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Excerpt from "Skip og Menn" ("Ships and Men") by Birger Dannevig.
Translated by Siri Lawson.

The link to "Odd Conrad Holm" in the menu at the top of this page will provide some background history. It also has a partial Crew list for Ringulv.

"Captain Thv. (Thorvald) Messel of Ringulv secretly kept his diaries, and jotted down everything that had to do with the fate of the crew. The following excerpts give a picture of their experiences during what can only be characterized as an incredible mess on the French administrative level. When the ship was taken she was in Safi.

JUNE 17 - 1941. - At 1000 hrs. orders came for Ringulv to be taken over by the French maritime authorities and for the crew to leave the ship by 1800 hrs. Guards were placed on board. 1200 hrs. The crew was placed in various hotels in the city.

TUESDAY JUNE 24. - At 0900 hrs. a phone message came to Stornes saying that the crew of Ringulv was to be sent to France via Oran the next day. In an effort to avoid this I went with Harald Stornes down to the Admiralty. We pointed out how unreasonable it would be to send the crew members to France against their will, especially since no guaranties could be given as to what would later be done with them. We also pointed out that Ringulv had rendered France great services and presented the thank you note from the refugees from Le Havre. But he replied that the order had been given and must be executed. We then went to see the American consul, Mr. Stanton, presented him with the situation and asked him to intervene (America was not yet involved in the war).

THURSDAY JULY 3. - At 0800 hrs. orders came from the chief of police in Safi for the whole crew to meet at the police station at 0900 hrs. There we were told that we were to be sent to Taza to be given lodgings at a camp. After having been transported by bus from Safi we were installed in a separate rail carriage and departed under police escort from Casablanca in the evening. The behaviour of the entire crew was exemplary.

FRIDAY JULY 4. - At 1300 hrs. arrived Taza and were handed over to the local police. Nothing had been arranged for us, neither food nor lodgings. I demanded that the crew be fed as quickly as possible as they had not eaten for 24 hours, and repeatedly offered to pay for a meal - there were two big restaurants right across the street. After having been sitting on the stairs of the railway station in high heat all afternoon we were at last given a piece of bread (without butter or sandwich meat) and permission to take water from the tap by the stairs. We were being gazed at by a lot of townspeople, who looked at us with curiosity and contempt. At 1730 hrs. the chief of police came with orders that we were to be placed in a camp about 1 km away. It turned out to be a labor camp for Arab- and negro soldiers who had shown bad behaviour. I was received by the commandant, a captain who spoke English and turned out to be a nice man. I asked for permission to phone Stornes & Co., but was told that all communication to Casablanca was forbidden to us. But I was able to mail a letter to Stornes that evening.

Algeria map | Morocco map (both are external links).

SATURDAY JULY 5. - At 0900 hrs. orders came from the person in charge of the camp for us to be sent on to Oujda by train. At the railway station we were handed over to the police again, and the chief of police asked me why we were there and why we were being sent like that. I had to reply that I didn't know and didn't understand why. I explained to him that Ringulv had been in Le Havre last year, and that we were one of the last ships that left there and had evacuated about 1500 refugees. I also showed him the thank you note. He then became very friendly and said he understood nothing of all this.

At 2100 hrs. arrived Oujda. The police there said we were to go on by train to Oran the next morning in order to be sent to Marseilles. Shortly thereafter an officer came to say that the order to send us to Marseilles had been cancelled, and that we were to stay in Oujda for about 6 days. We then marched to the camp along with a company of Foreign Legionaries and were lodged in a large barracks. We were given a good meal with red wine to go with it.

SUNDAY JULY 6. - Obtained an audience in the late morning with the camp's commandant with one of our crew as interpreter, the Danish stoker Nielsen, who had earlier lived in Le Havre. The commandant heard our story and said he couldn't at all understand why we were there.

SATURDAY JULY 12. - Were told that we would be awakened at 0300 hrs. the next morning to be sent by train to a camp south of Berguent.

