|E.G.Kirtley in 1940 in a Chinese Rickshaw. Photo Herald Journal March 10, 1940|
The scene is set at the beginning of World War 2 and E.G.Kirtley, an American, was residing in China where he represented a British tobacco firm. His personal supplies were running low and could not be purchased in Haijo where he was based. The nearest seaport at this time, from where he could obtain what he wanted, was Tsingtao. The problem was, it was blockaded by Japanese war vessels.
Nevertheless Mr.Kirtley arranged to travel on a boat, swarming with rats, and where the crew were all Chinese. They managed to avoid the Japanese warships and made it to his destination.
However, it wasn't to be all plain sailing. As he walked up the gangplank to disembark, he was met by a tall German officer who spoke only in German. Kirtley was unable to understand what was being said, so he handed over his USA passport as identification.
The officer was far from happy with this response and German soldiers were summoned to lock him away. They believed him to be an English spy and, if this was proven, he would have to face the firing squad.
After being held for three worrying days a young German lieutenant entered Kirtley's room and spoke to him in perfect English. The officer told him that, unless he could answer his questions satisfactorily, and prove he was from the USA, there would be serious consequences.
The officer wasn't convinced by Kirtley's answers and then, out of the blue, suddenly demanded to know where Kirtley was from in the USA.
He replied that he was from Richmond, Virginia. The lieutenant then asked him if he knew anyone in Richmond named Trigg.
Mr.Kirtley did, and answered that he knew a Bill Trigg, a ship builder.
"Can you give me the number of his residence in Richmond?" the officer asked quickly.
Under pressure, and being nervous Kirtley couldn't at first think of the number. Eventually he came up with the answer he hoped was correct.
To Kirtley's amazement and relief, the lieutenant then stepped forward, smiled and gave his limp hand a shake.
"Congratulations, Herr Kirtley, I went to the University of Berlin with Bill Trigg. We have corresponded ever since leaving University!"
What was a very dangerous situation was therefore saved by a coincidence, but more was to follow.
Kirtley was given a pass of safe conduct through the German lines. He decided, however, to return to Haijo by the way he had arrived - by boat. This meant having to avoid the Japanese warships once more. As they were passing the three mile limit, they were fired on by a torpedo boat but managed to escape.
Mr.Kirtley finally returned safely to his small residence in Haijo.
A few weeks later, while sitting on his porch, he heard a droning sound coming from above. Looking skyward, he saw a grey plane. It swooped earthward, heading for a wide field at the end of the village. Kirtley sprang to his feet and, together with his Chinese assistant, ran to see what was happening.
When they arrived the plane had landed and the pilot was dismounting from the cockpit. He pulled off his helmet and goggles and Mr.Kirtley was amazed to see he was looking into the eyes of the very same German lieutenant who had saved his life in Tsingtao!
They shook hands warmly, amazed at yet another coincidence. The officer explained to him that Tsingtao had fallen into the hands of Japanese troops. Rather than surrender with the rest, he commandeered the plane, and escaped as the Japanese were marching into the city.
The lieutenant spent time at Mr.Kirtley's house in China, Then one day he was suddenly interned by the Chinese and put on a boat headed for Shanghai. The officer managed to escape yet again and the last Kirtley heard of him was that he was on a boat bound for Gibraltar.
In the early 1940s the Germans were far from popular but no matter how Kirtley felt about Germany he always had a warm spot in his heart for the lieutenant who saved his life and became his friend.
I first got the gist of this story from the Herald Journal, dated March 10 1940.
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