Chebucto Mortuary was filling up fast as bodies were awaiting relatives to identify them, some had already been recognised and families were sobbing uncontrollably. Smaller bodies were easily recognisable and it was clear these were children who had perished when the school collapsed. The problem that confronted the survivors was enormous because some of the dead were Catholic and some were Protestant. As he sat in what was a sea of black dust my mind raced back to when I was a child, it was then I began talking to my mother and brother as though they were still alive!. The Motor Fire engine Patricia was racing towards the scene of the explosion with George Smithers on the back alongside his pal Jim Begley ,his left hand was hanging On whilst his right hand was ringing the bell. George knew this was going to be a big one by the size of the flames as all around he could see the bodies and the wounded crying out for help. Pier 8 was now on fire as the Patricia inched nearer and nearer, George jumped off the back of the Fire engine as another explosion ripped the Pier from its position taking with it the Patricia and all its crew, it was as though a hand had reached out and taken both the Pier and the Patricia on one move, infact no bodies were ever found because each one of them perished in the explosion or drowned and their were no survivors.
I meanwhile, was still numb from the loss of my mother and my brother. The Mortuary began to fill up when suddenly a man came in screaming unaware that I had a father on the Patricia.” My god!” he began,” they say their has been a second explosion down at Pier 8 they say the Fire Engine Patricia went Up in smoke along with the Pier killing all those on board?”. I then looked up with tears running down my face and said,” Did you say the Patricia went up with the Pier?”,” Yes” replied the man.”All of those brave guys on the Fire Engine died in the explosion!”, the man said not realising my father was one of them!. I then looked to the heavens and shouted,” Why did this not happen to me?, why did I not die with them?”, as I stopped I reached for a large rock and began to hit myself with it just as a man who turned out to be a Priest took the rock off John and said, No my son that is not gods way you must live on despite your terrible grief?”.
What makes a person a hero may never be explained but for some unknown reason and despite my terrible loss , at the tender age of only fifteen without thinking I performed one of The most heroic deeds of the tragedy as someone shouted that a school full of children was in imminent danger of collapsing. Richmond School had seen many of its Children and teachers die but it seemed their were many more still left in the Building?. Years after I was unable to explain my actions and I clearly felt I was no hero but I knew at that moment in time my only objective was to save those children despite my own safety despite my tragic loss I knew I must have the strength to help those in need. was the Priest or just stupidity I Never knew?. The school was a blazing inferno and almost about to collapse as I arrived and the rescue party were stopping anyone from getting near the building. Why I never knew but I blindly made my way towards the blazing inferno unaware of those around me shouting for me to stop, it was as though I never had the will to live since I lost all of my family. As the walls of the building began to crack many said afterwards that I must have had god on my side. One by one I carried out each child and lay them down in a clearing returning every so often without a thought for his own life.
Through what was fast becoming ruins with no fear for my own life I removed some twenty children .My hands were bleeding and My clothes hung on me in tatters as exhausted I collapsed in a heap, only to be revived by the rescue team and shouts from the families I had helped. When asked at a later date I replied,” I don’t know why I did it?, maybe I felt cheated when I lost my family who knows, I just knew I had to save those children!”.
There were many such heroes on that fateful day who laid their lives on a line despite the many dangers, but none it seems as brave as John. Left alone in the world he gave no thought to his own safety, returning time after time to rescue children who like him had become orphans, children who had left home that morning with a smile that was to be replaced by a sight that would remain with them forever. George Smithers body eventually found and placed in a body bag until formal recognition could be made at the Mortuary, a body bag that was to join rows and rows of others. At fifteen I was to face another traumatic moment as they unzipped the bag to reveal it was my father, and at my request they lay my father alongside my mother and brother. As I spoke to the three dead bodies and the tears ran down my dirt ridden face I could hear the cries of those who like me had lost someone in the disaster!.