SUNDAY JULY 13. - Marched to the railway station where we were packed into a 4th class carriage together with some Poles, and those who had no room there had to go in the luggage carriage. The railroad went through cultivated terrain at first but later there was nothing but desert. Arrived Berguent at 1120 hrs. After an hour wait we were ordered to take all our luggage out of the train. The Poles immediately marched to a small wooded area planted around a water hole outside of town, and we were ordered to follow. In Berguent there were no military barracks, nor were there any tents. Shortly afterwards we were told that we were to march on through the dessert to a place 65 km. further inland. Not until that moment did we understand what the intention was. I went with stoker Nielsen as interpreter and a Pole who spoke English and French back to the station where the French captain was. He became very angry, but said he would telephone someone higher up to find out what to do with us. After a couple of hours we were told to wait there for the time being. The crew was mad at this treatment, and at the fact that we had to sleep outside. We were given our evening meal from the Pole's field kitchen, but we weren't given any mess gear, so we had to eat with our fingers and drink soup out of tins. We were given a cotton blanket each, half of which we had to put underneath us and the other half was used for cover.

TUESDAY JULY 15. - In the morning we were told that we were to march on with the Poles at 2100 hrs. I explained that we sailors are not used to long marches, that there were several who couldn't do it because of bad legs, that there were a few elder persons among us, and asked if a bus could be arranged. The captain then blew up in anger and said that the orders from the high commando was for all the Norwegians to walk. However, the departure was cancelled.

WEDNESDAY JULY 16. - In the morning we were moved from the camp under the trees to another group, placed among some ruins. The sun shone straight down on us during the day, making it almost unbearable. At 1930 hrs. everybody was lined up in the open space to salute the French flag as it was being lowered.

JULY 17. - In the evening I was told that I had been granted an eight days' leave in Casablanca. During my stay in Casablanca I was in various conferences, including at Transatlantiques and at Stornes. It must be mentioned that the Germans, through the French authorities, had demanded that the Norwegian Consulate be closed. Instead a Norwegian office had been established, Office Norvegien, where Harald Stornes was appointed director. Stornes and I also went to the American consulate and had a talk with Mr. Stanton, who said he would take a trip up to Rabat to speak to the authorities.

JULY 25. - At 1000 hrs. I had a phone call from the director of Bureau Groupement des Travailleurs in Rabat saying that the crew of Ringulv was to be moved from Berguent to a camp outside Settat. He also stated that a big blunder had been made with regard to the crew of Ringulv, but did not mention anything about whose fault it was.

JULY 31. - Received a telegram from Berguent today saying that the crew of Ringulv would be sent from there to Settat today, and that I must join them there.

SATURDAY AUGUST 2. - At 0700 hrs. the crew came by train to Casablanca. Everybody looked very ill and exhausted. After I had left Berguent 9 men had been sent further into the desert. They had had no tents and very little food, so twice they got nothing but thin soup two days in a row. All the water had to be brought from a place 15 km away. They had to work from 0600 hrs. till 1800 hrs. in the blistering sun. The work consisted of carrying rocks or gathering fuel from the roots of the desert reeds, which they had to chop up. Such conditions were impossible for white people to bear.

At 1600 hrs. the crew continued by train to Settat and marched out to the camp where 200 Foreign Legionaries were working already. Our officers were given two tents and the crew a brick house with a dirt floor and a roof of leaves, no doors nor windows. The officers were to eat in straw huts while the crew had to sit under a roof made out of reeds, where ditches were dug in a square for them to put their feet in while eating. The middle part served as a table and the outer side of the ditch as a bench. Everything else was also very primitive and the sanitary conditions were bad. The toilet was a big hole dug in the ground in the middle of the camp, with branches of trees placed around it for privacy. The drinking water was just accumulated rain water in a cement basin, and it was used without boiling it first.

MONDAY AUGUST 4. - At 0630 hrs. we were put to work making a road through the woods from the main road and up to the camp, or we had to carry rocks for the walls of the houses that were being built. After about a fortnight we were put to work about 4 km from the camp digging holes in the ground (80 cm x 80 cm x 80 cm) into which trees were to be planted. The order was for us to manage 5 of these holes per day per person, which we on average did not manage. The other prisoners were given easier dirt to work with and usually managed to dig their 5 holes. The officers in the camp therefore were of the opinion that we carried on sabotage and were constantly after us. Most sailors are not used to working with dirt and rock.

