I just finished Convoy, by Dudley Pope. If you've been following my reading list, then you know that I've been on a heavy diet of sea novels for the last year or so. After reading all of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series, I branched out to other authors, some of whom also wrote about the decades-long battle for empire between England and France that ended at Waterloo, and others who wrote about the World Wars of the last century.
Dudley Pope's Convoy is the first novel I have read that talks about what it was like to travel in a convoy of escorted merchant ships in wartime. Oddly, we are more likely to be familiar with the predatory submariner's point of view if we have seen the film, Das Boot, or if we are gamers, since so many "subsims" are German-oriented, (Aces of the Deep, Silent Hunter).
Convoy made me think of Mr. Rouse, on this Memorial Day. Mr. Rouse was my American History teacher in the 11th Grade. He was short and balding, with glasses and a clipped mustache. He had an acerbic, deadpan way of speaking. It was 1970, and I carried Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman in my book bag. The hippies and war protesters didn't upset him, exactly, but he was unimpressed.
I found myself enjoying his lectures. I only did well in high school when the subject interested me, and for Mr. Rouse, I outlined the textbook, scoring well on his tests. I credit Mr. Rouse, after my father, for awakening in me a love of history that would earn me a B.A. in the subject.
He did not normally talk about himself, but one time he did. We must have reached the WWII period. He told us about the time when he was in a convoy of troop ships in the Strait of Gibraltar. The ship next to his was torpedoed, and went down with all hands, as he looked on.
I learned from Dudley Pope that ships in convoys were forbidden from stopping to pick up survivors, since they would then be sitting ducks in turn for the attacking submarines. If a torpedoed ship was unable to get its lifeboats away before it sank, its crew and passengers were almost certainly doomed.
It was clearly something that he replayed over and over in his mind, an enormity, like 9/11. Something that you just can't get your head around, as long as you live. But we watched 9/11 on TV. He was there.
The Madding Crowd
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