Helgi Julius Jonsson

My great grandfather Helgi Julius Jónsson was a man of the ocean, just as his father and countless generations before him were. He was an Icelander and they were bred tough, especially in the region where he was born – the Westfjörds, one of the most remote and rugged regions of Iceland.

Helgi was a born and bred fisherman.  He knew that the ocean was something to respect and give thanks for. It gave life with the sustenance of fish and fed hungry families, and yet it could snatch life away in the blink of an eye. One mistake or a sudden turn of the weather could mean never returning to the embrace of loved ones.

In 1924, Helgi graduated from the Stýrimannaskóla in Reykjavík, which gave Helgi the ability to work in the position of Helmsman, and Ship´s Captain on a ship.  Wikipedia states “The Helmsman was responsible  for maintaining a steady course, properly executing all rudder orders, and communicating to the officer on the bridge using navigational terms relating to ship’s heading and steering.”

Helgi worked on a ship named Max Pemperton RE278 for fourteen years as a helmsman. This was an English ship, manufactured by Cochrane and Sons Ltd in Selby England in 1917, however by 1935 the ship was owned by h/f Reykjavík.

Max Pemperton RE278

Max Pemperton RE 278.

In January 1944, nearing the end of the World War 2, 44 year old Helgi was due to set sail with Max Pemperton, and would be heading out to sea shortly, but his hand broke out in a bad rash and was so swollen that he had to see a doctor. The doctor told him to remain behind from this trip so that they could investigate this reaction further. He was given leave from this journey and another man was called to take his place on the ship.
No sooner than the ship had left the harbor, the swelling in Helgi´s hand disappeared. It was such an odd occurrence, but how could Helgi have known then that, that would be the last time that the ship Max Pemperton was ever seen again.

The ship perished with all 29 men on board. It was believed to have sunk at Malarifi at Snæfellsnesi on the 11th of January, on the north west coast. The ship may have been subject to military aggravation, but bad weather may have also played a hand in its demise.

Helgi lived to be 97 years old. He was married twice and had four children to his first wife Þorbjörg (Thorbjorg) Kristjánsdóttir. His oldest daughter Elín Helgadóttir was my grandmother.

Helgi sailed all through the war years to England with fish. From 1948 he was the number one helmsman on the ship Ísborg from Ísafirðir (Isafirdir) in the north west and from 1956 he worked for a net manufacturing company called Hampiðjunni in Reykjavík. He retired from working life in 1987 at the age of 88 years.

Photo of Max Pemberton by Guðbjartur Ásgeirsson.
Courtesy of Website


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