AuthorBruce Ricketts

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Ella M Rudolph Schooner Shipwreck

I can remember, quite vividly, my grandmother in Greenspond telling me about the wreck of the Ella M Rudolph.  She would sit at the kitchen table a recite from memory:

Loss Of The “Ella M. Rudolph”
 
Attention all ye fisherman, and toilers of the sea,
While I relate these lines to you of an awful tragedy,
Which leaves so many families in sorrow to bewail
For the loss ‘of sons and husbands, caused by that dreadful gale.
 
The “Ella M. Rudolph”, a vessel staunch, and a clever sea boat too,
Her Skipper’s name was Blackwood, and eight composed her crew;
A female also was on board, then so gay and bright,
She with the rest did meet her doom, on that sad fatal night.
 
On the sixth day of December the Rudolph left the town
Full load of general cargo, for Port Nelson she was bound;
With a gentle breeze of south west wind, the schooner sailed along,
But the sky was thick and heavy, and the night was coming on.
 
At five o’clock that evening, through the “tickle” she did pass,
When threatenings of a violent storm was showing by the glass;
When from South-East the wind did vere, with storms all through the night,
The Skipper’s intention was to try and make Catalina light.
 
Not very far out in the bay the schooner she did reach,
When the Skipper changed the course again from North unto North-East,
Thinking that the ship would round the cape and reach Bonavista Bay,
But under foresail and jumbo, unfortunately made lee way.
 
Eight fine strong men, that very night, upon her deck did stand,
With eager minds and piercing eyes all on the look out for land,
When the wind blew strong, and the seas ran high, Oh! what a terrible plight
When the “Ella M. Rudolph” end her days, on Catalina shore that night.
 
The vessel scarcely struck the rocks before covered with the waves,
All of her crew except one man did meet a watery grave;
This poor young chap jumped overboard ‘mid blinding snow and drift,
And by the guiding hand of Providence was hurled in the cliff
 
He wend his way all up the cliff, through blinding sleet and snow,
O’er marshes, fields and valleys, not knowing where to go
To look for hospitalities and comforts for the night,
When to his surprise, before his eyes, saw Little Catalina lights.
 
It was early next morning, about the hour of four,
After eight long hours of travelling he reached Levi Dalton’s door
Who kindly answered to his knock and a saddening sight did see,
A lad standing there with oilskins on, a miracle from the sea.
 
Come in my lad, come in, this man did kindly say,
And tell me what has happened and how you came this way;
This boy was so exhausted and all that he did say
“A schooner lost, and all her crew, not very far away.”
 
Now with this kindly woman the poor lad did reside
And with hot drinks, and clothing warm, she soon him did revive,
Which after rest and medical aid the tale he told anew
The sorrowful fate of “Rudolph” and the loss of all her crew.
 
The man soon told his neighbours, and soon the news were spread,
And men before so very long were raising from their bed,
With ropes and gaffs and lanterns too, on a night so dark and drear,
The path was thronged with men, from Brook Cove they did. steer.
 
At last they arrived upon the scene, but sadly heard no sound,
They searched with vain endeavours, but no creature could be found,
But when the dawning broke again such an awful sight to see,
A schooner’s wreckage washed ashore, while her crew were in the sea
 
These willing men did try their might some bodies for to get,
But the sea was raging furiously and dashing by the cliff,
But an awful sight came before their eyes as they stood there next day
To see a body wash ashore upon a heaving wave.
 
This chance to be the female once so gay with game­
An Abbott girl from Hare Bay, her name was Mary Jane.
And soon with kind and willing hands, her body did prepare,
And sent along for Burial Rights, to her mother’s home so dear.
 
Not one day had passed away but these men were on the spot,
And after days of toiling five more bodies they got;
And now they are resting in the graves beneath the churchyard sod,
But their souls have fled to its place of rest in the Paradise of God
 
So now my friends and comrades, there’s one more thing to do:
Let us not forget the widows, and the little orphans too,
Whom through this great disaster are left fatherless in their homes,
But the Lord knows what is best, and His will must be done.
 
Now in conclusion let us not forget our friends,
The people in Catalina who worked with willing hands
For to recover those bodies their labour did not spare
May blessing rest on Catalina, and all its citizens there.
 
But two more bodies still are lying beneath the ocean waves,
Waiting for their Saviour’s call on the last Great Judgement Day,
When the sea will give up its dead as told-by Scripture true
May the Lord have mercy on the souls of the “Ella M. Rudolph’s” crew.

There were seven ship’s members lost that fateful night, including:

  • Skipper Eleazer Blackwood;
  • Bertram Blackwood (the Skipper’s eldest son);
  • Harry Blackwood (the Skipper’s middle son);
  • Walter Attwood;
  • Joseph Vivian;
  • Samuel Carter (uncle of Bertram, Harry and Duke);
  • Noah Vivian; and
  • Mary Jane Abbott, who was the ship’s cook.

Carter’s and Vivian’s bodies were never found.
Blackwood’s third son, Duke, age 20, was the only survivor.
The Bay Roberts Guardian reported the news of the sinking this way:

Friday, December 10, 1926: The Schooner Ella M Rudolph, Captain Eleazer Blackwood, met disaster Dec. 6th, near Catalina, in the southeast blizzard which raged in that section. The vessel with the Captain, his sons, Henry, Albert and Duke, four other men and a woman, left St. John’s for Greenspond at 6:30 Monday.  The following morning the news of the disaster was learned from Duke Blackwood, the sole survivor. The sturdy ship was dashed to pieces on the rocks, Mrs. Blackwood, the captain’s wife, and child, who were in St. John’s, left by train the morning the vessel left. This is another terrible tragedy of the sea which has befallen the citizens of Greenspond and which has cast a gloom over the whole country.

Just to add a little surrealism to this story, the night that the Ella M. Rudolph went down, Elias Burry, a lay reader in the local church, was lying in bed.

“Suddenly my door opened and in walked a soaking wet Samuel Carter, my good friend.  He (Carter) stood in the middle of the room for a few seconds and then departed without saying a word.”

Little Catalina was first settled in the late 1700s or the early 1800s to cut wood for boat building.  By 1845 it was a well established inshore fishing community of 195 people. Being so close to Catalina, Little Catalina depended a lot on the economic and social sphere of the larger community. Like many other small communities, Little Catalina suffered severe loss of life to marine disasters. The Great Labrador Disaster and a series of shipwrecks claimed the lives of many causing widows to run 26 percent of the households in the community by 1891.

The SS Ethie and the Hero Dogs

The Wreck of the SS Ethie and the Hero Dog

Where does one begin to tell a story with more twists and turns than an Indy car race?  Such is the story of the SS Ethie and the hero dogs. One blustery morning in 1919 a steam ship set sail from Cow Head on the western shore of Newfoundland.  Later that same day, almost out of coal , coated heavily in ices and in peril of foundering, the captain of the stricken vessel aimed the ship towards land and crashed on a rocky beach.  All 92 souls on board were taken off by rope chair, including a baby in a mail sack.  The rope chair was attached to the rope fastened ashore by a man walking his dog on the lonely beach in bad weather. Victory in the midst of tragedy.  A happy ending to a bad day.  Certainly a story for the history books.

But the story did not finish with the rescue.  In fact the story and controversy continues today.

Last year, on Mysteries of Canada, I wrote our first story of the SS Ethie.  The story was based on what information Anna and I could find while visiting Gros Morne National Park.  What a great story.  Shipwrecks, heroes, babies.  You couldn’t get better.

