Archive for the ‘war’ Category

After work today I went to the doctor’s office. I was slightly proud of myself because I was early; on the other hand, even when I’m late I usually have to wait. It looked a little busy, so I had a seat, and went for a magazine. You might have noticed that the literary value of the reading material in a doctor’s waiting room leaves much to be desired, especially in the last few years.

However, the first thing I found was a copy of the June issue of Harper’s Magazine, and on the front cover was a picture of the little president with an eleven-gallon hat. The main topic was “Undoing Bush: how to repair eight years of sabotage, bungling, and neglect”. It was a forum of prominent columnists and experts discussing the problems and possible solutions to various aspects of the little guy’s administration. They included

The Constitution
by David Cole

The courts
by Dahlia Lithwick

Civil service
by Ken Silverstein

The environment
by Bill McKibben

by Chris (Chris C.) Mooney

The economy
by Dean Baker

The marketplace of ideas
by Jack Hitt

by James Bamford

The military
by Edward Luttwak

by Anne-Marie Slaughter

The national character
by Earl Shorris

I was 45 minutes in the waiting room, and it gave me time to finish the eleven essays, and it was time well wasted. There was little that was new to me, but it did give me a different perspective on all of the hammer blows that this administration has inflicted on the United States and the world. It’s well worth reading, especially the Marketplace of Ideas, Intelligence, the Military, the Constitution, and finally the National Character.

Only this long until the King’s Horses and Men can get started on the Great Fall.


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I was updating a previous post about famous ships of Newfoundland and Labrador and noted that many of these ships sank or were lost in storms. There are many aspects to these events and to how they shaped our history, from the Independence Hurricane of 1775 to the deaths of the sealers from the ships Newfoundland and Southern Cross in late March of 1914 (which killed 251 men, as compared to the 255 who died, and the 91 who went missing, at Beaumont Hamel two years later). First, the 1775 hurricane killed about 4000 people, destroyed the French fishing boats and crews at St. Pierre et Miquelon, destroyed a British fishing fleet on the Grand Banks, and devastated many of the outports. The resultant loss of British fisherman available for Navy service hurt the British response to the American Independence movement, and may be part of the reason that this storm is called the Independence Hurricane in the U.S. The sealers on the Newfoundland and Southern Cross were demonstratively young and adventurous, since sealing was inherently dangerous; hopping around on ice pans and living on often rickety boats during March storms is not for the faint-hearted. Many of these men would probably have volunteered for the war, and their deaths also contributed to the lack of young men at the end of the war. There were about 1200 Newfoundland soldiers who died during the war, and the 251 sealers lost on March 31, 1914 amounts to over 20% of the Newfoundland war dead through the entire conflict.

This will be a roughly chronological list of notable marine disasters and ship losses from discovery to modern times either in our waters or significant to our history. There will also be comments on obvious impacts on Newfoundland, Labrador, and the rest of the world. If anyone wants to comment or to contribute new information, I’d really appreciate it.

Our course through history:

