Fidele Arseneault and the SS Hough
Leo Doucet

Alphonse, (Aka Fidèle), Arseneault never formally married but lived common law with Vesta Miller of Dalhousie for many years until his death. He had been taken Prisoner of War in 1941 after being captured on the North Atlantic when the German surface raider Gneisneau intercepted the ship "SS Hough" on which he was serving as "fireman" (Stoker). The SS Hough was out of Dalhousie, sailing for the United Kingdom with a load of newsprint when she was intercepted on the high seas.

Alphonse told me that one morning when it became daylight they noticed a large warship sailing parallel to them on their port side. The Hough was flying the American flag hoping to escape detection but so was the Gneisneau, The US had not yet entered the war.

After a little while the Hough lowered the American flag and hoisted the Canadian Ensign. The Gneisneau followed suite but hoisted the Swastika. The two ships were close enough to each other that the Gneisneau was able to use a "loud hailer" to order the Hough's Captain and crew to abandon ship as they were to be sunk. Alphonse told me the Captain thought the warship was American and playing a joke so he ordered his ship to sail on. A few minutes later the Gneisneau issued a repeat warning, "Abandon ship, we are going to sink you", but the SS Hough sailed on.

The first salvo from the Gneisneau demolished the bridge of the Hough and what remained of the Officers and men took to the lifeboats. When the crew was off the Gneisneau fired a few more rounds and the Hough was on its way to the bottom. The Gneisneau stayed around long enough to pick up the survivors and sailed off.

A few days later the Gneisneau made contact with a German Red Cross Hospital ship and all of their Prisoners of War were transferred to it. Around the summer of 1943 the Toronto Star newspaper published a photograph it had received from the German Red Cross of some of the crew from the Hough being rescued by the Gneisneau, and Alphonse and several crew members from Eel River Crossing are easily identified although they all were covered with oil.

Alphonse, along with all other Naval prisoners on the hospital ship were landed in Occupied France and thence began the long trek in short hops by train through France and Germany. Finally after a few months they arrived at "Stalag und Milag Nord 9", their permanent POW Camp on the outskirts of Hamburg.

I was able to contact him by ordinary mail as he was allowed to write a few letters each month to family members and relatives. His letters had to be written in pencil only on folded postcard type paper but he said he was well. On one letter he asked his mother to send him some baseball equipment (he had been a baseball pitcher for the Dalhousie Merchants) and his mother complied. He told me after he was released in late 1945 that the equipment had come through fine. His sister, Derilda, had included a box of Lantic Sugar cubes in which she had carefully removed some of the cubes to make room for a mickey of whisky, then resealed the box. It had also come through in good condition.

Alphonse was my first cousin and his stories from the depression days of the 30s when he rode the rails to jobs, picking fruit in the Niagara Region of Ontario, and to Western Canada to help with the grain harvest would fill a book.

On their last night ashore in Dalhousie, Alphonse and buddies Bernard Galloway, and a few more from Eel River Crossing had a late lunch in Henry Marks Restaurant. Around 1:00 am, Henry wanted to close the restaurant and a ruckus broke out. Alphonse and the group then walked to the East end of town to where the SS Hough was docked at the lower wharf. They then sailed around 2:00 AM with the high tide to their destiny. It would be four years and eight months before he was to sit in a restaurant again.