Postcards from the edge – 8

Halifax

Some things I didn’t know about Halifax Nova Scotia apart from the fact it bears no resemblance to the English variant.  On December 6th 1917 the Halifax Explosion took place, the largest man-made detonation prior to the first atomic bomb.  On that day, the relief ship Imo and the French munitions ship Mont Blanc collided – the Mont Blanc caught fire and twenty five minutes later the 2925 tons of explosives in her hold detonated.  The massive shockwave flattened two square miles of the city; photographs from the time show an aftermath disturbingly reminiscent of Hiroshima.

During the First and Second World Wars thousands of merchant ships and their naval escorts assembled at Halifax before braving  German U-Boats and the Atlantic for England.  My father-in-law set out from Halifax aboard the Liberty Ship Fort Stikine.  Ramsey always said it was an unlucky ship; it had already endured a collision near the Panama Canal when later in the war it exploded in the harbour at Bombay, doing to that city what Mont Blanc did for Halifax on a slightly smaller scale.

Sailor

In 1812 the Americans mounted an attack on Halifax but were repelled by the British.  Throughout the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812, Halifax served as the headquarters for the North American station of the Royal Navy, with the Citadel providing the port’s principal landward defence.  How fitting that 200 years later ‘we’ should repeat the same trick at Medinah.

1812I have written elsewhere that there is a real sense of occasion when arriving and departing by ship.  One of the sideshows is the transfer of the pilot once the departing ship nears open sea.  The pilot boat is held against the side of the moving ship on its engines whilst in potentially heaving seas, the pilot departs in one death defying leap.  Actually I made that up – the view of events is always obscured by the lifeboats.

Pilot

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