  • 1498: John Cabot’s second expedition to North America. One source indicates that the expedition was lost at sea.
  • 1501: Gaspar Corte-Real, who vanished in 1501 on a voyage to Newfoundland.
  • 1565?: Basque whaler in Red Bay, Labrador, which may be the San Juan.
  • 1696: HMS Sapphire : Trapped in Bay Bulls Harbour by a French attacking force, she was scuttled to prevent capture. She is a Provincial Historic Site and has produced much archaeological insight into naval life of the times. This was during one of the main periods of French-English conflict in Newfoundland.
  • 1775: Independence Hurricane mentioned above. It hit the South Coast and passed near Conception Bay on September 9. It is also the most deadly hurricane to hit Canada or Newfoundland in recorded history. (see introduction).
  • 1810-1870: Sealing Deaths. It is estimated that between 1810 and 1870 the Newfoundland seal fishery lost some 400 vessels and 1000 men in the ice floes.
  • 1828: Despatch: Ann Harvey of Isle aux Morts, her father, herbrother,  and the Newfoundland Dog named Hairyman saved over 180 Irish immigrants from the wreck of the brig Despatch. The Royal Humane Society issued a special medal for heroism for Ann. In 1938, she and her father also saved a number of people from the Rankin, wrecked at the same spot as the Despatch. Isle aux Morts was so dangerous to shipping that throughout her life she and the other settlers were burying bodies that washed ashore.In 1987, the Canadian Coast Guard vessel Ann Harvey was commisioned.
  • 1847: Hurricane hits Newfoundland, kills 300.
  • 1875: Waterwitch : Wrecked near Pouch Cove. When the ship went aground in a storm with 25 people on board, Alfred Moores, a resident, performed a daring rescue which saved 11 people. He allowed himself to be lowered to the ship by a rope from an overhanging cliff so that he could carry the people to safety.
  • 1898: Greenland Disaster: A sealing steamer. 48 men from her died on the ice in 1898 when a major storm blew in. The ice closed up and prevented the Greenland from closing on the sealers on the ice, while at the same time an interior lead of water kept the sealers from approaching the ship. There was also some discussion of the behaviour of Captain Abram Kean, who was in the area commanding another sealing vessel. Kean later became infamous for his role in the Newfoundland Disaster sixteen years later.
  • 1912: Titanic: Sank April 14-15, 1914 after hitting an iceberg 400 miles from St. John’s. The main Newfoundland link to the disaster is the wireless station at Cape Race, which received and relayed the distress messages from the ship. Also, two years after the International Ice Patrol was founded to track icebergs and ship safety regulations were beefed up
  • 1914: Newfoundland Disaster: The sealing disaster in March, 1914 where 78 sealers died and 11 were permanently disabled. It is poignantly described in Cassie Brown’s Death on the Ice. (see introduction)
  • 1914: Southern Cross Disaster: This is the one that many people (including myself) forget. She was lost with all hands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence during the same storm that caught the sealers from the Newfoundland on the ice at night. She was last sighted by the SS Portia near Cape Pine, and was never seen again. This counts as the single largest loss of life in the history of the seal hunt, with 173 souls being lost. Combined with the 78 deaths from the Newfoundland, at least 251 people died from the same storm. If you compare that to the casualties from Beaumont Hamel, it adds a new perspective to the dangers involved in sealing. On July 1, 1916, the Royal Newfoundland Regiment bravely attempted a frontal assault on the German front in what is considered the worst military disaster in the history of Newfoundland. 255 were killed, 386 were wounded, and 91 were listed as missing in action and presumed dead.
  • 1918: Florizel : the well-known steamer owned by the Bowring Brothers Ltd. went aground at Horn Head near Cappahayden on the Southern Shore of Newfoundland . The SOS was received at the Admiralty wireless station. Ninety-three crew and passengers perished, while 44 were miraculously rescued after 27 hours spent braving punishing seas and bitter cold. The Peter Pan Statue in Bowring Park is in honour and memory of a little girl who died on board.
  • 1919:Ethie : On November 17 this coastal steamer, commanded by Captain Edward English, went aground during a gale at Martins Point on the West Coast near Bonne Bay. Local fisherman were able to get line to the ship and to rescue most or all of the passengers and crew. There were also reports of a Newfoundland dog towing a rescue line out to the boat, and this became part of a children’s book by Hilary Hyland.
  • 1929: Tsunami on November 18. A 5 metre tsunami was generated by an underwater landslide south od Newfoundland, triggered by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake on the continental slope. Twenty-seven people died, and boats, houses, and stages were swept away. While this is the only significant earthquake recorded in Atlantic Canada, it is also the most deadly such event recorded in Canada or Newfoundland. The underwater landslide also cut numerous underwater telegraph and telephone lines, and the timing of when each line cut out allowed scientists to estimate the speed and severity of the landslide. However, it also cut the community off from the rest of civilisation during cold and miserable weather. Three days later the coastal vessel SS Portia arrived, and immediately sent an SOS to St. John’s.
  • 1931: Viking Disaster: The Viking (a wooden ship built in 1881), exploded while shooting footage for the sealing film The Viking . Film producer Varrick Frissel and 26 others died in the explosion. A number of sealers made it to Horse Islands. However, there were insufficient supplies, shelter or medical equipment to keep the men alive for long. Rescue ships, including the salvage tug Foundation Franklin and the Reid coastal steamer Sagona took on supplies and medical personnel and raced to the area. However they were delayed both by a raging gale and by the ice, which had driven in around the island. Here is a transcript of documents from the time of the disaster. This was the first, but by no means the last, time Newfoundland and Newfoundlanders were involved with the Franklin.
  • 1932: Neptune II: Schooner that was commanded by Captain Joe Barbour of Newtown on the Northeast Coast. While not really a wreck, the ship was driven by several successive storms from Newfoundland to Scotland, with the crew of 11 being tossed and turned for 48 days, as described in this book.
  • 1942: Bell Island’s U-boat casualties (Saganaga,Lord Strathcona, P.L.M. 27, Rose Castle): these were bulk iron ore carriers sunk at or near Lance Cove on Bell Island in Conception Bay. Bell Island has the dubious distinction of being the site of the only artillery fired in defense of North America in the Second World War, due to these attacks.
  • 1942: World War Two Submarines: At least 3 U-boats and one British submarine sank within 250 nm of St. John’s. The type IX U-656 sank about 25 miles from Cape Race, and the British P-514 was rammed by a merchant vessel near Cape St. Mary’s.
  • 1942: CaribouDisaster: One of the most famous of the ferries running between Newfoundland and Canada. It was torpedoed by U-boat U-69 on October 14, 1942, during the critical period of the Battle of the Atlantic. 147 passengers and crew lost their lives. The skipper Ben Taverner and his two sons went down with the ship. The coastal boat Taverner was named after him.
  • 1942: USS Truxton and Pollux: (much of this is a direct quote from SkylarkD, and this entry is due to her kind suggestion) These two U.S. Navy ships ran aground near St. Laurence, Newfoundland on February 18th, 1942. 203 sailors died; 185 were saved. Well, it turns out that there was only one African American survivor of the U.S.S. Truxton, named Lanier Philips, and he says that it was the hospitality he received from the people of Newfoundland after the disaster which led him to become a civil rights leader for equality for all races in the U.S. military.
  • 1977: William Carson: An Icebreaking passenger/car ferry. Commissioned in 1955, it was a huge ferry for its time. For the first two years it couldn’t dock at Port aux Basques, and used Argentia until docking facilities were expanded. In 1977 she was struck by a small Iceberg near Battle Harbour, Labrador, and sank with no hands aboard (no one died). Joan Morrissey wrote a fairly funny song about he Carson and its importance to the province.
  • 1982: Ocean Ranger: At the time the largest semi-submersible oil rig in the world. On February 15, 1982 she sank with all hands. The supply vessel Seaforth Highlander was almost able to rescue some, but they failed by mere feet. As a result of this disaster the offshore oil industry has been changed, with changes in rig design, operational procedures, safety equipment, and extensive emergency and lifeboat training.

