In the old St.Mary’s Church Cemetery at Lance Cove stands the first cenotaph erected on Bell Island to memorialize its war dead. A plain granite obelisk bearing the names of three young men, it was placed right outside the door of the church by the congregation in 1919. It now stands on its own, overlooking Conception Bay and what is left of a once thriving community. The inscription on the cenotaph reads:









These are their stories.


Eldred Rees was born on the 6th of Apr 1886 at Lance Cove, Bell Island to Thomas and Elizabeth Rees. As a young man he followed a call that still beackons many Newfoundlanders; he made his way West. Finding employment as a Motorman with the Canadian Pacific Railway, he traded the high cliffs of Bell Island for the broad prairie plains.
Eldred, likely seeking further adventure, enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force at Sewel, Manitoba on the 11th of May 1915. It was there, not far from Brandon that he received his initial training. On completion of basic training he was shipped East by train to Halifax and departed for England on the 23rd of Nov 1915 onboard the SS California. He arrived in England on 3 Dec 1915 and continued with his training at Bramshott Camp.
He deployed to France and joined his unit, the 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles on the 29th of Jan 1916. Eldred would remain with this unit for the duration of his service. While serving with the CMR he would participate in some of the most ferocious fighting of the war and would see first hand, battles and engagements that would go down in history. It is certain that he went over the top on July 1st 1916 and was witness to one of the greatest slaughters mankind will ever know; The Battle of the Somme. He fought at Mount Sorrel (Sanctuary Wood), The Battle of Amiens, Passchendale, and made history with tens of thousands of others when at 5:30 in the morning on Easter Monday, 9 Apr 1917 he exitted “Albany Avenue” tunnel and made his way up Vimy Ridge.
His Battalion’s War Diary eerily describes what Edgar saw that morning:
“9 Apr 0530 – Zero Hour – Intense artillery Bombardment. One continuous roar. The ground trembles and there is mingled with the roar of the guns, the swishing and screeching of the shell filled air. 60 guns are covering our own advance, forming a “rolling barrage”. Smoke and debris thrown up by the bursting shells give the appearance of a solid wall!”
We cannot imagine what Eldred endured in the trenches of Flanders but we do know that it took its toll on him physically. On 23 Aug 1916 he was addmitted to the 8th Stationary Hospital at Wimereux suffering from a high fever. This was likely “Trench Fever” which was a common ailment attributed to lice which infested the vast majority of soldiers. He convalesced in hospital and at #1 and #5 Convalescent Depots until 6 Oct 1916 when he rejoined his Battalion.
He progressed through the ranks being appointed Lance Corporal on 28 Jan 1917 and then promoted to full Corporal on 23 Feb 1917. That November, Corporal Rees would again be admitted to hospital and treated for inflamed connective tissue in his hip; another common condition amongst the troops due to the route marches they endured moving to and from the front lines carrying heavy loads. He recovered and returned to his Battalion and was promoted to Sergeant. From Dec 1917 to Aug 1918 Sergeant Rees would see almost continuous action at the front.
On the 26th of Aug 1918 in the vicinity of the French town of Arras, Sergeant Rees would participate in The Battle of the Scarpe. At 3am on the morning of the 26th under a sky of heavy clouds that obscured the moon, Sergeant Rees went over the top for the final time. By the time the sky cleared and the sun had risen, Sergeant Rees had been wounded by a bullet that pieced his chest and severed his spinal chord. Alive but paralysed, he was evacuted to the 14th General Hospital at Wimereux on the 27th and then on to #1 London General Hospital, arriving there on the 4th of Sep 1918. As detailed in his medical records, Eldred’s condition worsened over the next several weeks and on the 19th of September 1918 his suffering ended and he succumbed to his wounds.
114621 Sergeant Eldred Rees was buried in the Brookwood Military Cemetery, 30 miles outside London.


His father Thomas and mother Elizabeth were informed of his death. Just over a month later they would receive another telegram informing them of the loss of a second son, Edgar.



Born at Lance Cove, Bell Island William Eldred Rees enlisted into the Royal Newfoundland Regiment at St.John’s on 8 Nov 1917. After some very basic training at Pleasantville, on 11 Dec 1917 he embarked for England on onboard the SS Florizel. On the 27th of June, after completing further training at the depot in Winchester, he, along with 180 other replacements, were shipped to France and were assigned to the 1st Battalion Royal Newfoundland Regiment billeted near Montreil.


In September 1918 his Regiment was attached to the 28th Infantry Brigade of the 9th Scottish Division and over the next few months he found himself fighting west of Ypres. He saw action at the Keiberg Ridge, Ledeghem, the Battle of Courtrai and on 20 Oct 1918 he and the Regiment crossed the Lys River. On the 25th of Oct 1918 after fighting through the town of Vichte, Belgium, the Regiment advanced towards the village of Ingoyghem. It was during the advance on this small Belgian hamlet that Private Rees was mortally wounded. Evacuated to the 44th Casualty Clearing Station just north of Ypres, he died of his wound on the 27th of Oct 1918. He was 19 years old.

