the U-boat, Fritz-Julius Lemp tracked the ship for three hours.  He recorded that the ship was sailing without its lights on and sailing in a zig-zag course.  Based on these factors, plus the location – which was outside typical shipping lanes – Lemp concluded the ship was a troop carrier.  Lemp fired two torpedoes at the Athenia.  One struck home.

The torpedo ruptured the bulkhead between the engine room and the boiler room.  The engines stopped immediately as icy ocean water poured in through the enormous hole.  The Athenia was dead in the water and began to list.  The radioman began to broadcast SOS messages giving their location and situation.  Several nearby ships altered course to help.  The crew began to load passengers onto the life boats, but it was not an orderly process.  Panic gripped the ship, passengers and crew alike.  They had no idea if there were more torpedoes to come; how long the ship would remain afloat; or even if there would be enough lifeboats for everyone.  About 50 people had been killed by the explosion and many more were injured.  Later, reports were filed by some passengers that members of the crew were looting cabins after they ordered the people to the lifeboats.

Aunt Eleanor was put in a lifeboat along with about 50 other people.  But even that did not go smoothly.  One man fell out of the lifeboat and hit the water next to Aunt Eleanor.  She reached over and grabbed hold of him but she was not strong enough to lift him back into the boat.  Afraid that she might lose her grip, or worse, get pulled in too, she screamed for help.  Even as the men near her reached out to help she clenched her fists tighter so as not to let him slip away.  Finally, he was in the boat and she relaxed her grip.  They both survived, but unfortunately, Aunt Eleanor’s nails did not.  She had gripped so hard into his clothes that her nails were broken!

Their lifeboat drifted near the hulk of the Athenia for a couple of hours until a Norwegian tanker, the MS Knute Nelson, arrived and transferred the passengers aboard. 

SS Athenia Sinking

The Athenia sank about 14 hours after being struck by the torpedo.  The Knute Nelson picked up a total of 450 survivors and dropped them off in Galway, Ireland.

Uncle Dan did not learn Aunt Eleanor’s fate until a list of survivors was published on September 6.  I can not even imagine how long those three days were for him.

Aunt Eleanor finally made it back to the US on September 27 aboard the SS Orizaba.  She had lost everything except the clothes she wore, but she survived.

Timothy Crowley and Theresa Brady

Sunday, May 10th, 2009

In going through some of Mom’s things, Mary came across these pictures of Timothy Crowley, my great grandfather.

The first is of him taken on his wedding day, April 24, 1913.
Timothy J Crowley, Sr

This one was taken years later, obviously, and shows him in his police uniform.  I don’t know yet what the numbers on the uniform mean.  I am hoping the Providence Police can help me with that.
Tim Crowley in uniform

This is his wedding photo, with Theresa Brady, and was given to me by Mom’s cousin Ann Marie.
Theresa Brady and Timothy Crowley

2 Funerals and No Weddings

Friday, May 8th, 2009

I have been absent for quite a while, obviously.  This wasn’t due to lack of interest or a pause in research – well, actually, there was a pause, but not a voluntary one.  My parents passed away. 

Mom died two days after Christmas; Dad died the day before Easter.  Both had been ill for a while.  Mom had Alzheimer’s and Dad was just sick – believe it or not, they still don’t know what was wrong. 

Both lived with my sister in Virginia, so the issue of services for them became problematic.  Mom told us she didn’t want anything, but when we told family members in Rhode Island that we planned to honor her wishes, there was quite an uproar.  We decided we’d wait until Spring and have a memorial Mass at that time.  Mom’s Mass was March 21, 2009 at St. Rita’s in Warwick, RI.  Dad’s was 6 weeks later.

There was a slight mix-up at my Dad’s Mass.  The priest who had said my Mom’s Mass, Fr O’Hara, got called away at the last minute.  He arranged to have someone else say Mass for us.  Fr. O’Hara is an old family friend. He and my folks were extremely active in St Rita’s “back in the day,” as they say.  Well, the priest who filled in for him forgot that I wanted to say a few words about my Dad after the Mass.  He just dismissed us and we left.  No eulogy.

I had spoken at my Mom’s Mass and wanted to do so again for my Dad.  Many of the people who were there for Mom were back again and they were, no doubt, expecting it as well.

Not having had the chance to say it then disrupted my grieving more than I realized.  After speaking about Mom, I had a sense of closure.  Not so with Dad.  So, for a purely selfish reason, I’m posting his eulogy here. 


When I started thinking about what I was going to say today, a few words popped into my head right away: Happy, Supportive, Intelligent, Funny.

But there is one word that – for me – sums Dad up à Teacher.

Dad wanted to be a school teacher, but he never had the opportunity to become one, so he became Life Teacher.

Dad Taught me many things at every stage of my life. Some I’ve outgrown, others I will remember forever and hope to pass on to my kids.

When I was little, he taught me how to throw a football, the rules of baseball, why I shouldnt hit my sister.  As I got older, it was things like how to start a camp fire, how to fish, how to spit watermelon seeds in a race across our back yard after a cookout.

And, it wasn’t just me.  Dad had many students. He was a Scout Master for years at St Rita’s.  Troop 1, Oakland Beach. 

He taught the scouts a lot besides orienteering and camping: Perseverance, Charity, Volunteerism.

I remember one December.  He volunteered the Scouts to set up the Nativity Scene on the lawn out front.  This was back in the days when Christmas season began after Thanksgiving, not the Monday after 4th of July weekend.  Anyway, Dad forgot to get the key to the storage room downstairs and, of course, the priest (Fr. Gillooly) was not home.  So…. Dad taught us to Improvise!

With great care and precision and skill I didn’t know he had, Dad taught 8 Boy Scouts how to use a credit card to jimmy a lock open!

Dad also taught his grandchildren many positive lessons.  Some were the very same ones he taught to me – others were different.

When Amy and Sean were young, we took them down to visit my folks. Amy had just started to play soccer.  Dad told her it was great that she was excelling in school and sports and that a woman can do anything a man can do.  If you know my daughter, you know she took that lesson to heart immediately!

Not every lesson was so deep.

One time when my folks came up to visit – again when the kids were young – Dad took the time to sit down with Sean and teach him the “PROPER” way to put ketchup on a hot dog.  Sean does it that way to this very day!

One of the most powerful lessons Dad taught me is that it’s OK to admit when you’ve made a mistake.  So long as we learn from it, correct it, and move on.

And there is one last lesson Dad has to teach. 

I am now in the process of learning that nothing in this life is permanent.  The ones we love cannot stay with us forever.  Each moment is so fragile and so precious.  I have to learn to live without him being just a phone call away.

Dad taught a lot of people a lot of things.  I am proud to have been his student, and his son.


Colleen Lamont,Ed Lamont

This was taken at my sister’s wedding.  This is how I will remember them.