In March I received a telephone call from Dottie Olson who own the Roadhouse Lodge on Wrangell Island, Alaska.  Dottie had an artifact that was associated with the SS Ethie.  Dottie and Mysteries of Canada had been put together by none other than MoC contributor  Robert Parsons.

I was hooked into the controversy of the SS Ethie and the Newfoundland Dog!

Here is the story!

The SS Ethie was a coal-burning steamer (also called a Stout Ship) that set sail from Cow Head, on the western shore of Newfoundland, heading south to Rocky Harbor. Captain Edward English was in command of a vessel that was on its last sail of the season carrying 92 passengers and crew.  The date was December 10, 1919.

Captain English, aware that storm clouds were brewing over the area, chose to set sail to get the passengers home in time for Christmas. (Some people say that he was also put under a great deal of pressure from the shipping line to get underway!)

Within a few hours of departing, what started out as a small storm blew up into a fierce winter storm and ultimately into a blizzard. The vessel was constantly being blown towards the very rocky and dangerous shoreline. They burned most of their coal supply just trying to stay out a sea. As the coal supply diminished, Captain English realized his ship was lost. His thoughts then turned to saving the lives of the passengers and crew.

Consulting his charts, he made the decision to “beach” the SS Ethie at a place near Martin’s Point. This was not an easy decision for the coastline in this area was rife with dangerous reefs and high cliffs.  But if you were going to go aground, Martin’s Point was the only place to do it.

As the SS Ethie approached the shore, a villager named Reuben Decker saw and understood the ship’s action. He rushed to the area of the impending “beaching” to help in the rescue.

When the SS Ethie finally came hard aground, the crew sent out a rope.  It was picked up and secured to shore by Decker.

A breeches buoy was rigged up and used to carry the passengers and crew ashore. The youngest passenger, an eighteen-month old baby girl, was sent ashore in a mail sack.

All 92 passengers and crew of the SS Ethie were saved.

Sometime after the rescue most of the passengers and sailors returned home by train from Deer Lake.  As they were want to do, the passengers and crew told stories of the spectacular rescue and there is no doubt that some facts were embellished.  One “fact” entered into evidence on the train trip was that a dog was instrumental in the rescue effort by bringing the rope ashore from the ship.

A confusing part of the rescue story was a rumor that a Newfoundland dog was sent out from shore to fetch the rope that would help the people to shore.  Another rumor was that a dog was lowered into the water from the vessel to swim the rope ashore.  The latter idea is not as far fetched as one might think when one sees the wreckage of the ship, as it is today on the beach at Martin’s point.  The ship’s hull would break the waves thus allowing the Newfoundland Dog, which would be a good swimmer and able to tolerate the cold water, to come ashore safely.

News of the rescue, the baby and the dog reached the offices of the Cornerbrook Western Star.  The editor of the Star was also an Associated Press correspondent.  He wired the story to the AP headquarters in the US where The Philadelphia Ledger picked it up.  The Ledger’s editor took great interest in the story as he had visited the area the summer before.

Following the running of the story, a group in Philadelphia had a collar made complete with a silver medallion, Starry Cross, for presentation to the dog of Reuben Decker. The collar had a silver plate attached with the designation “HERO”.

The collar and medal were presented to Decker in 1920.

In 1923 the “sick soldiers of Camp Hill Hospital in Halifax awarded a silver cross to the hero-dog and that cross was also attached to the collar.  What is the relationship of the hospital to the collar? We do not know at this time.  Was an owner of the dog and collar a patient or on staff at Camp Hill Hospital?

In 2000, Dottie Olson has that collar, complete with silver plate and two medallions in Wrangell, Alaska.

How it got the other side of the continent is a mystery solved.  We shall get to that later in this article.

The major controversy of the wreck of the SS Ethie story is whether in fact a dog was even involved with the rescue.  And if a dog was involved, was it a Newfoundland dog or a crossbreed collie?  Was the dog pictured at below Reuben Decker’s dog?  This photograph was found in the same trunk (discussed later in this story) as the collar!

Twenty years after the rescue of the SS Ethie, Newfoundland writer Cassie Brown traveled to the western peninsula to interview persons from the shipwreck.  She has written that, based on her interview with the First Officer of the SS Ethie, the story of the Newfoundland dog was an embellishment of the facts as told by one of the coalman after the rescue.  This is story number one that is championed by Newfoundland author and publisher, Garry Cranford.

Story number two is that Reuben Decker’s dog, a cross-breed collie (see the photo at the right), named Wisher or Tang, was at the scene of the wreck and described as the dog from Newfoundland.  Wisher, however, was not involved in the rescue, according to Garry Cranford.

Story number three comes from Newfoundland writer Michael McCarthy.  Shortly after telling the story of the SS Ethie on radio, he received a phone call from what he remembered as the wife or daughter of the late Captain English.  She said that not only was a Newfoundland dog involved in the rescue but also it was their (the English’s) dog who was lowered over the side to take ashore the rope.

What is the truth?  I doubt we will ever know.  But the story of the SS Ethie lives on in print, on the stage and in the hearts of many Newfoundlanders and dog-lovers all over the world.

But how did the collar get from Newfoundland to Dottie Olson’s Roadhouse in Alaska?

What we know is that Reuben Decker sold both the dog and the collar to William Orum of Saint John, New Brunswick for about $60.00.  Orum’s intent was to put the dog on display to make few dollars.  That was the last time the collar was seen in Newfoundland.

In fact that is the last record we have of the collar until it shows up in Alaska.

Dennis “Dinty” Kane arrived to Wrangell in 1923 with a large dog and a collar and metals designating the dog as a Hero.  He lived in a rough hut with no heating or cooking facilities.  According to Sue Bradley, a former resident of Wrangell, on really cold nights Kane and his big brownish-black dog (Sue called the dog “King”) would curl up next to the stove in the Bradley house to stay warm.

Sue used to enjoy riding on the back of the big dog and playing with the collar and metals.

Dennis Kane was a common laborer who probably came west from New Brunswick to find his fortune in the Cassiar Gold fields in western BC.  Although we cannot say, he probably road the rails across Canada with thousands of other depression-era migrants who went in search of fortune in the gold fields of the west.  My sources have told me that when he left New Brunswick Kane left behind a family including two sons.  I wonder if the Kane boys (or their relatives) are alive today?

Wrangell, in south eastern Alaska, was a pivotal point in the trek to the interior of BC.  Ships laden with supplies and prospectors steamed north from Vancouver and dumped their load near the mouth of the Stikine River at Wrangell.  The Stikine River is the fastest flowing navigable river in North America.  Its incredible speed is also its worst enemy.  The Stikine is eroding year by year.  The eroded silt of the river deposits at the mouth cause mud flats to build up.  These mud flats make the river accessible only at high tide.  Even at high tide parts of the flats are as little as 18 inches below the surface.   Special ships and special captains were needed to get the barges up river to the gold fields.

Why Dennis Kane stayed in Wrangell instead of going inland could be as simple as running out of money.  We shall never know because the major players in this part of the drama have all passed on.  Sue Bradley is one of the few persons who have any recollection of Kane.  However she was very young at that time.

Kane died under some suspicious circumstances in Wrangell in 1931.  He is buried in the local cemetery after a funeral which was paid for by a group of local citizens.  His grave stone, pictured at left, is very unique.  It is a type of cement with little stones imbedded to spell out Kane’s name, date of birth and death.  There are also a few symbols in evidence.

In his obituary (from the Wrangell Sentinel, dated July 10, 1931) Kane was reportedly from New Brunswick and was survived by two sons.  The information about Kane was supplied by the US Marshall of the area, one C.W. “Shorty” Bradley, Sue Bradley’s father.

But what happened to the dog and the collar?

