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100 years ago in Halifax

Posted on Thursday, November 2, 2017 at 10:52 am

By Sherry Kelly, Lake St. Louis resident

My great uncle, my grandmother’s brother  William Harford was a World War I soldier. He was serving with the British Royal Navy. He was 19 at the time. He was on board the Knight Templar. He was on the top deck and the explosion threw him off of the ship onto the pier below. When he came to he helped rescue injured and did relief work. He was interviewed after the explosion while he was on leave visiting my Grandmother.

His article was in the Jamestown Journal in New York. I have been doing family history and my English relatives just sent this article to me a couple of months ago. Will Harford’s son and granddaughters in England have provided it to me. The amazing part of this story is that my Grandparents had my Great Uncle Will’s photo in his sailor suit. It has been in our family for 100 years. I sent the photo to his son a few years ago and it never arrived. Luckily, I made a copy and was able to send the one granddaughter a copy just recently!

She showed her uncle and he was amazed as nobody had ever seen any photos of Will Harford in a sailor uniform. I think our story is pretty amazing. My family had the photo and they had the article and the two are united in time for the 100th anniversary of the Dec. 6 Halifax explosion.

Will went home to England after the war. He worked in Bingley England for the railroad. He married and had three children Bryan, Myrah, and Joyce.


Was in Halifax Harbor at the time of the disaster

Jamestown Post Journal, December 1917

To be thrown from the top deck of an auxiliary cruiser onto a pier by the terrific explosion at Halifax on Dec. 6 was the experience of gunner Willie Harford of the British navy who left last night to join his crew at New York after spending three days with his sister, Mrs. George H. Jowett, 22 Ivy Street. He also has a brother, John Harford, in this city and a sister in Cleveland.

Gunner Harford enlisted in the British navy on March 17 of last year and since that time has served as gunner on an English auxiliary cruiser, which acts as a convoy for merchant ships.

“We have acted as an escort for 75 ships during the time I have been on the cruiser and not one of them has been torpedoed or sunk,” said Gunner Harford in talking to a Journal representative. He explained that one cruiser acts as a convoy for as high as 29 ships. The ship on which Gunner Harford is stationed has acted as a convoy for only merchant ships.

“The ships, laden with merchandise,” he said, “move in single file across the ocean, one back of the other. It is our duty to cruise about these ships, always on the lookout for submarines. On our last trip back to this country there were six American vessels in the group we were convoying.”

“There are 30 gunners on our cruiser and we work in shifts. We are on duty four hours and then are off eight, with the exception of in the war zone when we are on duty four hours and off duty the next four.”

When asked if his cruiser had ever combated a submarine, he said: “Only once and then we were not given a fair chance. We caught a glimpse of the submarine about 30 miles off the coast of Scotland. It fired a torpedo but the shot went wild. The submarine submerged before we had time to do any damage.”

Gunner Harford explained that four six-inch guns are mounted on the top decks of the cruiser. The gunners keep in practice and they are under orders to fire 12 shells on each trip. Behind the vessel are towed large targets which are used during practice with guns.

On the last trip to America, the cruiser was on the ocean for 26 days. “We were ordered to put in at an unusually large number of ports for various reasons which caused considerable delay. The weather was also of the severest kind and instead of making the usual 275 miles a day, we traveled but 50 miles.”

When asked about the Halifax disaster, he had the following to say: “Words cannot explain the terrible nature of the disaster. I will never forget it. I talked to a Canadian soldier who had seen service at the front and he told me it was as bad as the battlefields of France.”

“We arrived in Halifax a week before the explosion and for three days were located at Pier No. 8, where the disaster occurred. We were then moved to Pier No. 4. We saw the ships after they had collided but never dreamt about an explosion. You remember that the explosion occurred about 20 minutes after the collision.”

“It was just after breakfast time when the explosion occurred, 9:08 a.m. I was on the top deck when without warning there was a deafening roar. When I came to my senses I found myself sprawled out on the pier, together with some of my companions. The awful concussion tore the cruiser loose from the pier, broke all the windows and damaged the ship in many other ways. Our boat floated out to the middle of the harbor.”

“We immediately began relief work, gathering up the killed and wounded. There were some bodies floating in the harbor but the majority were killed on land, the toll reaching 4,000.”

“The blizzard that reached Halifax that night added to the suffering. Our crew worked faithfully, doing whatever it could to aid the victims and when the cruiser sailed on Dec. 11 a letter of thanks from the governor general was received by wireless.”

Gunner Harford told of other interesting incidents during his career as a gunner and on leaving said that he liked America so well that he was considering making it his home after the war.