Ever since we were at Berguent there has been a lot of disease among us. This has increased since we came to Settat. It's Malaria, Dysentery and sores that will not heal. The most serious cases are sent to Casablanca to be admitted to the hospital. This is usually filled to capacity so they only keep them there for a few days. The bad health conditions must be attributed to the sanitary conditions. Most of the workers did not use the primitive toilet but instead went into the surrounding woods. Therefore there were thousands of flies and mosquitoes to carry the germs around. Most of them sooner or later came down with some sort of a fever or stomach ailment. I can mention able seaman Hans Larsen who became ill during the stay in the desert south of Berguent, and was on sick leave from the time we came to Settat. At first he was being treated by the doctors here, but he was later admitted to the hospital. After a couple of days he was released because of the lack of space. He then lived in the city and went up to the hospital for treatment. On September 3 he was admitted again, through the police it was said. He died on September 7, and was buried with his clothes on the day after, without the director for Office Norvegien or the Swedish Consulate, who take care of the Norwegian diplomatic interests having been notified.

SUNDAY OCTOBER 5. - Our tents were taken from us today because 150 men were moved to another labor camp and took them with them. From now on we have to sleep outside and eat wherever we can, because the "mess rooms" have been closed. Conditions keep worsening. Harald Stornes and the American Consul have all this time worked persistently to get the crew of Ringulv freed, or transferred to the internment camp by Azemmour, Camp de Sidi-el-Ayachi, where the crews from the other requisitioned Norwegian ships have been placed. It was eventually promised that we were to be moved there. It appears as if the French authorities in Morocco have used the crew of Ringulv as "guinea pigs" for how to deal with crews from Norwegian requisitioned ships.

WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 22. - At 0800 hrs. the crew of Ringulv was transferred. The steward Nils K. Larsen-Lilleås and I were permitted to live in Casablanca, as we had been sick for a while with Malaria and Dysentery. My weight had gone down from 70 to 42 kg. We now live in Stornes' house. Also, 2nd Mate Ingolf Valvatne, who had come down with a virulent Dysentery, and cook Trygve Olsen who suffered from Rheumatism have been allowed to stay in Casablanca.

The crew members who were transferred to Camp de Sidi-el-Ayachi, were housed in barracks like the other Norwegian seamen. The buildings were badly maintained. Here and there the roof was leaking, there were no doors or windows, so there was a lot of draught. There were no beds, so everybody had to sleep on the floor on mattresses. The food was poorly prepared. The sanitary conditions were so bad that it must be characterized as a scandal. Of the Norwegians from Camp de Sidi-el-Ayachi who were admitted to the hospital suffering from Typhus, 4 men died in the course of the fall of 1941. At all times there were 15-20 sick seamen.

Because the food in the camp was inadequate, Nortraship granted all crews from the Norwegian ships a monthly sum of money, following a request from Harald Stornes, so that they were able to buy food which they prepared themselves and cooked on the fires outside of each barracks."


Captain Messel later succeeded in escaping from Port Lyautey in Morocco to Gibraltar on May 10-1942 along with 5 other men, namely Ringulv's 2nd Mate Ingolf Valvatne, M/S Nyhorn's Able Seaman Hans Johansen, Ordinary Seaman Lars Aursland and oiler Karl Linnerud, as well as Ida Knudsen's Egil Strømmen. The boat was made out of canvas, with sheets for sails, and was constructed in the hold of M/S Nyhorn so that the French authorities would not get suspicious. They arrived Gibraltar safely and were congratulated by the British maritime authorities after their daring voyage. The canvas boat was named Norge (picture), and is now on display at the Maritime Museum in Oslo*. "Skip og Menn" also has an excerpt from Captain Messel's Diary which describes details of the preparations for escape. Captain Messel and Ingolf Valvatne later joined D/S Astrid

* I've read an article in the magazine "Krigsseileren (No. 2 for 1971), written by a crew member of Batavia, who says that the boat displayed at the Maritime Museum is, in fact, a boat made on board that ship, and not the boat used for the escape by Ringulv's Captain Messel. I am unable to determine whether this is correct or not. If anyone can help with this, I'd appreciate it.

My father served on Nyhorn after he was freed from the camps, see letter No. 4 in Odd's Letters and also Odd's Ships below.

Rudzin's Diary and most of my father's letters have more on the events in the prison camps, and my page Odd Conrad Holm has the background history.

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