10 November 2018

Sailor, Airman, Spy,
Memoir of a Cold War
Veteran: Book review

Sailor, Airman, Spy, Memoir of a Cold War Veteran, Ted Hayes, Three Sisters Press, Rosslare, Co Wexford, ISBN 978-1-9164494-0-4, paperback

I first got to know Ted Hayes almost 20 years ago when I was about to be appointed the NSM curate in Whitechurch Parish. Although we both lived in Glenvara Park, we did not know each other at the time. Canon Horace McKinley was apprehensive because I have never learned to drive, but Ted was a loyal pillar of the parish for many years, with a commitment to the Seamen’s Mission and Christian broadcasting, and Horace rightly guessed that we would enjoy each other’s company.

Perhaps Horace also realised that I would enjoy Ted’s story-telling. So it was, that over the years I got to hear many of the stories Ted had to tell and that became well-known to me as Ted became a good and cherished friend.

He introduced himself to me with a garrulous laugh: ‘I’m a retired spy, you know.’

John Le Carré introduced us to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, but Ted Hayes introduces us to his story as Sailor, Airman, Spy.

It’s not that Ted ever set out to be a spy. As Dean Leslie Forrest says in his introduction, ‘Only a trained spy would know that Ted Hayes was a spy. He doesn’t look like a James Bond and he doesn’t behave like one …’

But this is a story that takes the reader from a childhood in Ballsbridge and at Mountjoy School and in Ringsend, to seeing the world with the merchant navy, to joining the RAF, which sent him to Scotland and to West Berlin, when it was completely isolated by the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain and surrounded by East Germany.

He recalls with humour how the advantage of knowing no more than the Lord’s Prayer in Irish gave him access to a training programme that made him fluent in German and Polish, preparing him for his time in West Berlin at the height of the Cold War.

Ted and Annette were married in Berlin, but even the story of how he was left waiting at the altar, not for Annette but for a hungover chaplain, is told in Ted’s own inimitable way. Throughout this book, there is a constant reminder of Ted’s love for Annette and their shared pride in their wide family circle.

Annette’s father was originally from Wexford, and when Ted moved to Oulart outside Enniscorthy he was so pleased to tell me about each new friend he made, and how they shared some aspect of my connections in Co Wexford, from church life to local history, politics or sport.

It is never a good idea for one friend to review another’s book, unless an editor is quite sure that the friendship is not going to compromise the reviewer and the review is not going to damage the friendship. But as I read this book, I enjoyed revisiting many of the stories Ted has shared with me. They have been brought together in this one book with the encouragement of shared friends in Wexford, including Michael Freeman and Celestine Murphy.

There is a certain irony that I missed the launch of Ted’s book – not because I have moved to Askeaton and the Diocese of Limerick, but because I was in Berlin on the very day the book was launched, actually visiting the Brandenburg Gate and Checkpoint Charlie, and criss-crossing the line of the former Berlin Wall that is much part of Ted’s story in this book.

Patrick Comerford

This book review is published in the November 2018 edition of the ‘Church Review’

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