Sue Bradley doesn’t remember when the dog died but she remembers playing with the collar and the medals well into her teen years.

The collar stayed in the possession of Shorty Bradley, stored in a steamer truck, when he and his family left Wrangell for Talkeetna, about two hours from Anchorage.  In 1966, Shorty died and the trunk was left with his wife Florence who moved back to Wrangell.

Florence died in 1985 after losing track of the trunk.  Somehow the trunk ended up in the possession of a Jim Lovett (a dog sled owner and bushman).  He kept it in an attic in an old house next to the present-day library in Wrangell.

In 1982, Charlotte Moody, when cleaning out an attic at the old house, spotted the trunk and took all the contents (including old newspaper clippings) to the dump except the collar and medals.  Charlotte gave these to Dottie Olson because Dottie is a “collector extraordinaire” of old and useless things (no reflection on Dottie’s husband Dick intended).  The collar sat above the bar at Dottie’s Roadhouse Lodge until it was returned to Newfoundland, temporarily, by the author.

The controversial story of the SS Ethie and the Dog Collar began on December 10, 1919 and it continues even today.

The Moyle R Shipwreck

This is the story of a shipwreck of one of the coastal boats, the Moyle R, which was delivering freight along the coast of the Great Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland Labrador.  She sailed during the 1950’s along with the coastal boats The Northern Ranger and the Springdale. The Moyle built in 1942 by McKay & Sons in Shelbourne, Nova Scotia, was 112.6 feet in length with a gross tonnage of 150. She was a wooden vessel with an oil engine. The Moyle R arrived at Cow Head laden with freight from Corner Brook in December of 1954. I was 14 at the time. In 1954, there were no roads, telephones, television or electricity, in the area of Cow Head. The only means of communication was wireless telegraphy. In many instances, if a person wanted to relay a message to friends or family, they would send it to the local radio station (CBC) and had it aired over during a news broadcast called the Gerald S. Doyle Bulletin.

There was a coop store in Cow Head and they would pay us 25 cents per hour to help unload the freight. And we were more than happy to help! Back then, there was no wharf in the harbour and the cargo designated for Cow Head would be loaded into a scow, which was towed out to the ship with a motorboat, and brought to the beach where it would be unloaded and carried to the coop store. The coop store was located on what we now refer to as the “Head” and was located where H.H. Hopkins now has their fish plant.

It was late in the evening, that day in December 1954, when the freight was finally unloaded, and darkness had descended. With his cargo unloaded at Cow Head, Moyle R’s Captain Gillette inquired if there might be a couple of young men interested in sailing on the ship, – as he was short a couple of deck hands. When the Moyle R weighed anchor and made ready to leave Cow Head, it had two men from Cow Head as sailors – Leo Hynes and his brother, Hubert Hynes. It was a job they would not soon forget!

The ship was no more than 500 meters from shore when it hit a shoal. A crowd began to gather at Steamer Point when we realized what had happened to the boat. We watched until 11 or 12 o’clock but there was nothing we could do. At that time, my family lived in a red two-story house and my bedroom window faced the harbour. I remember seeing the boat from there. It was trying to get off the rocks and when the captain gave her full power, you could actually see the fire coming out of the boats’ smokestack. This was quite the sight at that time, as you can imagine, because we were pretty isolated and didn’t get to see too many incidents like this. Here was a boat over 100 feet in length, weighing in near 150 tons and the more power that the captain gave her, the more stuck she became. Some people stayed up all night to watch.

The next morning, there was a wicked gale of wind blowing and the boat was still stranded. It was actually blowing too hard for the crew of 12 of the Moyle R to launch their lifeboats.

The safety of that crew became a major concern for the whole community. Some of the older men in the community decided that they would tie together all the rope that they could find, tie it to the scow that was used for landing the freight and try to get the scow to the crew. The men on shore could then pull them in. After about a half dozen attempts, the men on shore finally got the scow close enough to the Moyle R that the crew were able to reach it. I remember that the teacher let all of us boys out of school and we were right there along with the men of the community. We were so anxious to get the crew ashore; we began pulling as hard as we could and because the winds were so high, we almost pulled the scow in under the water. Upon realizing this, we slowed down considerably and were successful in getting everyone safely to shore. The crew and the community were quite happy about this, as you can imagine, and everyone celebrated.

The boat had obviously punctured a hole in its bottom when it went aground on the rocks, but it did not break apart. Very shortly thereafter, a high tide lifted the boat of the rock and it drifted farther down in the harbour. The bottom was ripped up pretty good and was beyond repair.

Eventually, the freight that was still on the Moyle R that that was designated for othercommunities began drifting ashore, including 100 quarters of fresh beef along with 100 barrels of salt beef (200 pounds per barrel), that had been sitting on the deck. When the people of the community saw this happening, they began devising ways of salvaging these items. There was hardly a man that wasn’t out in his boat trying to jig up the quarters of beef and the barrels of salt beef   Even though the beef had been in salt water, when the outer layer was trimmed off, it was perfectly okay.

With time, the cartons in the boat holds were soaked enough that some of the contents were coming afloat and being washed upon the beach. Barrels of apples, full bologna and just about anything you could mention were washing upon the beaches and almost everyone in the community and surrounding area were taking advantage of it. Some people even came after dark with horse and sled. This was probably the last boat for the season before the drift ice came and the merchants had ordered up a good supply because it had to carry them through the winter months until the boats were able to sail again in the spring. As you can imagine, it was well stocked with food supplies, along with building materials. I remember that my father and I picked up several large bologna and 12 or 15 barrels of apples. We’d save about two dozen apples from each barrel that weren’t contaminated with oil because by this time the fuel was beginning to leak from the boat and wash to the surface.

There was lots of things picked up that we weren’t use to having back in the fifties and people were eager to pick up all they could get of it.

At this time of year, a good number of the community’s men were away either working in the woods with Bowaters at Hawkes Bay or Deer Lake or working at their own private sawmills in the backwoods. There was one lady in particular that wanted to let her husband (who was working away) know about the shipwreck and all the things washing ashore on the beach that people were picking up and bringing home. But, off course, she didn’t really want the whole coast to know about it, and she didn’t want to alarm her husband, so when she sent him a telegram it read as follows: “Come quick. Nobody sick. All around shore.” I’m certain it brought a chuckle to those who understood what she was trying to convey to her husband and bewilderment to those who didn’t.

As far as I can recall, this message was broadcast over the air on a radio program called the Woodland Echos. Bowaters who owned the paper mill in Comer Brook sponsored this program. It was aired every Friday evening on CBC radio. The host of the hour long show played country music, jigs and reels. The company designed this program for the loggers who were working in the lumber camps. It supplied the loggers with some much-needed entertainment and was a means whereby wives and mothers could relay messages to their husbands and sons because at that time there were no telephones.

I remember some amusing messages being aired on both the Woodland Echos and the Gerald S. Doyle Bulletin For example, there was a man who went to Corner Brook to pick up a stove that he had ordered but it had not yet arrived. So he sent the following message to his wife, “Won’t be home tonight; hung up over stove”. Another one sent by Saul in the lumber camp to his wife at home read, “Left camp 7. Gone to camp 11. Love to all. Signed Saul”. Even though times were hard and people worked hard, I think they had a great sense of humour, which I’m sure, helped them through many difficult situations.

The crew of the Moyle R remained in Cow Head for a couple of weeks before a boat arrived to take them home. That was the only means of transportation besides the dog team and horse and sleigh in winter. They were distributed around the community while waiting for a boat to come for them. I recall that the cook stayed with my uncle, Tom Payne. Some of the older people thought he was a witch because of some of the tricks he could do. He happened to be a bit of a magician and he had all kinds of tricks that he used to show us along with dozens of card tricks.

