Captured seaman’s memories of Bay of Fundy U-boat ordeal survive – New Brunswick

James Oliver was a 21-year-old able seaman in the merchant marine, aboard the Saint John-built Dornfontein in 1918, when the four-masted schooner came into view of an enemy submarine.

Ten kilometres south of Grand Manan on Aug. 3, the German U-boat fired two shots across the bow of the Canadian ship loaded with lumber.

According to official records, Oliver and eight other crew were taken aboard the sub.

The schooner, which had been bound for South Africa, was looted of food, clothing and gasoline and set ablaze.

Local paper got story

A Saint John Globe newspaper story in August 1918 tells the story of the Dornfontein crew’s close call in the Bay of Fundy. (Catherine Harrop/CBC)

Today, Mary Ryan, the daughter of James (Jim) Oliver, looks over the headline in the Saint John Globe on Aug. 3, 1918, that screamed: “The Dornfontein is Hun Victim.”

Ryan says her father didn’t speak of his close call with the German navy until the 1950s.

“He told me about the fact that the German sub came up in the Bay of Fundy,” says Ryan, who lives in Fredericton.

“That was the big thing — how close they were. And then, being captured by the submarine.”

A report in another newspaper said the crew was fed “bully beef and rice.”

Seaman suspicious of blueberries

James Oliver was part of the crew of the four-masted schooner Dornfontein when it set sail for South Africa. (Submitted by family)

There was blueberry pie too – most likely made with blueberries picked by the U-boat crew on Canadian shores.

“I think he was surprised to find blueberry pie on the menu,” Ryan says.

“But he was also afraid about poison, and the Germans with poison.”

Oliver warned his shipmates not to touch the food.

“He told them not to eat,” Ryan says. “And that’s when he was shot in the knee, in the leg.”

Members of the schooner Dornfontein crew rowed to Gannet Rock off Grand Manan after their release from a German U-boat in 1918.

After five hours inside the U-Boat, the…

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