Erik Axel Thøgersen was born on January 12th 1920 in Viborg Denmark to parents Tycho Jensenius Thøgersen, and Johanne Mathilde Thøgersen (neé Black-Pederson). He had a brother Knud, born in 1917 and a sister, Elsa, born in 1923. He grew up in Fredericia “inden for murene” (inside the ramparts) and the family later moved to Aarhus.
Axel’s father, Tycho, born on August 21st, 1896, was the eldest of the nine children of Jens-Peter Thøgersen and Petrea (who insisted that her grandson be called Axel rather than Erik). Besides Tycho, there were Olaf, Jens-Carl, Svend, Valborg, Elly, Hilda, Olga and Dagny. Jens-Peter owned a wholesale bicycle shop in Hornbak, just outside of Randers. The sea however, proved irresistible to Olaf (navy), Svend (captain in the merchant navy) and two of Svend’s sons who were later lost at sea.
Tycho worked for the Danish State Railroad and during the German occupation of WW II became a valuable source of information for the Danish underground, providing times and destinations of troop and military cargo movements. Axel’s mother Johanne, born on June 15th 1898, was one of five children, the others being Viggo, Nils, Anna and Thea.
As a youth, Axel decided that he could not resist the sea either and so he went to learn the “ropes” at the seaman’s school. When war broke out, he was a member of the crew of the Danish vessel M.V. “Europa” belonging to the Danish East Asiatic Company. The ship was in St. Thomas, formerly part of the Danish West Indies, when the Germans invaded Denmark the 9th of April 1940 and the ship and most of her crew sailed to Halifax to offer her services, subsequently sailing under the Canadian flag. For the next five years, Axel sailed mainly the North Atlantic on convoy duty bringing supplies to the allied forces gathering in Great Britain. He also had occasion to do the Murmansk run which was probably the most dangerous shipping route during the war because of the intense U-boat blockade out of Norway.
In May 1941 the “Europa” was bombed and burned in Liverpool and after fighting the infernos that followed in the city, Axel was evacuated to a military hospital in Glasgow for several weeks to recover from pneumonia, burns and other wounds. He then was repatriated to Canada in June 1941as a DBS (Distressed British Seaman). Of the 15 East Asiatic Company vessels serving the allies only four returned home after the war, indicating the extremely dangerous and difficult conditions associated with convoy duty. Shortly thereafter he returned to convoy duty aboard the M.V. Asbjørn until November 1941, and then the Turret Cape (Saguenay Terminals) in 1942 and 1943. This led him to make several voyages to Trinidad and British Guyana to get bauxite for the burgeoning alumina industry in Arvida and elsewhere. (One of his rewards for that run was to catch malaria which stayed with him, although in diminishing severity, for almost twenty years). He then returned to the North Atlantic run serving on the S.S. Delmarvic in 1943 and 1944 (also sunk), and finally the S.S. Ronda (J. Lauritzen, Copenhagen) until the end of hostilities. As a merchant navy officer, Axel was also trained as a gunner since most of the ships he served on were DEMS, or Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships. During his convoy years, he earned the Canadian Merchant Navy Badge, the 1939-1945 Star, the Atlantic Star and the Victory Medal. He subsequently earned the Centennial medal in 1967.