We were very anxious for him to teach us some of these tricks, which he did. One that I recall was a trick with a box of matches. I guess he sliced the top of the matchbox and pasted one part of it with the label of a package of camel cigarettes. When he showed us the camel packaging, he appeared to be extracting a cigarette from it (which he had hidden in his hand). Then he’d haul his hand down over the box and it would appear to be a box of matches. Because we were young and lived in isolation, we were very impressed and couldn’t wait for him to show us how it was done so that we could practice on our siblings and friends. After many attempts and lots of practicing, I was finally able to get them perfected to a tee and was more than happy to show my friends what a great magician I was.

Being an isolated community in which very little happened, the wreck of the Moyle R was a major event in which everyone was involved in one way or another. Things continued to drive in along the shore and people were scrambling to salvage them. After some time had passed, the residents realized that by now the cartons that were stored in the ships’ hold must be soaked and they began to think of ways that they could get at the contents. Someone came up with the idea of making very large dip-nets that could be used to scoop the contents from the ships’ hold. These large dip-nets were designed with a long handle on one side and a length of rope on the other.

There were two large hatches on the ship that were accessible to the hold and one man would stand on either side of the hatch. One would push the dip-net down into the hold as far as he could get it and the man on the other side would begin pulling it up by the rope that was attached.

Each dip-net that came up was a surprise. There would be cheese whiz, Budweiser beer, all kinds of canned goods and almost anything you could mention. I believe this was the first time I’d ever seen cheese whiz and it was a real treat to us. My father and I were involved in this and we would have our turn using the dip-net along with everyone else. Off course, after a few days when the news got around that we were doing this, we had people coming from Sally’s Cove, St. Paul’s, Parsons Pond and Daniel’s Harbour to get a share of the contents. There were lots to go around and Cow Head welcomed them. Messages continued to be sent to relatives working away and there was always someone returning to get in on the action. There was quite a show going on here for a while.

Most of the canned goods that were salvaged had, off course, the labels soaked of them because they had been in the water so long. Almost always when you opened a can it would be a surprise; you never knew for sure what you were going to get. I remember y brother-in-law opening what he thought was a can of fruit and instead it was a can of tar. Imagine having that stuck to your teeth! There were quite a few incidents like this until everyone began to figure out what was in a particular can. Cans were recognized by their shape and size, the numbers stamped on them, the rings around them and the colour.

Once people had salvaged most of the food that was on the Moyle R, their thoughts turned to the salvage of equipment that they thought the ships’ owners would be interested in paying for. I recall that two of my brothers-in-law, Freeman Payne and George Hewlin, went aboard the ship and salvaged the ship to shore (radio), radar and all the navigational equipment. I also remember that Leo Hynes and myself salvaged about a dozen sets of oars belonging to the lifeboats and two containers of survival goods, which included biscuits and condensed milk. The people who were taking all of these things thought it was legitimate to be doing so and did not think upon it as stealing but, the owners of the ship thought otherwise. Some of them came to Cow Head and informed us that we would have to give up the goods that we had salvaged but we were reluctant to do that because we felt we had the right to keep it since we had salvaged it. Although there was a salvage man in Cow Head, George Hutchings, the main salvage office was in Bonne Bay.

My brothers-in-law, Freeman and George decided that they would take the equipment that they had salvaged to the main salvage office in Norris Point believing that they would get paid for it.

Because there were no roads at the time, they had to walk, so of they went with all of this equipment on a small sled called a coaster. There were quite a number of men and boys who were involved in this salvage but as I recall no one was paid for any of the things that they recovered.

While all of this was going on, I had one of the ships’ owners come to my home to talk to me. My mother answered his knock and when she came looking for me she was very worried. She said, ” My God, Adrian, what have you done now?” Off course, I had never been in any kind of trouble before but she was kind of upset because of everything that had been going on in the community. The man who came to see me probably expected to break me down because I was young but I would not tell on my friends and they were happy that I didn’t and gave me a lot of credit for keeping quiet.

Approximately a year and a half later, Mr. Gus Payne purchased the boat.  He succeeded in re-floating it. He purchased about 50 thousand board feet of lumber from a local sawmill operator and when the tide was low, he filled the ships’ holds with it. When the tide rose, the lumber caused the ship to float and Mr. Payne had it towed into the harbour. Shortly thereafter, another ship came to Cow Head and towed the Moyle R to dry dock. It’s my understanding that the ship was refitted and resumed it’s sailing along the coast of Newfoundland.

This, basically, is the story as I remember it and a story worth telling. It is a part of our heritage and I think it needs to be told to the next generation.

*Adrian owns Big Mountain Outfitters in Cow Head.

Bruce’s note to this story:  I was in Cow Head on July 1, 2005 launching my new book, The SS Ethie and the Hero Dog. I met Adrian Payne and spent some time at this home listening to the story of the Moyle R and other interesting tales.  The story presented above is almost entirely in Adrian’s own words.  In the 1950’s when Canada was building the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Trans-Canada Pipeline, and the Trans- Canada Highway, small towns on the west coast of Newfoundland had no roads.  While we, in most of Canada, were marveling over the new invention called television, many small towns on the Northern Peninsula were without electricity.  These people of the Northern Peninsula were hearty and resourceful people.  When a ship foundered and was abandoned near their town, they made the best of it.

The Healing Hen

Eskimo Remedy – The most unusual old remedy for an illness that I’ve come across in researching Newfoundland historical records involved an Eskimo woman’s treatment for blood poisoning. While her remedy appears to be rather odd, it certainly worked and it saved the life of a young boy from Trinity Bay.The boy was accompanying his father on a fishing trip to the Labrador Coast when the incident occurred. He got a hook caught in the palm of his hand. He removed the hook but failed to clean the wound properly. Shortly afterwards his hand swelled and a dark color began spreading up his arm. The arm had become blood poisoned.
There was no doctor on the coast at that time, but the skipper knew of an old Eskimo woman 40 miles away who possessed the knowledge of ancient Eskimo practices.

Eskimo Remedy Healing

The woman viewed the injury and the condition of the boy’s hand, then assumed command of the situation with great confidence. She ordered the boy to remove his coat and roll up his sleeves. She then ordered one of the men to go outside.

Using a knife, she lanced the wound quickly before the boy could protest. Using the same knife, she cut through the back part of the hen’s breast bone; then she straightened out the boy’s fingers and inserted the whole hand into the body of the hen through the open cut. She then bound the hen tightly over the hand and told the boy to sit still for awhile. The boy’s father was surprised and astonished at the result. The dark color in the boy’s arm retreated towards the hand. When it disappeared the hen died. The old lady then ordered the men to bury the hen deeply so the dogs couldn’t get at it. She noted that if the dogs ate the hen they would become poisoned and die.

Meanwhile, the boy was cured and after a few days he was ready to resume work helping his father.

This story is extracted, with permission, from Jack Fitzgerald’s book, Strange But True Newfoundland Stories. Some editing of the original story has taken place.

Beothuk Indians – What happened to them?

Newfoundland, Canada’s youngest province, has been inhabited for thousands of years.  The Vikings first landed in North America well before Christopher Columbus was even born.  When they arrived in, what is now called Newfoundland and Labrador, they met the Beothuk Indians. The site of the oldest Viking settlement in North America is at L’anse Aux Meadows on the northern peninsula of Newfoundland.

The story of the Beothuk is both fascinating and controversial, and it certainly is one of the oldest Mysteries of Canada.

They were tall people with dark eyes and black hair. Their origin is not firmly established, although it is generally believed that they are distant relatives of the Algonquin.  They came to Newfoundland, from Labrador, across the 18 kilometer wide Strait of Belle Isle.