General References and Links:

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For most of my life, Remembrance Day or Armistice Day was mainly about those who had died in wars from long ago. The Legion Halls were mostly used by older people, and fewer and fewer were able to attend the ceremonies at the War Memorial in town. This was during and soon after the era of the Cold War, when most of the fighting was being done by a very few puppet states from either side, and where our main contribution was peace-keeping in places like Cyprus, the Sinai, etc. We did lose about 100 people in Vietnam.

It felt like the wars were ending, and this was part of the euphoria everyone felt when the Berlin Wall fell, the Warsaw Pact states in Eastern Europe gained independence, and Bush Senior started talking about a New World Order with international and multilateral forces working together to maintain peace and develop a global, interdependent society.

Then the freed states started settling disputes long held in abeyance by the superpowers of the Cold War, ethnic cleansing became the current euphemism for attempted genocides, and numerous small (and not so small) conflicts began again; there was Yugoslavia, Chechnya, the Tamil Tigers, Indonesia, and the first Iraq War. Through most of this Canadians worked to maintain peace, and tried to keep to the ideal of peace-keeping rather than peace-making. We did play a role in Iraq, but it was small, and I think no Canadian soldier died in battle. But this was also the period that set up the conditions for the development of the Taliban and al-Quaeda, especially in Afghanistan.

Then there was 9/11, and the beginning of the War on Terror. We contributed to the UN sanctioned conflict in Afghanistan, and refused to sanction the invasion of Iraq. Since then we have been fighting fairly steadily, and for the most part in a good cause. We are trying to help stabilise the situation in Afghanistan, and to get them to a stage where they can help themselves again. But it is a war, and we are starting to lose people again. Young veterans are starting to appear at the memorials.

As of today, 42 Canadian soldiers have died in Afghanistan. Of those, four have been from home in Newfoundland. There have also been seven from Nova Scotia, one from New Brunswick, two from Quebec, sixteen from Ontario, one from Manitoba, two from Saskatchewan, five from Alberta, two from British Columbia, and a Corporal Scott Jeffrey Walsh who’s hometown hasn’t been listed yet. There is also a Corporal David Braun from Scunthorpe, which I can’t locate.

Among the other nationalities fighting in Afghanistan, there have been 350 fatalities from the United States, 41 from the United Kingdom, 19 from Spain, 18 from Germany, 9 each from Italy and France, 4 each from the Netherlands and Romania, 3 from Denmark, 2 from Sweden, and 1 each from Australia, Norway, and Portugal.

These are the fallen from home.

Sergeant Craig Paul Gillam of the Royal Canadian Dragoons, died in combat on October 3, 2006, near Kandahar. He was from South Branch and was 40 years old. He is survived by a wife and two children.

Warrant Officer Richard Nolan of the Royal Canadian Regiment died due to hostile fire on September 3, 2006 , in the Panjwaii district. He was from Mount Pearl and was 39 years old. He is survived by four children and his common-law partner.

Sergeant Vaughn Ingram of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry was killed by hostile fire near Kandahar at Pashmul on August 3, 2006. He was from Burgeo and was 35. He is survived by two brothers and his parents.

Corporal Jamie Brendan Murphy of the Royal Canadian Regiment Battalion Group was killed by hostile fire and a suicide bomber on January 27, 2004. He was 26 and from Conception Harbour. He is survived by his parents, sisters, and his girlfriend.

Remember them.

And with bowed head and heart abased
Strive hard to grasp the future gain in this sore loss.
For not one foot of this dank sod
But drank its surfeit of the blood of gallant men
Who for their Faith, their Hope, for Life and Liberty
Here made the sacrifice.
Here gave their lives, and right willingly for you and me.

-John Oxenham, entrance to the Beaumont-Hamel Memorial

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