Monday, May 16, 2016

Five Days Earlier

Mont-Blanc Explosion - Halifax
On 6 December, 1917 a French vessel named S.S. Mont-Blanc was leaving Halifax harbor with a load of high explosives bound for France. It collided with the S.S. Imo, a Norwegian ship, in the narrows of the bay catching fire and ultimately exploding. Around 2000 people in the area were killed and another 9000 were injured from flying debris. Nearly all the structures in a half mile radius disappeared, including the entire town of Richmond.

Five days later, my great grandfather on his way to France to fight in World War I, docked there aboard the R.M.S. Tunisian. He saw relief parties still digging among the snow and ice left from a blizzard still trying to rescue survivors. Many soldiers offered to go ashore and help search but their offers were denied since the convoy of boats was subject to leave at anytime. For two days until they left, the men could only watch. Also in the convoy of boats was the S.S. Tuscania which would be torpedoed two months later by German UB-77 sending 210 soldiers to their deaths.

In a letter home from France, my great grandfather would write, "I hope I may never see such a devastated-looking place again."

My Great Grandfather


kymber said...

Ed - the Halifax Explosion was something that many of the old timers when i was a young girl would talk about and remember. an interesting fact - the city of Boston were among some of the very first responders as many people couldn't make it to Halifax even though they were closer than Boston...due to the ice and snow affecting the maritimes. but Boston had a crew on a train and landed in Halifax on the 6th at about 10pm that very day. another interesting fact: nova scotia sends Boston their official christmas tree every year since 1918. halifax and boston have a long history of friendship.

i am very sorry that your great grandfather witnessed it....from everything i have ever read, as well as pictures i have seen - it was awful.

and you are correct - the american military men were not allowed to leave their boats to help. and from everything i read, it near killed them not being able to come out and help. i am sorry that your great grandfather had to witness something so horrible....but to then have to go overseas and fight in the war....ugh. just awful.

sending love. your friend,

sage said...

There is an interesting museum in Halifax that deals with this tragedy. One of the stories I remember is a woman watching the ship burn up on the hill, with a small child. One of the sailors running up the hill yells to her in French, but she doesn't understand. He grabs the child and starts running up and she follows and a few minutes later the ship blows and the area where she'd been standing was in the blast zone. He'd saved both the child and her life.

Ed said...

Kymber - Thanks for your additions! Somewhere I've heard that tidbit about Boston's Christmas tree but it never really sunk in until now. I will not forget!

Sage - The pictures online are absolutely amazing at the level of destruction that occurred. I need to research a book on this subject and learn more someday.

Vince said...

What I've never been able to fathom is that the town itself and the land profile was blamed for making the results worse. It's something to do with the slight bowling of the land and the lines of the streets forming a perfect container for the whatever it's called. From what I understand, that and the mines under Mesen in Belgium are still studied by the corp of engineer schools as textbook blasts. Basically gigantic shaped charges, while one using soil and this one using water, air and the shape of the land and design of the town.

Kelly said...

How horrible! While I may have learned of this event years ago in a history class, I have no recollection of it.

Interesting additions in the comments, too. See how educational blogging can be?!

Ed said...

Vince - That's interesting and reinforces my desire to find a good historical book on the subject to study it futher.

Kelly - Hardly a day goes by when I don't learn something new. Usually it comes in the form of what ever non-fiction book I'm reading but occasionally it is blogging or one of the forums I read.