How the military helped: historians piece together Halifax Explosion
Published Saturday, November 11, 2017 2:04PM AST
Last Updated Saturday, November 11, 2017 2:13PM AST
The words of an anonymous soldier echo nearly 100 years after the Halifax Explosion.
Military historian and author, John Boileau reads the man’s account of Dec. 6, 1917.
"In many cases it was utterly impossible to identify any of them from the condition they were in, the hard rendering scenes witnessed there will live in my memory as long as I live.”
The man was one of the first to respond to the devastation, but his name like many was never known.
Curator at the Halifax Citadel Army Museum, Ken Hynes says the historic site was occupied by Canadian army troops at the time.
“There were some 5,000 other Canadian troops either as part of the Halifax Garrison or troops waiting for shipment overseas,” he says.
Boileau says Garrison regiments such as the Princess Louise Fusiliers and the Halifax rifles were in Halifax, but they weren’t allowed to volunteer to go overseas.
“They had to protect the city,” he says.
Boileau describes Halifax as an “armed camp”' during the First World War - soldiers stationed at batteries, while convoys sailed out of Halifax Harbour bringing troops and goods overseas.
"If not for the fact that those solider were here - the recovery, rescue efforts that were undertaken immediately in the aftermath of the explosion would have been near impossible for the civilian authorities to handle,” says Hynes.
Hynes also says fire and police departments were small and some members died in the explosion. He says Halifax didn't have an emergency measures department back then.
Boileau says Army Major General, Thomas Benson’s troops responded within a couple of hours.
"One of the keys to the success of the recovery and rescue operation was the fact that we had 600 Canadian army medical core - doctors, nurse-sisters and medical orderlies here, trained to look after the type of injuries that the explosion caused."
Originally, Camp Hill was supposed to be a temporary fixture, flooded with 1,400 victims.
Bodies and animal carcasses were dispersed across the city’s North End - many who couldn’t be identified.
"The efforts made by the soldiers who served those citizens be recognized 100 years later in a way that they had not been recognized before,” Hynes says.
Disciplined, young men fought an unexpected battle at home and slowly began piecing Halifax back together.
"Soldiers who had been at the front and were here in Halifax when the Halifax Explosion occurred said, 'there is nothing I have seen on the western front that equals the devastation I saw in Halifax,’” Boileau says.
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Suzette Belliveau.