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intact. This letter was written by my wife's great-uncle, Clifford Torry , to her grandfather, James Burton Torey (they couldn't agree on the spelling!), immediately following the collision between the Imo and the Mount Blanc in Halifax Harbour. Clifford was, at the time, the business manager for the Halifax Dry Dock and Mr. B., was I believe, one of the Brookfield clan who owned the docks. The cottage mentioned in the letter was at Bedford. In later years, Anne remembered visiting with Uncle Clifford in a somewhat grander "cottage" at the Ovens. Without further ado, a tale for the Season, from the typewriter of a survivor. We do live in better times! Have a pleasant Yule-tide. Halifax. N.S. Dec. 8. 1917 Dear Jim, This is the Sabbath, but as far as poor stricken Halifax is concerned, it is the Sabbath in name only. The whole City is in a chaotic state from one end of it to the other and the energies of thoseof us who are alive and able to accomplish anything ahve been di-verted from ordinary commercial and domestic routine to the extra-ordinary task of providing relief for thousands of wounded and dying men, women and children, sheltering those who in the twinkling of an eye have been deprived of their homes, ascertaining the fate of those who are recorded among the missing and recovering from the ruins the bodies of those who have lost their lives. Thursday was a beautiful day, clear and bright, the kind that makes you feel glad you are alive - although it seems ages ago and I have passed through many harrowing experiences since then. About nine o'clock I was called into the Chiuef's office and we were discussing some business matter or other, when suddenly we heard a dull rumbling sound sufficiently ominous to make us inquire of each other "What can that be?" Mr. B. Had time to say something about the furance exploding and I to make some remark about the printing machinery stored in the building we occupy. When the great large plate glass window came in on top of us with a crash. We extricated ourselves from the debris and it is quite evident we were of one mind as to what had happened namely, that we were being subjected to an air raid or a submarine attack, for we all took refuge in the cellar. Hearing no more explosions we emerged and took stock of ourselves. Mr. B. Escaped without a scratch, while I sustained nothing more serious than a few rather painful cuts on my right hand. The other members of the staff were more or less cut up, but on the whole we were more fortunate than the majority. Those of us who had families scurried away to our homes. The streets were in the utmost confusion. People were panic stricken and with blood streaming from cuts inflicted by flying glasswere hurrying in all directions searching for medical treatment. The pavements were littered with broken glass and wreckage and there was not a building in all the city that did not sustain damage in some degree. An indescribable odor of something burning filled the airand a large black cloud hung over the northern end of the city. Arriving at the house I found that considerable damage had bee done. All the glass with the exception of one pane was broken in the parlour bay and the broken glass hurled across the room into the opposite walls smashing pictures and hacking the furniture as if some one had done it maliciously with a knife. Curtains were torn from their fastenings and in the hall the electric fixture on the newel post was bent to an angle of 20 degrees. Upstairs the pressure was sufficient to force the stop beading from two windows and the lower sashes were found on the floor intact. Nearly all doors which were closed were forced open, in some cases the hinges being bent and in others the wood split away from the locks. One window was smashed in the dining room and the china & bric-a-brac shaken from the plate rail. In the basement nearly all windows were broken and doors forced open - and all this over two miles from the scene of the explosion. No 8cp'ê9 at the time60tained a scratch. The kiddie was in the
kitchen at the time sitting in her high chair and she was covered with soot from the range, but she treated the matter as a huge joke. After I had been in the house a short time endeavoring to brin order out of chaos, autos went screaming through the streets and people were informed that another explosion was expected and to leave their houses and go as far south as possible and stay in the open spaces. The scenes which followed baffle description. Men, women and children, old and young, the halt, the maimed and the blind, were to be seen hurrying through the streets on foot and all in sorts of conveyances, until the scene resembled as much as anything the refugees of Serbia fleeing before the despicable Hun. Almost in less time thab it takes to tell the parks and fields in the south end were filled with these people. We took refuge on the golf links on South Street and there among the hundreds of others we awaited patiently the other calamity which threatened. I say patiently, because the suspense was nerve-racking, most of us felt that it coulkd not be much worse that what had already occurred. Fortunately, the danger, which we learned afterwards was from a magazine on shore which they succeeded in flooding, was averted and we were allowed to return to our ho,mes. During the afternoon I went along with Mr. B. Junior to the Dry Dock to ascertain what had taken place there and here is where my command of English language fails me to give you an adequate description of the extent of the catastrophe. Almost every building from North Street atation to Fairview and from the water front to the Cotton Factory was effaced from the landscape and in their place the blackest desolation reigned. Fire had broken out in the ruins adding its quota to what was already a magnificent horror. Dead bodies were being taken away in cart loads and the wounded in what seemed to be the tortured mind to be in never ending hundreds were being taken to the hospitals and relief stations which were being hurriedly established. Frantic men, women and children were searching for their relatives, men looking for their wives, women for their husbands and children for their parents, a search which in all to many cases was in vain. The military had taken a charge of the situation and securing aescort we proceeded to the dry dock, and you will scarcely believe me when I tell you that for a time we could not locate it. Streets had been obliterated and landmarks swept away. Judging from our position as well as we could we reached the railway track and found ourselves north of the sugar refinery which was nothing but a a shapeless pile of bricks and mortar. Following the track we reached the head of the dock and found that the dry dock itself was intact as was also theship which occupied it at the time, although the docks has been forced in by the explosion, but the wharves and piers had been swept away and the builkdings were all down and fire was completing their destruction. We had 230 men employed in the dry dock but so far have only been able to account for half the number. As the cause of the accideny - I have been told by many eye ########## witnesses that she was proceeding up the Basin and at a point directly opposite the dry dock she collided with a Belgian Relief steamer, although it was broad daylight and there was plenty of room for them to pass. The munitions boat caught fire and twenty minutes afterwards four to five thousand tons of the most powerful explosive known dealt to Halifax a blow from which she will not recover for many a long day. The ship itself was blown to atoms and scattered to the four winds of Heaven and in the twinkling of an eye she was as if she had never existed. The Belgian boat was blown up on the Dartmouth shore and all shipping was damaged to a more or less extent. Considerable damage was done to Rockingham and Bedford - all the glass in my cottage was smashed and the doors split in two. Relief has been pouring in from everywhere. The Yankees did noteven wait to wire and offer, but manned and equipped trains with nurses, doctors, foodstuffs and medical appliances, and two of these have already arrives. The blizzard Friday and the rain today has added greatly to the difficulties of the situation but we are struggling bravely on and ere long will replace and repair the material damage
which has been done. The pity of it is that we cannot replace the lives which have been sacrificed. And back of all this grim picture stands the figure of that arch-fiend- the kaiser. Yours truly, Signed in pencil, "Clifford" Addended were the following pencilled notes: ___________________________________ Do not believe all you see in the newspapers ___________________________________ P.S. I wired you on the day of the accident that we were safe but as communication with the outside world was in a very uncertain state was not sure my message would get through. Tried to 'phone but Nothing doing so could do nothing to allay your fears. C. Back To Index
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