12 days later on 8 Nov 1918, one year to the day after his son’s enlistment Private Rees’ father, Mr. George Rees received a telegram from the Department of Militia. It read…

To: George Rees, Bell Island, C.B.
Regret to inform you that Record Office London, officially reports No. 4088, Private William Rees died of wounds Oct. 27th at 44th Casualty Clearing Station
Gun shot wound to head.
Upon receipt of further information I shall immediately wire you.
J.R. Bennett
Minister of Militia

8 months after his death, Mr Rees received his son’s personal effects in the mail. Contained in a small cotton bag were his ID disc, several cards and photos, a broken watch, 2 brooches, a metal ring, 2 cigarette cases, a safety razor and a pair of scissors. Shortly thereafter his father received a cheque for $45.45; the balance remaining on Private Rees’ Regimental pay.
Private William Eldred Rees is buried in the Duhallow Cemetery, Ypres, Belgium.




Edgar Rees, the son of Thomas and Elizabeth Rees of Lance Cove and younger brother of Eldred, enlisted in the Royal Newfoundland Regiment at St.John’s on the 28th of Nov 1917. A young man of slight build, he listed his occupation as ‘Miner’ and attested his age as 20 years 10 months; it is likely that he was much younger.

He was initially trained at Pleasantville and shipped out onboard the SS Florizel on 29 Jan 1918 for Halifax where he would be transferred to another ship bound for England as part of a larger convoy.
Once in England he was taken on strength of the 2nd Battalion Royal Newfoundland Regiment at Hazeley Down Camp. He would remain there for the next 5 months continuing his training and awaiting orders to deploy to France. His time at Hazeley Down was certainly not uneventful. On the 19th of Feb he was disciplined for having lost all his webbing equipment, likely during his transit to the camp. He was charged for its replacement and the cost deducted from his pay. His misfortune continued and he was admitted to the camp hospital on the 29th of March suffering from the mumps. He would remain in hospital being treated for this, and other ailments, until the 27th of April 1918 when he was finally discharged. On the 15th of May Edgar’s run of bad luck continued as he was charged for disobeying an order (not an uncommon occurrence amongst the free spirited Newfoundlander’s). He was sentenced to 5 days confinement to barracks.
In late June 1918 Private Rees finally received orders to join the 1st Battalion of his Regiment on the Continent. On the 5th of Jul 1918 he crossed the Channel and disembarked in France, joining his Battalion on the 9th in the vicinity of the French city of Boulogne. He settled into his new surroundings and was kept busy during the coming months with field training as the Battalion re-kitted and prepared to head east to the front in preparation for the next big drive in September.
By the 20th of Sep, Private Rees reached the front line for the first time outside Ypres, Belgium. As he prepared for his first foray across no-mans-land he would have been read the following message sent from the Commander of the 28th Infantry Brigade, to all members of the Battalion:
“… use your wits. Keep as close as you can to 18-pounder barrage. It’s there so don’t go into it. Never mind your dressing. Reply at once to any enemy small arms firing. Fire at once at any enemy you see in range – slowly and accurately from the quickest position, laying, standing or kneeling. Don’t crowd, the loose order will save you casualties if you use your wits. Watch your flanks and draw them back if necessary. If held up reply steadily to the fire as your comrades get around. If necessary help your comrades on the flank by crossfire. Surround pillboxes and machine guns, they can only fire one or two ways. Don’t have more than 100 yards between sections. Don’t scatter from your sections, file is best for advancing, a few paces interval for firing. Push steadily forward in your little groups using slow covering fire when necessary and stick roughly to your own line of advance. Good Luck.”
On the 22nd of Sep the attack commenced and for the next several weeks Private Rees endured the horrific conditions of Flanders as the Battalion pushed west through Polygon Wood, through Stronboomhoek and Ledeghem and on towards Keiberg and the Lys River.
On the morning of the 14th of October 1918 at Keiberg, Belgium likely during the same action where 17 year old Tommy Ricketts became the first Newfoundlander to win the Victoria Cross, Private Rees was wounded by machine gun fire through both legs. Unable to walk or retreat, he lay in the mud and cold awaiting evacuation. Hours later when the fighting had stopped he was removed from the field by stretcher bearers and taken to the Regimental Aid Station where his wounds were hastily dressed. Moved again by stretcher to the Advanced Dressing Station just behind the front line trenches, he was assessed by a Medical Officer, and then sent by horse drawn ambulance to the 44th Casualty Clearing Station at Brielen north of Ypres. Due to the serious nature of his wounds he was finally sent further west by Ambulance Train, arriving at the 8th Stationary Hospital, Wimereux near Boulogne and 75km from the front, on the 17th of October; 3 full days after being wounded.
Private Rees’ condition slowly deteriorated. His right leg was amputated at the thigh likely to stop the progress of infection that would have set in due to the unsanitary conditions and trauma of travel from the front. Tragically his condition worsened and on the 21st of October 1918 he died of his wounds. He was buried close by in the Terlincthun, British Cemetery, 1 mile north of Boulogne.


