JOHN DALZIEL: Junior sailors remember wartime bravery
JOHN DALZIEL • Guest column
Shortly after the start of the Second World War, on September 3, 1939, 18 merchant ships and four warships left Halifax harbor for war-torn Europe. Over the next five years, more than 300 convoys of merchant ships gathered in Bedford Basin. They then made the perilous journey to Britain, carrying much-needed military and civilian supplies, and in some cases personnel, to support the war effort and ensure the eventual victory of democracy.
These trips were not without risk, nor without human cost. In particular, in addition to the permanent dangers of the infamous North Atlantic climate, the ships and their crews had to face attacks from German submarines. Perilous attempts to rescue sailors in freezing waters were often hampered by the risk of torpedoes. Many sailors who survived the first explosions on their ships drowned or were burned alive in flaming oil slicks. According to the website of the Royal Museums Greenwich (London), 50,000 Allied merchant seamen lost their lives during the Second World War, including many Canadians.
To tell our young people about Halifax’s role in this story and to keep alive the memory of the bravery and sacrifice of merchant seamen, the Bamse Cup was created by the Dartmouth Yacht Club, in conjunction with the Convoy Cup Foundation. The Bamse Cup races took place on Tuesday, with junior sailors from Dartmouth Yacht Club and Bedford Basin Yacht Club competing. Following the races, an awards ceremony was followed by pizza and presentations about the merchant seamen who sailed from Halifax and their significant contribution to history. Steinar Engeset, former Norwegian consul in Halifax and head of the Convoy Cup Foundation, Peter Stoffer, former MP and well-known veterans supporter, and Captain Earle Wagner, a WWII merchant seaman, were present for these presentations .
Bamse’s story was also told. Bamse (teddy bear in Norwegian) was a St. Bernard dog, which belonged to the captain of the Norwegian navy ship Thorod. They left Norway after the Nazi invasion and fought with Allied forces throughout the war. Bamse became the mascot of the Free Norwegian Naval Forces and was credited with several acts of bravery, including saving lives. Monuments to Bamse have been erected in Montrose, Scotland (his wartime home and final resting place) and his original home Honningsvag, near Norway’s North Cape.
The Convoy Cup Foundation, together with its sister foundation in Norway, is dedicated to making this important part of history accessible to successive generations. It also sponsors the Convoy Cup Race, an offshore race from Halifax to Lunenburg, which takes place in mid-September.
Nova Scotia forged strong ties with Norway during the Second World War. After the invasion of Norway in April 1940, members of the Norwegian Navy and Army and their Merchant Navy maintained training, repair and recovery bases in Nova Scotia, including Camp Norway in Lunenburg.
John Dalziel is Sailing Fleet Captain (Junior Sailing) at Dartmouth Yacht Club