Forgotten Hero of Bunker Valentin – The Harry Callan StoryMarch 24, 2017 ADMIN 0
Michèle Callan will never forget what her father-in-law, Harry, went through during the Second World War and she understands the nightmares he has suffered since. Callan, who is also Harry’s carer, said, ‘When I first asked Harry to share his life story with me, I had no idea what to expect or where it would take me. We have shared a long road together. I chose to write Harry’s story in his own voice so readers could hear it as he told it to me.’ The result of their talks is Forgotten Hero of Bunker Valentin – The Harry Callan Story (The Collins Press, price €14.99), which was launched by Commodore Hugh Tully FOCNS (Flag Officer Commanding Naval Services) on Thursday 23 March in Balcarrick Golf Club, Corballis, Donabate, County Dublin.
A Catholic boy from Derry, Harry was just sixteen years old in 1939 when he joined the British Merchant Navy and went to sea. In April 1941, he was captured by the Germans. Two years later, Harry, along with thirty-one other Irish POWs, refused a Gestapo request to work frei for Germany. They were sent to a labour education camp, where he and his fellow prisoners were starved, beaten and forced to dig the foundations for a Nazi super-structure codenamed Bunker Valentin – an immense U-boat factory. Thousands of the camp’s prisoners perished, including five of the Irishmen; bodies fell into the foundations and were never recovered. The surviving Irishmen were saved by the goodwill of decent Germans.
Callan continued, ‘Harry was unable to speak about the brutality he experienced for decades after he was liberated. When he finally began to tell his story, we were shocked by what we heard. He had nightmares because of what he saw but also because of what he tried not to see. Trying not to think of others while held captive was the only way to survive but sometimes Harry cried himself to sleep, ashamed of his inability to help.’
In his eighties, Harry agreed to revisit the site of his incarceration. He found local historians had no evidence of the Irish prisoners: they had disappeared from official records. Determined to give his comrades recognition, he began working to preserve their memory.
This is the gripping story of Harry’s capture, resistance and liberation. But above all, it is the final chapter in his quest to honour the forgotten heroes of Bunker Valentin.