German U-Boat Sinks Allied Ship, Willy Stöwer, 1916 (Library of Congress)
German U-Boat Sinks Allied Ship, Willy Stöwer, 1916 (Library of Congress)
German U-Boat Sinks Allied Ship, by Willy Stöwer, 1916 (Library of Congress)

History

Lost by Deception Island: Unraveling A 100 Year Old Mystery

The Strange Story of a German U-Boat Attack Survivor in WWI

Timothy S. Boucher
Apr 23 · 5 min read

Quite unexpectedly, I have been deluged with inquiries from around the globe about how the Lost Books of Quatria and the tales contained therein came into my possession. While I wish I could take full credit, I must admit that I was not the first to find the hidden way back to Quatria. It was, in fact, revealed to me via a 100 year old mystery, which in many ways is equally, if not more curious than that ancient lost world itself.


In 1916, a German U-boat sank a merchant marine ship flying Allied colors off the coast of Antarctica, somewhere between Elephant Island and Deception Island in the South Shetland Archipelago. It was believed that all souls aboard the ship had been lost, along with its cargo of food and medical supplies bound for the Western front. That is, until a lone survivor was recovered some two years later in 1918 on an unnamed tidal island just off the north-west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula.

The survivor identified himself as Edward Allen Oxford, a British Imperial citizen. Despite two years having passed, he claimed to have been marooned for no more than six weeks on a nearby larger island which he insisted was warm and tropical, with abundant vegetation and wildlife. Since the island on which he was discovered was a tidal island, it was not understood how he had survived for such a long time. Regardless, as no such island was known to exist that far south, and there was a significant discrepancy of time between his accounting and reality, he was decreed mad by Imperial authorities, and was sent to a convalescence facility in Nova Scotia to recover.

At that facility, he met and fell in love with one Mildred Constance Landsmire, a so-called “bluebird” or Nursing Sister with the Canadian Army Medical Corps. He was released after 18 months, and the two married and moved westward to live near a cousin of Oxford’s who ran a small dairy farm in the province of Quebec. Oxford aided his cousin with farm chores, but did not have a knack for agriculture, and took up odd jobs in the region, including as a lumberjack. This caused him to be away from his beloved Mildred for weeks and sometimes months at a time, a lifestyle with which he had been well-acquainted as a merchant marine.

During these extended posts as a forester, he penned many letters to his wife, in which he professed his undying devotion to her, and in which he extensively recorded his memories of having been marooned on his supposed tropical island off the coast of Antarctica. Despite official denials of any such geographical anomaly in the region, Oxford stuck to his story throughout his whole life, and is believed to have written some two hundred letters to his wife describing various aspects of the fabulous land he supposedly discovered there.

The couple died childless in the late 1940s, and ownership of their house and personal effects was passed to his cousin, Alfred Thomas Bryant, who lived on the neighboring plot of land. The house remained in the Bryant family for some fifty-odd years before being sold to outsiders who variously inhabited or rented the property until I purchased it around five years ago.

At the time of purchase, I was entirely unaware of the strange story of Edward Allen Oxford. The original Bryant family next door had long since moved away, and no one in the village ever mentioned anything unusual to us about the house or its past occupants. It was only about two years ago when I went to do some renovation work that the mystery began to reveal itself to me.

Opening walls and ceilings in the older section of the house, I began to find crumbling and browned pieces of paper which, along with sawdust (as was the fashion of the time), had been stuffed in as insulation against the cold Quebec winters. The papers appeared to be hand-written letters in an old-fashioned ornate script, but whenever I found them, and attempted to read one in the light, it would crumble into dusty fragments, leaving only a few words or phrases.

It was a curious mystery, to be sure, but not altogether remarkable on its own. Until one day, I pried open a sealed section of the attic, and discovered an antique wooden chest. In it were some 87 letters written in baroque penmanship by Edward Allen Oxford to his wife Mildred, and dated between the years of 1920 and 1944. The letters described his life in the lumber camps of the region, along with his vivid recollections of having been marooned on a supposed tropical island off the coast of Antarctica during the Great War.

Though his story seemed incredible to me, I was able — from the letters I discovered there (and other legible fragments I subsequently discovered in the walls of the house) — to piece together enough details of he and his wife’s past to verify his identity. I became somewhat obsessed with his peculiar forgotten history. Further research lead me eventually to official Imperial records over a hundred years old. They confirmed that he was a merchant marine, that his ship had been torpedoed, and that he was indeed recovered some two years later without any rational explanation for how he had been able to survive for so long in such a harsh environment.

The more I dug into the letters contained in the chest, the greater was the mystery that unraveled. Until I found one letter that completely swept aside any doubts I had regarding the sanity of this man. But, as you know, I am quite pressed for time answering inquiries from around the globe. I will begin compiling my findings once those other matters are attended to. Until then, I beg your forgiveness for leaving the tale incomplete.

I remain your humble servant,
T.S.B.


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