For over 60 years, Harry Callan suffered from recurring nightmares. So severe were these dreams, his cries sometimes woke up his neighbours.

Thanks to the work of researcher and campaigner, Peter Mulvany, Harry became aware that Germany was offering compensation to survivors of Prisoner-Of-War slavery during the Second World War.

Harry felt that he qualified and applied. Then, the cork came out of the bottle, and he began to tell his story. Those closest to him were shocked - they had no idea what he had experienced.

Harry was a civilian, a merchant seaman, seventeen years old when his cargo ship was sunk by the German navy. He was taken prisoner and forced, along with 31 other Irish sailors, to build a giant submarine factory – the Valentin Bunker. This was a secret project that the NAZI's hoped would the fortune of war back in their favour.

The conditions were cruel. The workers were beaten and starved – many died as they worked and their bodies were dumped into the foundations. It is estimated that between 3,000 and 6,000 prisoners perished building the Valentin Bunker. Although life expectancy was short, Harry and the Irish stuck together and most survived on that site for two years.

Harry owes his life to luck and two acts of random kindness. He never forgets one act of kindness that changed his life: a young woman handed him a hot cup of coffee. It made him feel human again.

Coffee is a constant in this story: His first taste of coffee was on the German ship which captured him and now, every year, he returns to drink coffee with German friends living in the places he and his Irish comrades were held captive. They include the family of the young woman who gave him the hot cup of coffee. She herself is dead but, before she died, Harry was able to return her kindness.

Bunker Valentin Website

Harry Callan died September 23rd, 2019 - RIP

Harry's daughter Michelle published a book about his life, entitled 'Forgotten Hero of Bunker Valentin : The Harry Callan Story' - which can be found online and on Book Depository by clicking this link.

Thanks to: Michele Callan, Brian Callan and

Dr Michael Kennedy, Executive Editor,
Documents on Irish Foreign Policy, Royal Irish Academy
Twitter: @DIFP_RIA

Music used:

"Parce Mihi Domine" Cristóbal de Morales

"Heklia I" Linda Buckley

"Spem In Alium" Thomas Tallis

"De Torrente In Via Bibet" Handel

"Sacred Love" Georgy Sviridov

Awards: Gold, New York Festivals 2015

Narrator: Joe Kearney

Photos: Dara Kelly

Produced by Joe Kearney with Ronan Kelly.

First Broadcast, RTÉ Radio 1 - September 13th, 2014 

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