On the 25th of October 1918, just over a month after hearing of the death of their older son Eldred, Mr and Mrs Thomas Rees received the following telegram:

To Thomas Rees, Bell Island C.B.
Regret to inform you that Record Office, London officially reports No. 4163, Private Edgar Rees died of wounds at 8th Stationary Hospital, Wimereux from G.S.W. through legs, right leg was amputated at thigh. Upon receipt of further information I shall immediately wire you.
J.R. Bennett
Minister of Militia

Like so many other mothers across the Dominion, Mrs Rees would be awarded the Silver Cross after the war. Recognition for what she had so tragically sacrificed; her two sons.

Like his cousin William and brother Eldred, Edgar is memorialized on the small cenotaph in St.Mary’s Cemetery in Lance Cove. For reasons that we may never know, the date of his death on the monument is incorrectly listed as Oct 15 1918. The initial on his gravestone in France is also incorrect. This error has been communicated to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission who are working to have it fixed.

New Settlers Project

After relocating many times with the Canadian Forces, the newest settlers of Bell Island – Rodney and Marjorie – are looking forward to putting down roots and being residents of this beautiful community.

Our new home will differ from previous ones in many ways: a view of Conception Bay above the tree line, a backyard big enough for horseshoes, and space for Sunday dinners with the family!

We’re well aware that the challenges we’ll face cannot compare to the original settlers. This site will detail both versions. We hope you’ll join us on the journey!

The Hunters

The following entry describes the attacks at Bell Island in 1942 from the view-point of the adversary… the Captains and crews of the U-boats involved. The post uses a series of excerpts from Marjorie Coakwell’s historical novel “In the Mouth of The Dragon”. The edited excerpts are reproduced with her permission. The original book expands upon these entries and describes the events of those dark war years and what life was like for the residents.

While the conversations that follow are fictional, they are based upon real events and personalities. The names are, for the most part, real, and the details of the attacks and the sequence in which events occur is accurate. They were re-created from the actual U-boat log books and other archival matter that describe in detail what happened from the “Hunters” perspective. The excerpts accurately depict what life onboard a U-boat was like and the orders and attack procedures described are historically and technically accurate as they were re-created using the handbooks and manuals used to train the actual U-boat crews at the time. Much of the information recounted, such as the story of the officers onboard U-518 celebrating the birth of a child is very much the truth.

As a Naval Officer I spent the early years of my career in the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) as an Anti-Submarine Warfare Officer. During my training I was provided with the opportunity to briefly go to sea in one of the RCN’s older Oberon Class submarines, HMCS OJIBWA. To be an efficient “hunter of the hunters” as I was being trained to be, one had to know how the adversary operated. I will admit that at that point in my Naval career I was considering “going boats” (joining the submarine service) but a week at sea in an O-boat convinced me that I was meant to be a “Skimmer” or surface sailor instead.  The O-boats, which were built during the 1960’s and served the RCN well until decommissioned in the 1990’s, were really not much different from their German predecessors. They were of course fitted with more advance communications, sonar and weapons but life aboard these diesel-electric boats had not changed much. They were operated and fought in much the same manner as U-boats had been. Given my experience I can say with a fair degree of certainty that what is recounted here is historically and technically accurate.

Some of the photos I have included are part of the personal collection of Rolf Ruggeberg, the Commander of U-513. They are copyright protected and posted with the permission of his family. Many thanks to Marita Collings (Capt Ruggeberg’s daughter) and her husband Barry for allowing me to use them in this post.


A Blind Chicken Finds A Grain Once In A While

“Oh, how I miss Spain,” Korvettenkapitan Ruggeberg thought as he turned up his stiff leather collar against the cold wind that had freshened from the North. It had been twenty-one days since the boat had departed Kiel on her first patrol since being commissioned. The months of working up with the 27th Flotilla in the relative safety of the Baltic had prepared them well and Ruggeberg knew his crew and the boat were as ready as any boat in the Kriegsmarine.


U-513 Alongside in Kiel.

The long transit through the Skaggerak, North, and Norwegian Seas and eventually out into the North Atlantic had given them time to further hone their skills. They were now at their assigned station: the entrance to the Strait of Belle Isle, north of the island of Newfoundland. After enduring minefields and the prowling Royal Navy, the biggest threat now seemed to be the weather. “Christ, it’s cold! Hans can’t keep this coffee hot enough for me,” he said, as a fresh mug was passed up through the hatch to the bridge. Ruggeberg was more accustomed to warmer climes.


