Thursday, 1 March 2007


My mother’s mother had a first cousin who deserves a medal for dogged determination to ‘get her man’. While working as a milliner's apprentice in Liverpool she met a ship's engineer and got engaged. Plans were made for him to give up his berth and take a job ashore in England, and for the two of them to be married, but it didn't happen.

Her fiancé’s last shipboard job ended in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and his intention was to take advantage of the law that said that any British merchant marine sailor who was left without a ship in any foreign port was entitled to free passage back to England. That law, however, only applied in peacetime, and the First World War broke out in August 1914, leaving him stranded in Halifax, unable to book a passage at any price because all local shipping was being diverted to sending troops and supplies to Britain.

He wired his bride-to-be telling her he couldn't make it, and that they'd have to postpone the wedding. Her response was to say that they would not postpone anything – instead, she wangled a place on a troopship going back to Halifax empty. Upon arrival she got the ship's purser to escort her until she found her fiancé, whereupon they were married on the spot by the harbourmaster, who was a Justice of the Peace, with the purser and a drunk off the street as the required two witnesses.

The husband got a job as a junior naval architect in the Halifax shipyard, but when the port was destroyed by the explosion of a munitions ship in December 1917 that job ceased to exist; their home was destroyed, and pretty much everyone they knew in Halifax died. Fortunately, they themselves were in Montreal that day. After that they moved south from Canada to the United States, where the husband worked first in Baltimore, and then at the Philadelphia Navy Yard.

This story was told me by their grandson, who is a leading US author of fantasy and horror stories.

I haven’t read any of these yet, but the tale of his grandmother’s transatlantic pursuit and the Halifax dockside shotgun wedding is even stranger than fiction!


ranger said...

Brilliant recounting anticant-

Shipyards and their folk are subject for so many colorful and wonderful tales. I'm sure your grandmother's cousin and her husband had no trouble finding a drunken witness along the docks that day. They're still here. How lucky were they to be out of town the day of the great explosion? Amazing. There are old stone houses three to five miles away in the South-End, where we live, that to this day have fragments of those steal ships still embedded in their facades.

Funny story, my parents were on a motorcycle trip 1000 miles out of Washington D.C. through Nova Scotia the year before I was born and they've speculated that I was conceived right here in Halifax. Now how's that for coming full circle-so to speak?

Thanks for the tale anticant.

zola said...

Indeed wonderful living social history Anticant. Your blog is great for that. History lives with the likes of you and yours.
I also feel what you must feel. The admiration for those folk that will use all they have to get by and get doing.
Such vitality can be an example for many and certainly me.

lavenderblue said...

Why can't we buy these wonderful stories in book form..
Tales from the Burrow........
That would make me happy.