Erwin Karl Tiegel was born in the German port city of Hamburg. He died at the age of 80, on 11 June 1994, at the VM Salgaocar hospital at Chicalim, in Goa. He had spent the last 55 years of his life in the coastal state, nearly seven thousand kilometres from home, as a consequence of participating in a forgotten, but no less extraordinary, episode in one of the more obscure theatres of the Second World War.
When the war broke out, on 1 September 1939, Tiegel was employed by the German shipping line DDG Hansa. He was serving on the MV Braunfels, which was then travelling from Djibouti to Calcutta. Its cargo included “all kinds of things, from cars to cement,” his son, Edward, who lived in Goa until he died last August, told me. The ship received news that Germany would soon be at war with Britain, and that British India would, therefore, be enemy territory. However, though Portugal was a long-time ally of Britain, it had declared that it would remain neutral during the war, and German and Italian ships in the region had made their way to the Portuguese colony of Goa in anticipation of the war. When the Braunfels made its way to the port of Mormugao, on 31 August, it joined two other Hansa-line ships—the Ehrenfels and the Drachenfels. An Italian vessel, the Anfora, soon took refuge in Mormugao as well.
Although the Portuguese authorities in Goa were willing to let the ships dock, they were suspicious about their motives. The Goan government acquiesced to the request by the British government to allow all British Indian subjects aboard the ships to disembark, so that they could be repatriated. However, “it expressed its unhappiness over the willingness of the seamen of different nationalities to disembark on the land,” the historian PP Shirodkar writes, in his book Blazing Midnight, “and hence sought authority and instructions in this regard.”