|Betty Rogers Large|
When Dad was posted to Halifax in 1914, I was barely a year old. My sister Marianne was born there in October 1917, about six weeks before the tragic Halifax explosion. To help with the house Dad hired a maid, a girl named Sylvia Publicover who came from a place with the strange old name of Ecum Secum. We had an apartment within walking distance of the Citadel on Williams Street, which meant Dad could live at home when he was not on duty.
At that time the Citadel was a military intelligence center so it is difficult to ascertain precisely what Dad's duties were there I know from his papers that he continued his research and experimentation in wireless. From a receiving apparatus of his own construction, he was able to pull in, directly from Berlin and Paris, official communiques of the German and French general staffs. These were logged daily, and the information was forwarded to Ottawa. So it seems, through the years 1915-17, he was involved in some sort of wireless surveillance—probably one of the earliest forms of electronic surveillance in the history of warfare.
|Keith S. Rogers - 1911 at Camp Petawawa|
His routine duty at the Citadel was the maintenance of communications by visual telegraph—lamps and flags—and wireless telegraph with the various units comprising the fortress. During this period he was also seconded to the Royal School of Infantry and the Royal School of Artillery to train wireless operators. At age 23, he was promoted to Captain and placed in charge of all communications including the military telephone system. Each year he applied for overseas service, but his applications were turned down—much I'm sure to my Mother's relief—on the grounds of necessity for his service in Canada.
I was too young to have any conscious memories of Halifax; but the story of what happened when it was devastated by the explosion caused by the collision of two munition ships, the Imo and the Mont Blanc, has been told so often, it seems as if I actually do remember it—so I'll tell it that way.
It started just like any ordinary day. We were sitting around the breakfast table. Mother always said that if Dad had not had such quick reflexes, all of us, except baby Marianne, would have been killed. We had large dining-room windows, and as we looked out, we could see the man next door up on a ladder fixing his house. Suddenly, there was an awesome feeling of danger as an ominous swishing noise filled the air.
"Under the table!" my father roared, grabbing me and throwing me to the floor. Sylvia, the maid, flung herself across Marianne's bassinet. As we huddled there pressed to the floor a shower of glass flew over us, embedding itself in the far wall. Shards of it had to be taken out of poor Sylvia's back. I still carry the scar where it cut my knee. The man next door was blown off his ladder, his body found over in the next street.
Dad reported immediately to the Citadel, but before he went he took us to the Commons where the military was erecting a sort of tent city to house the thousands of fleeing homeless. We spent the night there in the open because there was fear of a second explosion. Outside, it was bitter cold; and to add to the misery, there was a heavy snowfall throughout the night which turned into a blizzard the next day.
Death, fear, and pain were everywhere as thousands of victims lay in long rows at the hospitals and receiving stations waiting their turn to be attended or pronounced dead. Dad said people reacted quickly and courageously. Military and naval units organized search and rescue parties. Firemen fought desperately to bring raging fires under control. Doctors and nurses were operating as soon as schools, halls, churches and private homes could be set up as temporary hospitals. Special trains were arranged to bring help from the United States and the rest of Canada.
Immediately the news of the explosion reached the Island, Grandfather "W.K.", who was chairman of the PEI Hospital Board, organized a team of doctors and nurses and a cavalcade of cars to go to Halifax. All the Island roads were blocked with snow. Undeterred, they drove the cars along the railroad tracks. When he arrived at the stricken city, Grandfather went straight to our home, stuck his head in at the door and called out, "Is everyone alive and well?" Satisfied we were, he left at once for the Red Cross Headquarters.
Those people with friends or relatives elsewhere who could take them in were evacuated from the city. Mother, Marianne and I were sent home along with many others on the Borden train. When we landed at the station in Charlottetown, men walked ahead of us on the platform calling to the crowds, "Make way for the Halifax refugees!" We remained on the Island for the duration of the war.
|W K Rogers|