Beothuk living sites and burial grounds abound in Newfoundland. It is believed that they inhabited the land for almost 2000 years.

They were first seen from distance.  From the time the Indians were first met they developed a well-deserved, fear of the White Man. From the landing of John Cabot in 1497 at Newfoundland, and the first settlement by Europeans in 1610 by John Guy in Cupids, Conception Bay, their land was exploited for its lumber and fish. Some were captured and sent to Europe as slaves, or were put on exhibit as curiosities.

By the 1700’s communities were being built all over Newfoundland.  This drove the Beothuk Indiands further away from their native grounds, and away from their natural way of life. Their fear of the white-man kept them out of sight.  But did not prevent them from diseases, primarily tuberculosis, brought to the island by the Europeans.  Which they had no immunity.

 

Their isolation and fear of settlers wrote the final chapter of the Beothuk people. In 1823, three sick and starving Beothuk women were found by furriers. Of these, only one survived their immediate illness. Shanawdithit was twenty years old at the time. She lived the remaining six years of her life in St John’s. When she died of tuberculosis in 1829, no more Beothuk Indians were found in Newfoundland.

The Beothuk people were extinct.

The Mystery of the Beach Coffins

This story is extracted, with permission, from Jack Fitzgerald’s book, Strange But True Newfoundland Stories. Some editing of the original story has taken place.

Strange Coffins – During the era of Sir William Coaker, a number of coffins were discovered at a place called Mockbeggar in Bonavista Bay. The discovery became one of the great mysteries of Bonavista.

Some men digging a canal at Mockbeggar during the early part of this century, found a number of coffins containing the remains of men, women and children. The mystery continued when the coffins were opened and examined closely. It was observed that they were pegged and not nailed together and were made from a wood not found in Newfoundland. Authorities were baffled. Immediate speculation was that they were French, because it was common knowledge that the French had been active in the fishery at Bonavista. Some people refuted claims that the bodies were of French people. They noted that those in the coffins wore puritan-style clothing, but that the French did not bring women and children to Newfoundland when they frequented the fishing grounds.

The coffins were buried in the mud, which helped preserve them. Several homes were constructed over this unusual mud cemetery.

Who are inhabitants of the coffins of Mockbeggar?

Legend has it that on a windy or stormy night you can hear the sound of singing in a foreign language coming from the burial area of Mockbeggar, a small region on the coast of eastern Newfoundland.

Cape Bauld – Wartime Isolation – R.CA.F.

(Originally published in Canadian Military Biography, November 1989.)
During the Second World War our East Coast Air Defence Radar coverage was comprised of twenty low powered units deployed in a chain of overlapping arcs. Several sites were constructed in Newfoundland, which at the time was not yet Canadian territory. As such, it was considered an “Overseas” posting for those R.C.A.F. personnel assigned to the Radar Units (R.U.s).

Bill Lloyd was an airforce meteorologist who was “banished” to one of the more severely isolated stations, No. 30 RU, Cape Bauld, Nfld. In this memoir piece he describes the impact of living in a desolate and unforgiving environment of rock and muskeg, where drift-ice interrupted the fishing and wind velocities which could reach 120 m.p.h., stranded men at their posts.

The reader should bear in mind that during those dark days of 1942-43 Cape Bauld was no ‘safe berth’. Allied shipping was being sunk in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the landing of raiding parties from German U-Boats was considered a very real possibility. Demolition charges were standard issue at all of the secret radar sites in the chain.

My posting to Cape Bauld in the spring of 1943 came as a direct result of knocking a Squadron Leader on his derriere while riding a bicycle and carrying a rifle. Recent D.R.O.S had stipulated two things: first – that all personnel who worked shifts and were not required to parade to duty each morning were to keep their rifles and tin hats where they performed their duties; second – rifles were not to be carried while riding a bicycle. Being scheduled to work the midnight to eight shift in the Weather Office of the R.C.A.F. station at Yarmouth, N.S. one night, I figured I would take a chance and kill two birds with one stone, as it were. I picked up my rifle and tin hat, hopped on my bicycle and headed down the road from the barracks towards the Administration building where the Meteorological Office was located. Picking up speed on the downhill, I zoomed round the corner where the “accident” occurred and that’s where theS/L said “I’m getting rid of you if it’s the last thing I do.” as he picked himself up. It so happened that he was O.I.C. of the operations roomand the Met. Office and staff came under his realm of responsibility. In very short order word came through that L.A.C., L.W. Lloyd wasposted to No. 30 Detachment Overseas, situated at Cape Bauld, Newfoundland. Let the punishment fit the crime. The S/L had kept his word.

I had no idea where Cape Bauld was. For eighteen months I had been plotting weather information on maps and I knew the location of every Weather Station on the North American continent. Cape Bauld was not one of them. After a few inquiries and a good look at a map of Newfoundland, I discovered where I was bound. Cape Bauld is located on Quirpon Island off the northern tip of Newfoundland, approximately twenty miles south of Belle Isle and forty miles north of St. Anthony.

I was granted two weeks embarkation leave and told to report to Moncton for briefing, northern clothing issue, medical and dental checkups and transportation to Gander. At Moncton I joined two other Met. types, Stan Buchans and Ken Wilmer. We were to be flown to Gander by DCS and remain there for a few days beforeproceeding to Botwood by “Newfy Bullet”, the narrow guage railway of those days. At Botwood we were to join up with other personnel and proceed by R.C.A.F. crash-boat to Cape Bauld. While at Botwood we had the good fortune to take in the Edgar Bergen Show with Charlie, Mortimer and the girls.

It was at Gander that we learned we would be joined by a civilian Meteorological Officer, John Mokler, and under his direction, dismantle the Weather Station at Canada Bay and take the equipment to Cape Bauld to set up a new Weather Observing site and join the Radar and Wireless relay facilities already there.

The trip from Botwood to Cape Bauld was routine. We stayed at Canada Bay overnight after stripping the Weather Office. Sighting our first iceberg was exciting for most of us but they were to become routine in the days to come. On arrival at our destination we entered a quiet cove and tied up next to an R.C.A.F. supply ship, the Eskimo, which was anchored there. Our first glimpse of the station, our new home, was unnerving to say the least. Not a tree in sight. Mostly low bushes and moss growing on rocks and boulders of all shapes and sizes. The camp up the valley from the cove consisted of a cluster of Quonset huts, one of which was the mess hall, Officers’ Quarters, a small recreation hall and a a quiet cove and tied up next to an R.C.A.F. supply ship, the Eskimo, which was anchored there. Our first glimpse of the station, our new home, was unnerving to say the least. Not a tree in sight. Mostly lowbushes and moss growing on rocks and boulders of all shapes and sizes. The camp up the valley from the cove consisted of a cluster of Quonset huts, one of which was the mess hall, Officers’ Quarters, a small recreation hall and a five holer outhouse. Half way up the hill east of camp was the diesel power house with the wireless transmitter buildings, the Radar shack with transmitter/receiver on high ground along the north cliffs of the island. On the extreme east point was a lighthouse and the keeper’s home and buildings. The only vehicles on the island were a small caterpillar tractor for station use and a small Model “A” truck the lighthouse keeper had.

After unloading the Met. equipment, the crash-boat departed and all hands were assigned to stevedore duties off-loading the supply ship which had our year’s supply of food, fuel and other requiresome parcels. The Christmas run was especially looked forward to and worried about as the weather could close in for days, even weeks at a time, making it impossible to find us from the air.

