Wilhem Köning

Wilhem Köning

[Editor’s note Most of this information comes from the episode “Köning, le marin oublié” produced and filmed as part of the series Les histoires oubliées.]

Wilhem Köning

Still from the Koëning, le marin oublié episode in the TV series Histoires oubliées
Copyright Recherche Félix

The sad story of Wilhem Köning begins during the night of September 15 to 16, 1942, when the Dutch oil tanker Oscilla was torpedoed 150 miles northeast of the British West Indies by the Italian submarine Morosini. An officer on board the Oscilla, Köning as well as the other survivors were rescued towards the end of the following day by the American ship Explorer.

As Holland was under German occupation, Köning had no choice other than to find another merchant ship. Therefore, in Quebec, on May 10, 1942, he boards the SS Leto, along with three other survivors from the Oscilla. Loaded with airplane engines, amongst other things, the SS Leto, a Dutch ship chartered by the British Ministry of War Transport, heads for England.

Misfortune hounds Köning when before dawn on May 12, 1942, the SS Leto is torpedoed offshore Rivière-la-Madeleine. Barely a few hours after the SS Nicoya was torpedoed, the SS Leto is the second victim of the Battle of the St. Lawrence. There were 12 victims of the attack. In a little under two hours, the SS Leto‘s survivors were recovered by the Dutch ship Titus. Wilhem Köning expired just as they were bringing him on board. This is when the war came to a tragic end for this sailor.

Köning’s body was brought to Pointe-au-Père to be buried in the non-consecrated part of the Sainte-Anne-de-Pointe-au-Père cemetery. Gaétan Lavoie, the young son of the Pointe-au-Père lighthouse keeper, recalls the arrival at the village of this strange procession.

From the window in my room, I could see a group of stunned men in rags marching down the street in front of our house. They were soaked and covered in oil. Up until that day, the war was on the other side, but now we were finding out that the war had made its way here.

Excerpt from the account of
Major (R) Gaétan Lavoie in the documentary
Köning, le marin oublié
and during an interview
at the Naval Museum of Quebec.

Many years after the end of the Second World War the journalist Robert Tremblay became interested by this forgotten story and traced Köning’s daughter and the man who, for many years, maintained the Dutch sailor’s grave. Through television, we rediscovered the story of this man whom everyone, except for his family in Holland, had forgotten.

Wilhem Koëning’s daughter and grand-daughter paying homage to him at his tomb in Pointe-au-Père

Still from the Koëning, le marin oublié episode in the Histoires oubliées series. Copyright Recherche Félix

Fifty years later, at Robert Tremblay’s instigation, Köning’s daughter and his granddaughter visited his grave. In a symbolic gesture, they laid a wreath on his grave with a ribbon inscribed as follows: “Our first and last encounter, Daddy.”

Köning, like many other Canadian or foreign sailors, came to a tragic end far from his home and family. Death in a foreign country and under horrible circumstances remains the most terrible of consequences for every defender of peace.