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• Percy Hardy Writes of His Experiences
From the Midland Free Press. December 20, 1917.

BOAT BURIED BY COAL DOCK
The following letter from Mr. Percy Hardy to some Midland friends describes very graphically the experiences encountered by him in the Halifax disaster. The letter is dated December 8th, and is as follows:

My dear friends
I am very grateful to say that I‘m safe, but I had a miraculous escape for several were killed around me, but all I have is a lame leg and small head wound, and I am getting along O.K. As far as I can remember, the explosion came at five minutes past nine Thursday morning. I was not very far away, being not quite a quarter of a mile from the ship that blew up. I was sitting down in the officer’s cabin of No. 13 Mine Sweeper along with Captain Cook and Steward. I was only partially dressed and about to go aboard the “Niobe” to see the doctor for my other sprains I wrote to you of when a terrible crash came. My first thoughts were that we were rammed by a big ship. It blew part of the coal dock down on us and we were buried down in the cabin. The cook and steward were not long in getting their way fought out. Then I collected myself together and got up the ladder pushing doors and coal away like a mad man, then when I reached the dock chunks of steel all sizes from a cent to a suit case came flying all around. I have the piece that nearly got me; it buried itself in the deck. I thought then that we were being bombarded.

On seeing them all making for shelter I started to run across the dock-yard, then I saw a man’s head blown off and houses tumbled down all around me and still the lumps of red hot steel were coming. Then gasses and smoke, my one thought then was that the end of the world had come. I got to the gate and the sentinels were either killed or injured. I passed out and would judge in the ten minutes the shock was over and the pieces had stopped flying. Everybody in the open was either killed or badly injured and women then started to run out of houses with children all covered with blood. To add to the horrors, fires then started around the part of the town where the ship went up. I was still only partly dressed and it was some cold morning, but the sight kept me warm. The only thing that saved us was being below in the cabin and even at that one piece of steel of the stern off and the middle of the ship was smashed to pieces.

Thank goodness I had only blown my boiler down a couple of days before for the boiler makers to work at it, for many a ship’s boilers I think went off and big liners are blown ashore here with dead lying all over them. After I got down the main street a little way I found out the cause of the calamity, so I got to work to get the women and children into any available carts or cars to send them to the hospital. I worked until I was nearly frozen. A soldier took me into a house, or the remains of a house, and gave me his great coat. I found my leg was playing out fast , so I hopped along back to where my boat was and found her still floating, but her top was badly smashed up. I was not there more than three minutes when the order came for everybody to stand clear, they were told that they could not keep the flames back from the magazine. Presently I saw all the sailors from the “Niobe” come running on the double, shouting run for cover, the magazine was going up. So off I started again with a sprained leg and spitting blood for the gasses got on my lungs.

I found myself at the back of the citadel hill and the battleship was signalling to the barracks what progress the fire was making towards the magazine. The blue jackets fought it for one and a half hours and beat the fire and saved every life for miles around. Then I started off to the ship again. I was the first engineer back and they asked for volunteers to take a drifter up to the ruins and fetch the dead and injured, so I got No. 9 ready and off we started. The sailors and soldiers were saving many lives but some were terribly disfigured. I took all the blankets out of the boat to cover them up and one little girl about twelve years old started to say she was cold and asked me for a biscuit. I gave it to her and some tea; she had both eyes blown out and the poor dear died just as we got to the hospital ship. I could go on for hours describing some of the terrible sights. There were all kinds of sailors and soldiers killed, and thousand injured. When night came the work of carrying all the dead and wounded by boat was stopped, for the wreckage made it impossible, so I returned to my ship and got some of the crew to get it in shape. We got a fire, then went aboard the “Niobe” to try and get a wire away to you, but could not. We all had to take it in turn to sleep, but I was passed sleeping for they were afraid of more explosions where the fires were.

Morning came with a snow storm to make things worse for it made it difficult to find the dead. We were ordered to stay by the boats for the day, to enable them to get the casualty list. At 8 o’clock a terrible snow storm and a gale started; there was nine of us drifters all laying beside one another and we had to work like demons to get extra lines out, as two big floating wrecks broke loose and were bearing down the stream on us. Soon after nine o’clock the word came to abandon the ship for if ever they hit us we would have been smashed to bits. The got tugs on to the wrecks but the excitement kept up all the morning. Though they cleared us, they endangered a big American hospital ship that we had been carrying our injured to, but the tide changed and saved her. The wreck was up against the hospital ship and it was a close call for her.

I then went to sleep, and certainly slept. The morning (Saturday) was bright and word of help to get the dead came, so I left the second engineer in charge and then saw some sights. The first body I got was that of a young girl nineteen years old, Captain Hetler’s daughter. I was now on the north end of main street where only cellars and wreckage remain, and lots of bodies were not burnt on account of all the mortar and bricks covering them. It took us nearly two hours to get the poor girl out. She was caught and pinned right across the back. We found a baby girl six yards from the same place and we got a man near there too. We were told that eighty men were buried below the ruins of the iron foundry just close by, so our gang started in, but all we could get easily were two men badly burnt. It will be weeks before they can get at all the bodies. It was something up this street. Bodies lay at the bottom of the foundations. The last house I left when it was getting dark had five bodies in it, all had been burnt to death.

The street was full of horses in wagons with heads blown off and half of bodies, cars and automobiles upside down. The Protestant Orphanage, full of little mites, was blown to bits. The dead must be up in the thousands. The explosion was heard sixty miles out at sea, and there is not a window around here for ten miles that’s not blown out. I could not get away until Saturday morning early to send your telegram, which I hope you received O.K. I believe Anson Smith was cut up around the face. I was speaking to him the day before and he is waiting to get in as a mate. I am going to try and find out how he is. I wish you would pass the news around to my friends, for I could not write another letter like this for it reminds me too much of what happened, and my head is nearly splitting, so I must conclude with fondest love and best wishes to all.

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