I remember one drop in particular because we had been “socked in” for a long time and everybody was anxious for mail, especially Cpl. Sullivan, wireless operator, who was expecting a special letter from his girl. He took off after a bag which bounced down the valley and out onto the ice of the cove with “Sully” in hot pursuit. He caught it as the ice gave way and he stood up waist deep in ice cold water yelling, “I got it, I got it!” What he got was a bag full of rubber boots and a very bad cold.

Another drop brought one chap a parcel in which his wife had packed a bottle of rum in a hollowed-out loaf of bread. The bottle had broken when the parcel hit the ground but the bread was still wet with rum so he ate it. Another chap had a little joke going with his girl back in Montreal. She wrote on a regular basis always with blue ink but each month she would write with red to signify “alls well”. He would wave it and say, “Look boys, red again.” When the mail no longer contained the letter written in red, the poor devil didn’t know how to handle it. It was actually worse than a “Dear John Letter”. One drop was entirely lamb carcasses and containers of hamburg as our freezer had broken down and we lost all our meat. They bounced and kerplunked and splat just like the mail, but there wasn’t as much enthusiasm shown in retrieving them. On one run it had been decided in Gander to try a new idea. Everything breakable was packed in canisters and attached to small parachutes to prevent damage. They never did it again as the aircraft had to stay much higher to give the chutes a chance to open when released. What adisaster! A lot of the chutes didn’t open and those that did drifted out of sight over the hills into the next valley and some drifted out into the ocean. We were a long time tracking them down and getting them back to camp. Some were never found.

Soon after arriving at camp and getting settled in, an effort was made to come up with some outdoor recreational activities. Near camp was a small flat area roughly forty paces square with a fairly large “Gibraltar” shaped rock at one corner sloping up and away from the flat area. Around the flat area the land was fairly rough and filled with small boulders, some tufts of grass indicating sinkholes one to two feet deep and the rest covered with a low tangle of brush about ankle deep. Imagine going after a fly ball in that. This became our ball diamond with the rock behind home plate. With bats, balls and mitts sent in by the “Sally-arm” at Gander, we had scrub games any day the weather permitted and everyone enjoyed it. Except “Chuck” Doyle who liked to catch. We had a catcher’s mitt but no mask and a tipped ball hit Chuck in the mouth and broke his upper denture in two. He had to “gum-it” for a few weeks until a new plate dropped from the sky with the mail.

Our ball diamond was put to another use just once. The C.O. decided to have a Saturday morning inspection with dress uniforms, webbing, tin hats, gas masks and rifles. All personnel not on duty were required to attend and so about thirty of us showed up all spit and polish ready for inspection. Fit. Sgt. McKay was picked as marker as he was too tall to hide among the rest of us and we lined up on his right when told to fall-in. It was obvious almost immediately that not too many of us had been exposed to much drill. But we ended up in three rows of about ten men each and were ordered to stand at ease and stand at attention a couple of times and then the inspection took place. Then the C.O. told Cpl. Spence to march us off. He gave the order Tarade – Right Face”. This put the parade on a collision course with the rock behind home plate. Spence gave the order “By the left, quick march”. We moved off smartly toward home plate. Not having much experience in these things, poor Cpl. Spence was tongue tied. Nobody veered, nobody yelled halt or turn or left incline or right incline. The lead men in the parade simply started up the rock with the rest of us ready to follow. Before someone, I think F/S McKay, yelled “Halt”, the first three men had disappeared over the rock and most of us were part way up. Everybody stopped dead and stood at attention. The order “Parade -Dismiss” ended the farce and there were no more inspections.

We used our “Ball Park” into the fall season until cold weather set in. Once the temperature dropped below freezing, we switched to hockey with equipment again supplied by the Salvation Army. Our “arenas” were the many small ponds that dotted the island near camp. When the ice on a given pond became too cut up to skate on we moved to the next closest one until snow clearing became too difficult and by then the hills were sufficiently snow covered to turn to downhill skiing if you were brave enough and good enough to chance it. Most runs were steep and all were challenging slalom runs with rocks instead of stakes governing the course. After a few sprained ankles and bruised knees, most of us switched to cross-country skiing.

The long tedious winter closed in by mid-October and indoor activities became our main form of recreation. We had the inevitable poker games and craps for those who were avid gamblers, but cribbage and bridge became the most popular pastime. Radio was our only form of entertainment. We listened avidly to Armed Forces Radio programs like Hit Parade, Jack Benny, Glenn Miller, Edgar Bergen and many more. And, of course, the news with Lome Green, Walter Cronkite, etc.

At first, our living quarters were the Quonset huts. Most of us found them hot, airless and claustrophobic. The C.M.U. boys worked feverishly to construct two large buildings. The sooner they finished, the sooner they could pack up and get out of there. The new barracks were large enough to accommodate all personnel and we were pleased to move in and get settled. Large windows and high ceilings made for bright, cheerful surroundings. A system of fifty-gallon drums piped together was installed in the attic and piped down through two oil stoves and into hot water tanks giving us fairly modern bath facilities. Pumping the water from a large tank downstairs into the drums upstairs became a daily routine which everyone took turns at. Baths were taken according to a schedule to ensure equal opportunity. The chief diesel mechanic, Sgt. McCutcheon, used his plumbing skills to keep the system functioning despite frozen pipes, leaks, air locks, etc. Our barber was a chap named Dave from Saskatchewan. He had his own clippers and scissors and made pocket money in his spare time. I got my hair cut free because I cut his in return. There was a laundry room with two wringer washers and ironing facilities in each building.

It was very quiet in the barracks during the day as there were always a few people sleeping after working the midnight to eight shift but evenings were noisy and active. Bill Nicols, a radar technician, was a friendly active redhead and a superb dancer, jitterbug, etc. and he tried to teach some of us the steps but most of us had two left feet. Sometimes a crowd would gather in the recreation hall and the SgffMedical Orderly who played the piano would start a singsong. He had quite a repertoire of bawdy songs which we all enjoyed. He sang the verses and we joined in on the chorus.

Christmas was a very lonely time for most of us but we did what we could to make it as festive and cheerful as possible. The cooks put on a special dinner with turkey and plum pudding, etc. We found a poor excuse for a tree, a flattened down tangle of branches, and made decorations from silver paper, toilet paper and sea shells. One of the radar technicians was planning to become a minister after the war and he held a church service in the recreation hall. He was sometimes referred to as Reverend Desmond Ward. Our “Bawdy” song singer led us in singing hymns and Christmas songs, ‘White Christmas” being the favourite. We exchanged gifts by sharing what we had received from home in our own Christmas parcels.

There was no canteen on the base. Most personal needs like cigarettes, razor blades, soap, toothpaste, etc. were either supplied or received in parcels from home. Liquor was difficult to obtain. Some was brought in by special order on the Newfoundland supply vessel on its last trip just before Christmas. The only attempt to brew a batch resulted in the disappearance of all the raisins in the storeroom. LAC Corrigan, a diesel mechanic, had them brewing in five-gallon cans above the kitchen. He must have had the lids on too tight or something because they blew one day during dinner hour and started dripping through the ceiling of the mess hall. That was the end of Corrigan’s brewery and our raisin pies.

As there was very little to spend money on, there were no pay parades. Anyone wanting money could get it through their pay records from the orderly room but most of us never drew a cent for thirteen months. Personally, I went into isolation with forty dollars and came out with fifteen of it having bought a parka for my fiancée from the Grenfell Mission and a few stamps. Postage on a letter in those days was four to five cents. Consequently, most of us had a bundle of back pay when we arrived back in Canada.

