Tuesday, 15 November 2016

The mystery of the Sea Captain and the unidentified soldier


This story begins with a link sent to me by Jonas Mockunas to a document of Lithuanians who were involved in shipping in some form before WWII.  There are several men listed who came to Australia.  I was intrigued to find a former sea captain who ended his days in Port Lincoln, South Australia, someone I had not heard of before. 

I was able to find some information on him and as I delved further into Port Lincoln history to try and understand his life, I found some interesting information.

Feliksas Marcinkus (Marcinkevičius) was born on 7 March 1905 in Kaunas.    From a young age he showed his love for his homeland and freedom, so much so that as a 15 year old he left school to enlist in the army.  He fought in the Širvintai-Giedraičių war with Poland in 1920 after the Poles had occupied Vilnius.

When he first saw the Baltic sea he became so enchanted with it and decided to become a sailor. He studied at the Aušra Gymnasium followed by 1923 to 1925 at the Seamen’s School under Kaunas Technical College. Practical experience was then undertaken on-board G. Eriksson’s barge Olivebank from 1925 – 1927.

He graduated from Abo Navigation Institute (Finland) in 1930 and worked in the port, where he was acting Captain on board vessels, Locas, Birutė and Aušra.

From 1935-1936, he was the navigator on board the steamships Rimfrost and Barfrost (Utena).  From 1936 – 1940 he was master on board steamships, Barfrost, Šiauliai, Panevėžys, and Marijampolė.  Feliks married Stefanija in 1936.

From 1941 to 1944 he resided in Kaunas.  Following the occupation of Lithuania, Feliksas and his family, Stefanija and children, Rimas (born 11 July 1938) and Nijolė (5 Feb 1940) fled to Germany. For the next four years they resided in Wurttemberg, Fellbach Displaced Persons camp close to Stuttgart.

In April 1949 the family began a new chapter in their lives as they arrived in Australia.

In Australia he found work as a navigator on board Australian vessels including passenger ships in Port Lincoln.  His wife and children however had a family home in Hurtsville NSW, where Stefania worked as a Laboratory Technician and Nijole a telephonist.

On the 30 September 1961, at only 56 years of age, Feliks suddenly collapsed while in a bar in Port Lincoln.  The cause of death was given as heart failure.  At that time, he was working on the MV North Esk, a general cargo vessel.

His body must have been transferred closer to his home as he is buried in Rookwood Cemetery, Sydney.

I wanted to know what would have brought Feliks to Port Lincoln.  When learning more about Port Lincoln history, two names are prominently mentioned in the maritime history of Port Lincoln, Axel Stenross and Frank Laakso.  They were Finish sailors who settled in Port Lincoln and opened a ship building business.  Axel’s home is now the Axel Stenross museum.  Reading more about them, I noted they came out on the ship Olivebank in 1927.   The Olivebank was built in Glasgow in 1892, owned by Gustaf Adolf Mauritz Erikson a ship-owner from Mariehamn, Finland, famous for the fleet of windjammers he operated to the end of his life, mainly on the grain trade from Australia to Europe.  Feliks was gaining practical experience on board the Olivebank at the same time.

Axel and Frank had stopped several times in Port Lincoln to load wheat.  They liked the place and decided to stay.    I wondered if they knew each other and why Feliks 20 years later ended up in the same location as Axel.  The South Australian grain trade was virtually the only profitable use for windjammers, and then only if the ship owner minimized costs as much as possible. Erikson supplied his ships adequately with crew and supplies as these were necessary for his ships to sail quickly and efficiently. Erikson's large four-masted barques would routinely sail on voyages of 30,000 nautical miles (56,000 km) with less than 30 crew.  With only that number of crew aboard they surely crossed paths. Were they friends? And is that why 20 years later Feliks worked in Port Lincoln while his family resided in New South Wales. 
(Jonas had written an blog entry on the last great grain race and a Lithuanian connection) Early">http://earlylithuaniansinaustralia.blogspot.com.au/2016/06/the-last-great-grain-race-1939.html#links">Early Lithuanians in Australia: The Last Great Grain Race 1939

Delving deeper into the life of Axel Stenross, I came across photographs from the museum loaded onto the internet.  One photograph was labelled 'Axel at the time of his national service' showing a young man in military uniform.  I was surprised when I saw this photograph as the uniform appears to me to be Lithuanian.  The lapels bear the ‘columns of Gediminas’, the badge on the pocket bears a ‘cross of Vytis’ and he cap bears the coat of arms.
I contacted the Axel Stenross Museum and queried the photograph. There is nothing written on the reverse of the photo and they are also doubtful it is Axel.
Could it be Feliks?  Could he have given Axel the photograph while on board the Olivebank?  Were they friends?  Or is it another Lithuanian whom Axel had met at some time?