The Morning brought with it more blizzards and it was not long before the ground became a cold white blanket of snow. The Mortuary having no roof soon became a target for the falling snow and many began to cover the dead before they vanished under a carpet of snow. The rescuers attempted to dig for more bodies but were hampered by the drifting snow and it soon became clear many bodies would be Lost forever?. Daylight had brought with it many many orphans like me as the dead were increasing by the minute and the toll had now reached almost 1,600 dead with Almost 3,000 injured. The rescue party and the relatives swarmed over the debris like ants praying they would hear a voice crying out for help. Each time someone was found a yell went up. Although I had lost my own family I dug tirelessly alongside strangers knowing that life would never be the same again, and that the peace and tranquillity that once was would never return to my hometown. I soon found myself joined by a band of men and women who like me had no thought for their own lives. When the Acadia Sugar Refinery was razed to the ground I and my fellow rescuers were confronted with sights a boy of my age should never have to face. I grew quickly as the horrors before me began to take place. a women who had her throat cut by flying glass causing her to bleed to death whilst many others were mutilated as great twisted pieces of iron from the munitions ship rained down upon them along with flying glass, meanwhile I was trying to forget my remorse and my loss as I was confronted by folks without arms and legs it was a sight that would remain with me until my dying day. Brick by brick we dug with our bare hands until the blood on them mingled with the dust, only stopping to wipe my forehead and cry out for water, water that was by now in short supply!.
Such was the force of the explosion from the gun on the Mont Blanc, weighing several tons it was carried some three miles and landed in Albro Lake where it lays as a Monument to this day?. As I continued to dig news came through that twenty-five Indians had perished north of Dartmouth and that one Indian woman had been found minus her legs. Trees were being torn up by their roots and telegraph poles were snapped like twigs, Soldiers were heard saying they had never seen such Devistation happen in such a short time!. Sean Maguire was of Irish parents who had come from Ireland many years ago to settle in Canada. He had just finished night work at the sugar refinery just before 9am that fateful morning having gone upstairs to get some sleep not knowing the factory he had just left was about to be razed to the ground. With Sleep in his eyes he glanced out of his window just as the Mont Blanc and the Imo were zigzagging across the narrows, Sean at first wondered what the hell was going on?. Fearing not only for his life but his house which was on the Dartmouth waterfront Sean dismissed the actions of the ships, as he was feeling very tired and his bed was looking inviting.
Sean was only working at the refinery because he had been refused entry into the Army because of his poor eyesight, although still only twenty Sean enjoyed his Job because he was able to work alongside his father. Sean lay on his bed wondering what the hell was going on outside. His mother Margot was downstairs doing the daily washing in the large enamel tub as she was also began wondering what was going On?. Sean’s parents had moved to Canada before he was born to escape the conflict that had arisen between the Irish and the British infact Ireland at that time was not the place to start a family. Margot had not realised as she went about her chores it was to be her last day on earth; She had given Sean his breakfast and sent him off to bed and her Husband Jack had stayed on at work since he needed the money besides he knew someone had to keep the machines running smoothly at the factory. It transpired Jack Maguire was hit by falling masonry and the walls collapsed, if only he had not stayed on that morning?. The factory was reduced to ruins as Margot looked to the heavens she knew her husband Jack was inside. With tears in her eyes she turned to the shelf over the fireplace and the cross of Jesus on it and pray Jack had survived the explosion deep down she knew he had not survived such a tragedy.
Sean felt very tired as he watched the munitions ship turn into the wharf on the Halifax side of the harbour watching for some time until feeling sleepy he retired to the back of the bedroom and lay down, no sooner had he done this when the great explosion occurred; the roof of the house seemed to come down on him in one great lump and the building shook violently. As the walls collapsed Sean screamed out to His mother downstairs to run out into the road but it was too late she had been crushed in the falling masonry as she ran towards the stairs, the house was a heap of brick rubble and at first glance it seemed all inside had perished but Sean had been lying on his bed when it turned over on top of him saving his life. The rescue team and I arrived and started to remove the bricks until they found Sean’s mother crushed to death. As they removed her body they heard the sound of a voice crying for help so they quickly returned and began to dig, until the face of a young man appeared with blood running down his face.