It’s got to be ten years ago, could be a little longer when I dropped
into a charity shop near here. I’d spotted a nice piece of jewelry in
the window I thought I might like to buy for my wife.
The elderly man behind the counter, I surmised, was one of those
volunteers who help out with a few hours a week. I asked about
the bracelet in the window and at the same time couldn’t help
noticing the Merchant Navy badge he wore on his lapel.
This badge was issued to merchant seafarers at the start of WW2.
It identified them as being actively engaged in the war effort.
I pointed to his badge, ‘you still have it after all these years’.
‘Bit of a keepsake I suppose’, he said.
He held out his hand ‘ Flag’s the name’ he said, ‘Edmund Flag’.
‘Well I was RN myself, Bob Taylor, pleased to meet you. It
looks as though you got through it all in one piece’ I said.
‘Yes I did’ he said, ‘but it was a near thing’.
He went on to describe the array of ships he had been on and he
then got to early 1944 and was sailing south off the west African
coast. When his ship was hit by two torpedoes.
Flag spent seven days in a lifeboat before being picked up by
a South African naval vessel and landed in Cape Town.
And here two weeks later an occurrence happened that can only
be described as miraculous. He’d been visiting in the port area
and had signed on to join a ship due to dock in two days time.
He was on his way back to his hotel when he was
hit by a car and seriously injured, including a broken leg.
After a week in hospital he’d been patched up but wasn’t
feeling too good. His broken leg in particular was the source
of much trouble.
At this time the skipper of the ship he’d signed up for visited him.
The ship was leaving in a few days time on passage to Valparaiso.
It was to be at the tail end of a small protected convoy.
Flag was told later, while still in hospital, that the ship had been sunk
just a few days out, with all hands.
He went over to the window display and took out the bracelet.
As I paid for it a little white haired old lady arrived in the shop. ‘Meet my
wife’ he said ‘we’re just off for a spot of lunch’.
‘Nice to meet you’ she said. ‘And you too’ I replied, ‘and do I detect an
Australian accent?’. ‘Oh no’ she smiled ‘South African, I was Edmund’s
nurse when he was in hospital many years ago in Cape Town’.