As fishing was a way of life in that area, a few of us naturally had to try it. We had the use of the station landing scow and an outboard motor so we scrounged some line and hooks from local fishermen and off we went to the cod “Jiggin” grounds. When we reached a spot about half a mile from shore where the locals said we should fish, Sgt. McCutcheon killed the motor and we all lowered our lines until we felt bottom then pulled back about a fathom (approximately six feet) and sat cross legged or lay flat on our stomachs and proceeded to “Jig” for cod (pull the line up and down slowly). A sudden resistance meant you had hooked something and you simply pulled the line in hand over hand and brought the fish on board. Our catch was good and we fished and shot the bull contentedly until we felt a sudden bump and turned to find we had drifted into an iceberg which was grounded. It towered up and over us and seemed to fill the whole sky. It didn’t take much coaxing to get McCutcheon to start the motor and get us out of there. Our catch was enjoyed by the whole camp at supper that day.

Tom Stirling, a radio operator from southwest Manitoba, and I saw trout in a small stream near the camp one day so we decided to try our luck. Line and baited hook proved useless so we learned how to “knit” a fishnet from a fisherman we knew and when it was ready we set it across the stream. News of our exploit got around and we were told it was against the law and if the Newfoundland Rangers caught us at it, we could be in trouble. That put a stop to our trout fishing -before we had caught any.

Our food supply was mainly frozen mutton and lamb, dehydrated and canned vegetables and fruit but the cooking staff did a noble job of making meals as tasty and appetizing as possible. A change of diet, however, was always welcome. Lloyd Harries, a radar technician, and I came across such a change one day while exploring the island. South of camp about a mile was a fairly high range of hills and on topping them we discovered a shelter cove with one house, a fish shed, a pier, and Uncle Gus and Aunt Julie. They were both in their sixties and came to the island each summer to fish. He had a “one lunger” fishing boat and fished alone. Between them they cleaned the cod, extracted the oil from the liver and spread the fish out to dry in the sun. On talking to them, we were shocked to learnthat he threw salmon back when he caught any. We soon worked out a barter system of hardtack and canned butter for fresh Atlantic salmon. We would lug them back to camp where everyone enjoyed thick salmon steaks expertly prepared by the cooks. Aunt Julie also had a few laying hens and occasionally she would cook Harries and I a feed of bacon and eggs or a mess of deep fried cod tongues. A real treat. We kept this a secret, naturally. At camp it was powdered eggs, powdered milk, powdered everything.

During the winter our social contact with the local people increased as they were unable to do much fishing and those that did not go south for the winter traveled and visited, transportation being their dog teams pulling Komatiks. The nearest village was Quirpon, about five miles from camp. With the harbour frozen, the trip to our camp took very little time and we had almost daily visits from the local people. They came to see our living quarters and were intrigued by our modern conveniences, like running hot water, irons, washers and electric lights as power was not common up there in those days. They also liked to eat in our mess. They even thought our five holer was something special!

Nearly all of us took advantage of the many invitations we got to spend time at their homes as guests on our days off. I spent a number of very pleasant weekends at the home of Alf Finn and his wife. The local people were kind and generous and treated us like their own. Sybil and Hector Green were another special couple. She ran the general store at Quirpon and he ran the local freezer plant. The woman who ran the post office was also a special lady.

A trip by dog team was quite an experience. I made many to the village but I especially remember two trips. On one, Alf Finn took Tom Stirling and I to Cricket, a village fifteen miles south of Quirpon. The trail was fast and we were making good time when we topped a hill and ran into trouble. A spring beside the trail had flooded onto the downhill trail and it was solid ice. With three of us on the Komatik, sheer weight caused the sled to start catching up with the dogs. Alf yelled for us to jump off and we did but it was too late to brake enough and the sled ran over one dog and broke his two back legs. Alf had no choice but to take his rifle out of the box on the sled and shoot his best dog. He was heart broken but continued the trip and we spent a nice weekend with Ford Elms and his wife. They ran the general store in Cricket. On the way back, Alf picked up his dead dog and took him home for burial. On another trip Alf planned to take Corrigan and I west across the frozen bay to L’ans-eau-Meadow but we didn’t make it. Corrigan had taken on a load of the local “screech”. He insisted on sitting backwards on the box on the Komatik and each time Alf yelled “Look-at-the-bird”, the dogs would take off and jerk the sled out from under Corrigan or, if successfully away, he would forget to hang on and simply fall off. We finally gave up and took Corrigan back to camp to sleep it off. But we had enjoyed ourselves and planned to try again but bad weather and then melting ice cancelled any further attempts.

With so many dog teams coming to the station, often to stay overnight, we all became used to them around. They curled up in the snow outside and often became buried completely and early risers often tripped over them in the dark on the way to the mess for breakfast. A litter of pups was born at camp and one of them, a beautiful white male, was adopted as the camp mascot. He, of course, was well fed and became a real “butterball”. Everyone petted andplayed with him and he had the run of the camp. Our winter water supply for the mess was brought in fifty-gallon drums from a nearby spring by dog team. One day the pup wandered too close to the dogs bringing water and before anyone could get to him, a big husky grabbed him by the neck and tossed him in the air. The pup’s neck was broken and our pet was dead. The local people didn’t make pets of their dogs. They worked them all winter and kept them in pens all summer.

Winter storms were commonplace but one will always stand out in my memory. It started snowing and blowing in the morning and worsened with each passing hour. The wind was from the northeast and it was driving ocean spray up and over the cliffs causing ice to form on towers and buildings and the radar transmitter. I was scheduled to work the evening shift and left camp about three o’clock and fought my way into the wind and snow, hand over hand along the phone lines strung on posts about four feet above the ground up the hill to the weather office and radar shack. Having had some experience in these things, I knew we were in for a very bad storm.

The wind was increasing in speed and the barograph was showing an alarmingly fast decrease in pressure and the ice kept building up on all surfaces. The weather observation required that we go outside each hour to obtain temperatures, visibility, sky conditions and wind direction and speed. Each trip outside was more difficult than the last what with ice underfoot, the thermometer box (Stevenson Screen) door frozen shut and the wind tearing at me as well as the spray and snow in the air blinding me. By eight P.M. the barograph pen was at the bottom of the chart requiring a special adjustment to keep recording accurately. I had seen this happen once before when a hurricane passed near Yarmouth, N.S. and again a year later at Pennfield Ridge, N.B. in another hurricane. At ten o’clock when I went to take the weather observation I was knocked flat by the wind as soon as I stepped past the corner of the building and had to crawl back to safety. It had become obvious that any further attempts would be foolhardy so I sent a message to Gander shutting down operations until the storm lessened. Radar had already guyed the transmitter and shut down. Shortly after, the window glass and blackout boards came crashing in on me as I sat talking on the phone with the radio operator at camp in the valley below. I moved the weather record and equipment to another room and closed both doors to the weather office. I got into a sleeping bag, as the wind had blown out my oil stove, and crawled under a cot for protection and stayed there until morning when the storm began to subside and the wind lessened a little. By six A.M. the pressure was rising and the wind had backed to the northwest and slackened so I decided to start operations again. To my surprise, I could not open the door to go outside. The wind and ice buildup had caused the building to shift slightly and the square door was in an unsquare frame. Even the windows in the east and west walls were jammed and impossible to open. I crawled out of the broken window of the weather office and took the weather observation to restart operations. It took a lot of hand work to jack the building “square” again and guy it all round. The broken window was fixed and we were back in business.

