Dive WW2: Our Secret History – Jules Hudson chats about Derry’s hidden past

We catch up with the Escape to the Country presenter to learn about discovering ship graveyards off the coast of Donegal, ahead of his new BBC documentary

Off the coast of Donegal lies an eerie ship and submarine graveyard. Here hundreds of vessels met their end in both World Wars, and have remained dormant under the ocean ever since. This week, Jules Hudson and his team of divers will uncover these time capsules of history in the new two-part historic travelogue Dive WW2: Our Secret History (8pm, October 20 and 27 on BBC1). We catch up with Hudson ahead of the show:


What hidden secrets in the depths of the water did you discover?

Hundreds of ships and submarines from both World Wars. Our team dived eight of them, some destroyed during the Second World War, some scuttled after it. Some were the victims of U-boat attacks, others were the U-boats themselves. They have lain undisturbed for 70 years, yet their ghostly images and the stories they contain gave us the foundation for a compelling re-telling of the Battle of the Atlantic.

How dangerous were the dives your team undertook to uncover the stories?

Very. While this is a beautiful coastline, by its very nature it is also one of the most treacherous. Powerful currents race around it, the weather can change with little warning, and the wrecks were often at the limit of our divers’ depth. Time on the bottom was limited, but the team was determined to capture as much information as possible before our window of opportunity closed. It was a unique research project.

Visit historic Donegal with Radio Times Travel, see here for more details

What can we learn about the past from searching underwater?

Studying the images, seeing open hatches and debris strewn about their decks, you get quite close to the crews who served upon them. These ships and submarines were home to ordinary men struggling through extraordinary times. In effect, you’re going back to the 1940’s.

What was the most unusual thing the divers discovered on these ships?

Many of these wrecks are war graves, and there was never any question of removing anything. They remain a rare record of ship types and moments in time. However, with the help of my historian colleagues Axel and Randy, and some remarkable detective work, we were able to give names to previously unidentified U-boats that, up to this point, were simply recorded as lost at sea. For the relatives of their crews, it provided a satisfying conclusion.

How does this discovery compare with your others?

Ever since I was a boy, I’ve been fascinated with Naval history. I’ve long imagined what it would be like to drain the seas around Britain, and then overfly the seabed. It would be littered with ships and wreck sites covering 2,000 years of history. In a way, that’s what we were able to do in Ireland.

What are you working on next?

I’m currently busy with Escape to the Country and Countryfile, as well as a new show on restoration for the BBC. There are also more military history ideas in the pipeline, which I’m very excited about. When I have the time, we are busy renovating our new home in Herefordshire, a late 16th century gem in need of some TLC.

Watch Dive WW2: Our Secret History at 8pm on October 20 and 27, on BBC1

Visit historic Donegal with Radio Times Travel, see here for more details