“Become a linguist, it said in the ad”

“Airman, Sailor Spy” by Ted Hayes €10 and available at www. Booksonthegreen.ie All proceeds of sales will be donated to the Brabazon Trust.

By Kathrin Kobus

Ted Hayes, now living in a retirement home in Sandymount, may have been born more than eighty years ago in London, but the family moved back to Ireland and Irishtown before he was old enough to set foot in a school. St. Matthews actually.

His little book of memories called Sailor, Airman, Spy opens with some snippets of a quite unruly schoolboy who, in his own words, was more of a messer than an academic learner.

He packed a bag full of life experiences into the time span of leaving school at 14 and moving behind the Iron Curtain just in time to see the wall(s) of a divided city going up.

All this written up for his late wife, whose first anniversary just came to pass this November and, trembling hands stopping for words, it is clear this small volume is the memorial for the love of his life. They were sweethearts who met as 12-13 year-olds, lost sight of one another for a couple of years but would find each other again.

Before all that that, Ted Hayes had shovelled coal aboard a fishing vessel that ran the one-month round trip to Iceland. Then came a stint with the RAF, where he trained as an aeronautic engineer, with the plan afterwards to come back to Dublin, marry his sweetheart and get a job with Aer Lingus.

Instead, looking for work, he spotted another ad: Linguists wanted. He never got around telling why he choose to show up there at the recruitment office. He had two languages, English and a tiny bit of Gaeilge he had picked up while a pupil at what is now Ringsend College. He made the cut, and learnt Polish for a year, then got shipped out – not to Poland or an embassy.

He and his fellow travel but across the inner German border at Marienborn towards Berlin. The year was 1961 and in August that year the Berlin Wall had been built. They surely must have learnt a bit more than just another language, because Ted Hayes had become a spy and was not just sitting in an embassy dealing with passport applications.

His place of work was Teufelsberg, which translates as Devil’s Mountain, his job intercepting radio transmissions between Polish pilots. The book is telling in what he doesn’t say at this point. Berlin the divided city had become his home, and whilst on holiday back in Dublin he heard his childhood sweetheart Annette was engaged – to someone else.

Like in a love story straight from a Hollywood movie, they eloped together to his place of work. He borrowed the money of ten Deutschmarks, proposed, they got married, and would seldom separate from then on.

The placement in Berlin lasted four years, then they returned to Dublin, then later Wexford. He  became a businessman until he retired some fifteen years ago.

The book is a page-turner collection of anecdotes and memories that preserves an adventurous life, journeys and happy days with his wife. “I did it for her, in a way. She was very ill, and writing the book helped me to cope with it somehow. Each morning I would sit down, write 500, 600 words and I would read bit to her.” Sadly, she passed away and could not see the printed version, but Ted Hayes is content and happy that he did read to her one very special chapter.

Three Sisters Press in Wexford picked up the manuscript and suggested he publish it as a proper book and not just a family memoir.