Station defence consisted of sand-bagged machine gun pits at the radar shack, the weather/transmitter shack and the diesel shack. We had a WWI five inch field piece, a few Sten guns and, of course, the regular army rifle with bayonet. Gun crews were assigned to each gun pit and we fired the weapons a few times in the fall but it seemed rather unlikely that we would ever have to use them seriously. One spring evening about ten o’clock, I was on duty in the weather office when the phone rang. Answering it, I was informed by the Orderly Sgt. that radar had picked up a surface object moving slowly toward our position from the east. No naval vessels were reported working in the area and the C.O. put us on alert and all defence positions were to be manned and kept at the ready until further notice. At midnight I was finished my shift and as I was a member of the crew assigned to the machine gun near our office, I stayed up on the cliff all night. Word had come down that the object was still moving toward our position and the C.O. had decided it could possibly be a submarine and could prove hostile. I’m sure the whole camp prayed, as I did, that it was not a submarine or at least not a hostile one. It was a long, cold, scary night for everyone. As daylight began to brighten the eastern sky, all eyes were glued to the ocean surface. What a relief it was to discover that our submarine was a large iceberg being blown slowly toward us by a strong east wind. We all shouted and laughed and cheered for joy. We sure weren’t afraid of a big old iceberg. During the day it passed north of us and it was so high we could look straight out at its top from the cliffs we stood on, two hundred feet above the ocean. It ran aground to the west of us and slowly rolled over with a terrible roar and started to break up.

One spring morning dozens of sailing vessels were visible east and north of us. The sealing fleet had arrived. Men were landing on the larger ice floes to hunt and kill baby seals. This was before the days of Green Peace and other do-gooders. These men made their living from the sea the year round and that included sealing. A strong northeast gale forced the whole fleet to seek shelter in Quirpon harbor. They literally filled the harbor and with the ice filling the spaces between them and the shore, some of us simply walked out to the nearest ships and visited. The crews were tough, happy and sociable. They shared their food and grog with us. The grog was a thick rum tasting concoction that had to be spooned out of the cup like molasses. And what a wallop it packed. Most of us were not drinkers and it didn’t take much to lay us out. The hike back across the ice and over the long trail to camp saw many tumbles in the snow with the more sober helping the less sober make it back to camp. The ice moved out the next day and the sealing fleet went back to sea.

Two of our boys married girls from the area. A chap named Bill courted and married the lighthouse keeper’s daughter. They were married on the base and we had a lot of guests on the station that day and evening. After the ceremony we put on a buffet and dance in the recreation hall and later we sang songs like “Home on the Range” and “Let Me Call You Sweetheart”. Later another chap. Allen Eilbeck, married a girl from the village. The last I heard, both couples were living in Winnipeg.

Almost every week brought some incident which is worthy of mention. Like the time Ray Porrier sprained his ankle jumping from one boulder to another. It swelled up so fast and was so painful, we had to get a stretcher to carry him back to camp. I was on the front end with Ken Wilmer carrying the rear. We had to stay on as flat a terrain as we could find so it meant walking through an area which was dotted with small diameter sink holes easily identified by taller grass. Ken misjudged one and his leg went down to his hip. Porrier let out a howl of pain as the stretcher was yanked from my grasp and hit the ground. Ken was a heavy man and his thigh was stuck in the hole and it took three of us to hoist him out onto dry ground. Or the morning I discovered my foot steps out on a snow cornice hanging out beyond the cliff edge where I had walked in the dark while going on shift at midnight the evening before. The wind had been stronger than I thought and I must have “tacked” into it less than I should have. I used the landline as a guide from then on. Or the time a bunch of us who had visited the sealing ships were stumbling our way back to camp and Scotty stepped off the path and sank hip deep into soft snow and got both feet tangled in the low bushes. He was trapped and we had to dig down to his feet with our hands to free him and get him back on the path. Or the warm summer day “Red” Nichols decided he was going to have a swim. Some of us were out on the scow in a quiet cove and “Red” stripped and jumped in the ocean. The water never got much warmer than about forty degrees and when he hit the water he let out a yelp and came up sputtering and clawing. We quickly dragged him back on board and covered him. His teeth were chattering and his “parts” were nonexistent. He never tried that again. Even wading in the water in rubber boots was a chilling experience. Or the time the C.O. proclaimed the area between the Rec. hall and his quarters as the attention area where all personnel were required to walk at attention and salute the flag. We meant no disrespect for the flag but as most of us wore fatigues and hip waders around camp, this was a bit too “pusser” for our liking so we soon beat a new path behind the recreation hall to get to the mess hall without going through the attention area. Or the time we laid our hands on some booze and were having a spontaneous party in the recreation hall one night. We were gathered around the piano with the medical orderly playing and us singing at the tops of our voices. It was good clean fun and when the C.O. came to the door and told us to quiet down, someone took offence and a bottle hit the door frame just above his head. He beat a hasty retreat and we went on with our party. Or the time I was downhill skiing through soft snow and my ski tips went under a low lying phone line hidden from sight in the snow. When the wire hit my ankles, the skis and my feet stopped dead but my body kept going resulting in a head first plunge to the ground with the ski tips hooking under my armpits and becoming entangled in my clothing. I was impaled, stretched out like an elastic, unable to move or get free of the skis. The boys with me came to my rescue and I was able to hobble back to camp but I had two badly sprained ankles and two badly bruised armpits. I swore off skiing for the duration. In fact, I have never tried skiing again to this day. Or the time a few of us decided to make our outhouse more homey. It was a five holer, one partitioned off for officer use and four for all other ranks. We had scrounged some seal skins and decided to pad our four seats with fur. It sure beat sitting on the cold wood but the medical sergeant put the kibosh on it saying disease and body lice and crabs could spread through the camp and he made us remove our handywork. It made our trips to the outhouse as infrequent and as short as we could make them. It was certainly no place to sit and contemplate your future.

In late June of 1944 rumors began to circulate that our replacements were being selected and mustered in Moncton and we all began to speculate on when we would move out. The normal routine was that those who were first in would be first out. As I was in this group, I began to plan on leaving with the first contingent. The fact that I was N.C.O. of the Weather Office could have some bearing on when I left so I was on pins and needles until the list of the first group was posted. There was my name along with twenty some odd others. We were to be taken to Corner Brook on the July run of the Newfoundland supply ship about the middle of the month.

Those of us scheduled to depart were told to pack our gear and be prepared to leave camp on one day’s notice. That day did finally arrive and after saying good-bye to our friends we were taken to Quirpon by the station scow. The ship arrived with some twenty-odd shiny faced replacements and with many “You’ll be sorry” greetings, we watched them come ashore. We then boarded the ship and it sailed within two hours and headed out of the harbor and turned northwest away from the rock we had called home for thirteen months almost to the day. There were no tears shed, believe me.

On board were six nurses on a holiday cruise so the trip was made more pleasant and interesting by their presence. The ship went as far north as Battle Harbor, Labrador, then headed back south down the coasts making supply stops at places like Red Bay and Forteau on the Labrador side of the St. of Belle Isle and Flowers Cove, Bartlett’s Harbor, Port Saunders, Daniel’s Harbor down the west coast of Newfoundland and so to Corner Brook. The ship stayed over night at Bartlett’s Harbor and the people immediately arranged a party for us airmen at the local church. Everyone had a good time including the nurses. To the end we found Newfoundlanders to be the kindest, most gentle and friendliest people we had ever met.

On arrival at Corner Brook we boarded the train for Port-aux-Basques, thence by ferry to North Sydney and on to Moncton for return of northern clothing issue, postings, leave forms, travel vouchers and pay parade. And what a pay parade. Most of us had more than twelve months back pay coming. We said our good-byes and went our separate ways but I am sure that most of us look back to this day with fond memories of the time we spent together at R.C.A.F. Station, Cape Bauld, Newfoundland.

by L.W. (Bill) Lloyd

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