May 12, 1902 - Nov. 02, 1942
Divers honour seamen attacked in NFLD.
By Michell MacAFEE
The Canadian Press
BELL Island, NFLD.
Seconds after a German torpedo struck the hull of the Rose Castle on Nov. 2, 1942, Gordon Hardy flung his near naked body at the mercy of the numbing waters of conception Bay.
A second torpedo hit the iron-ore carrier at almost that precise moment, swiftly sucking both 18-year old steward and what remained of the vessel deep under the sea.
Hardy was one of only 53 peo-ple who survived two enemy attacks on four merchant ships that fall.
Those who didn’t were remem-bered Wednesday in a unique tribute in which scuba divers placed anchor-shaped wreaths on two of the sunken ships and scat-tered 69 poppies – one for each of the victims.
Those who witnessed the attacks, other veterans and young children gathered prior to the dive under the bright sun for a small memorial service on the shore of this former mining community just west of St. John’s, NFld.
For many, the 1942 strike transformed the Second World War from a distant conflict to a shocking reality. The attacks, which also destroyed the pier, made Bell Island the only community in North America to take a direct hit from a torpedo.
Hardy, who did not attend the service, said in an
interview from his home in Ingonish, N.S. that as much as two hours
passed before he was plucked from the darkness where he had drifted helpless
in his life-jacket.
All around him, crewmates cried out for God’s help.
“I just remember thinking of my mother and trying
to put less worry on her,” remembered
Hardy, who had already lost one brother to the war and would eventually lose another.
“If I hadn’t been so determined and found the life-raft, I wouldn’t have made it either.”
Pat Mansfield found himself choking back tears after the on-shore memorial service.
As a boy of 16, Mansfield and a friend took their boat out to a search for survivors following the November attack. What they found were overturned life-rafts, dead bodies, and debris.
“You don’t fix on it until now just how lucky we were on this island,” said Mansfield, 69.
“It could have been so much worse because they were shipping iron ore to England and Nova Scotia all the time.”
Rick Stanley has made more than 200 dives to the four wreck-age sites, only a few hundred metres from shore.
This one, the second annual Remembrance Day dive, was special.
“It’s very spiritual for us,” said Stanley, who helped co-ordinate the event as head of the Newfie Seals diving group.
“Diving on the wrecks you really feel for those people dying. You wonder, did they all get off, or did they die right here.”
All four of the four-storey high wrecks are upright and intact, except for the large torpedo holes The divers now swim through, said Stanley.
Inside, everything is eerily as it likely was moments before the torpedoes hit. Even the kitchens are still well-stocked with plates and teacups.
Following the first dive, the group – dripping wet and clad in black dry suits – gathered on board the Rockwater to hear a trumpeter play the Last Post while an army cadet scattered the poppies.
Hardy, who at 74 believes he is the last living survivor of the at-tacks, said the dives are a fitting tribute to those who died.
“We called it a night to remember because I still remember it all from start to finish.”
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