06 December 2017

CWGC marks the 100th anniversary of The Halifax Explosion

Today marks the anniversary of one of the most devastating events to take place in Canada during the First World War.

The explosion and a view across the devastation of Halifax two days after the explosion

Background

On the morning of 6 December 1917, the French merchant ship SS Mont-Blanc collided with the Norwegian coal steamer SS Imo in Halifax harbour. There was little damage to either ship, but sparks started a fire in Mont-Blanc which began to rage out of control. As flames rose high into the air, and black clouds engulfed the Mont-Blanc, her crew began to abandon ship.

Large crowds gathered on the dock side to see the spectacle, while sailors came from ships across the harbour to provide assistance to the burning vessel. Among them were boats of volunteers from H.M.C.S. Niobe and H.M.S. Highflyer. Mont-Blanc was alongside pier six of Halifax harbour, and efforts began to move the burning ship away from the dock.

With the rescue underway, some 20 minutes after the initial collision, Mont-Blanc exploded. Within her hold was a mixed cargo of high explosives bound for the Western Front. The huge blast tore the ship apart, and an area of more than 400 acres was completely destroyed.

Homes, churches and schools, as well as factories and warehouses, were instantly devastated. The harbour floor was momentarily exposed by the volume of water that was vaporized, and a tsunami rose as high as 18 metres. The shockwave was felt as far away as Cape Breton, around 130 miles from Halifax. It was the largest man-made explosion before the development of nuclear weapons.

Casualties

At least 2,000 people were estimated to have been killed instantly, with a further 9,000 thought to have been injured. Among them were children and families, dockyard hands and factory workers. Many of the service personnel who lost their lives were aware of the risks they faced, but volunteered nonetheless, attempting to save the lives of others nearby.

One of the youngest servicemen killed was Able Seaman Carl Cecil Wilson, of H.M.C.S. Niobe. A member of the Royal Naval Canadian Volunteer Reserve, he was the son of Arthur Rupert and Lucy Mary Wilson, of Nanaimo, British Columbia. Carl was just 17 years old at the time of the explosion.

Another was Commander Tom Kenneth Triggs, of HMS Highflyer. He was posthumously awarded the Albert Medal, 1st Class, for life-saving at sea. His body was never recovered.

The Commission commemorate the sailors and servicemen killed in the blast or who later died of their injuries. Many have no known grave, and their names are listed on the Halifax Memorial, including Carl Wilson. Others are buried in nearby cemeteries, including Halifax (St. John’s) Cemetery and Halifax (Mount Olivet) Cemetery. Several Royal Navy personnel who lost their lives are named on the Plymouth Naval Memorial, among them is Commander Triggs.

Latest News

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