The Germans form an embargo around Curacao to prevent petroleum products from being sent from the island to Allied forces fighting in England and Africa. Crude oil from Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela is brought to refineries on the islands of Aruba and Curacao, where it is made into gasoline, kerosene, and diesel oil. These products are then transported "to England or to General Montgomery in the African desert". The islands of Aruba and Curacao are thus among "the most important islands in the world...victory or defeat (for the Allies) depend(s) on them" (Chapters 1 and 2).
When Phillip is officially listed as lost at sea, his mother returns to Curacao to be with her husband, Phillip's father. Against the advice of Mr. Enright, Phillip's mother had insisted that she and Phillip be allowed to return to the United States after German submarines blew up the S.S. Empire Tern, "a big British tanker...(with) machine guns for and aft, one of the few armed ships in the harbor" at Curacao. Her plan had been to remain with family in Virginia until the danger should be over. Mr. Enright had finally given in to his wife's demands, and secured passage for her and his son on the S.S. Hato, "a small Dutch freighter...(with) a long stack and (which) always puff(s) thick, black smoke". Soon after it sets sail, the S.S. Hato is torpedoed and sunk.
After Phillip is declared lost at sea, Mrs. Enright, who had been rescued, has a complete change of heart. She goes back to her husband on Curacao and no longer has thoughts of leaving the island, and when she is reunited with Phillip, she can only keep saying, "I'm sorry" (Chapters 2 and 19).