U-513’s Commanding Officer, Korvettenkapitan Rolf Ruggeberg circa 1942. Photo courtesy of Barry and Marita Collings. Copyright B. Collings, Not for reproduction or display.

Having been born in Barcelona, Spain and serving much of his prewar Naval career in Cadiz and Lisbon, the harsh cold of the North Atlantic did not appeal to Rolf Ruggeberg. “At least this fog is keeping the air patrols down,” he mused as he scratched at the three weeks of new beard that he and the majority of his crew now sported. “If they can’t fly, they can’t find us,” he declared to the lookouts, referring to the Canadian and American aircraft that were now being seen in ever-increasing numbers. “No risk of alarms today, Mein Kapitan, but the fog doesn’t help us see the bergs,” one of the lookouts blurted out somewhat sarcastically as he pointed to one berg that was drifting several hundred feet off the starboard side. “Right you are, Kurt, right you are. We hit one of those and it’ll be an early arrival in Lorient for us… or a quick trip to the bottom! Damn fog! I think our luck would be better farther South.”

Large iceberg & Sub

U-513 on Patrol in the Straits of Belle Isle. Her Commanding Officer Rolf Ruggeberg can be seen standing in the conning tower wearing the white cap. Photo courtesy of Barry and Marita Collings. Copyright B. Collings, Not for reproduction or display.

He opened the cover to the voice pipe. “First Watch Officer to the Bridge,” he ordered, prompting a quick “Jawohl Mein Kapitan” from the control room below. Seconds later, Ruggeberg’s Executive Officer climbed through the conning tower hatch and onto the bridge. “Kapitan?” “Murl, take charge of the bridge watch. I need to go below to check the chart. We’ve had no luck here but I believe there may be convoys closer to St. John’s. Oh, and watch those damn bergs!” he shouted as the well moulded top of his white peaked cap disappeared through the hatch and into the darkness of the conning tower.

Peering at the chart in the dimly lit control room, he soon saw what he was searching for. Jabbing his finger onto the chart, he muttered to himself, “Here! Conception Bay. Iron ore mines and a good anchorage.” And with a good anchorage, there would be plenty of what he wanted most, targets! In their departure briefing prior to leaving Kiel, Ruggeberg and his officers had been briefed about the probability of shipping being encountered in the Roads of Wabana. Many a German ship had loaded there before the war, transporting essential iron ore back to the Fatherland. It was a raw material vital for feeding the steel mills of the Ruhr Valley; the industrial engine of a resurgent Germany.

Shouting into the voice pipe above the chart table, he relayed an order to Murl on the bridge, “Kapitan here, bring the boat around to 140 degrees. Engines half ahead together, revolutions for twelve knots.” Two days later, on Thursday, September 3rd, 1942, U-513 arrived at the entrance to Conception Bay. By eight o’clock that evening, Ruggeberg started to move his boat southwest and two hours later he surfaced, following the trail of several ships he had seen earlier moving toward the Bay. Despite poor visibility, he could easily see the searchlights from Bell Island as they swept the north and south entrances to the Bay every ten to twenty minutes. Ruggeberg believed they had managed to enter the Bay undetected; however, he was skeptical that an attack at night would be possible.

U-513 was one of ninety U-boats operating in the Atlantic that week, hunting their prey in various areas. Ruggeberg, only thirty-five and on his first patrol, was following Standing Order 101, “Directions for the Conduct of War Against Commerce.” He was authorized to attack shipping that, among other conditions, was British, escorted, and contained ores and metals destined for enemy territory. At Bell Island, Ruggeberg had found the perfect targets.

After a deep reconnaissance, U-513 left Conception Bay early on the morning of the 4th and headed back out to sea. Ruggeberg developed a plan to penetrate back into the area at night and determine depths while avoiding the searchlights. On Friday evening, Ruggeberg directed the return of his boat. Visibility was good and U-513 dove once again as it slipped into the Bay.

Strike While The Iron Is Hot

September 5th, 1942. 0800. Total day’s run on the surface 105 nautical miles; submerged 16.2 nautical miles. With its periscope barely out of the water and only one electric motor running, U-513 once again crept inside Conception Bay at a barely noticeable two knots. As she penetrated deeper into the Bay, Ruggeberg’s crew struggled to maintain the boat at the ordered periscope depth of fifteen meters.

Continuing to the southwest, and now between Bell Island and Portugal Cove, Korvettenkapitan Ruggeberg spotted steamers loading ore at Scotia and Dominion Piers. However he decided to leave the ships alone for the time being. Ruggeberg assessed that the steamers at the piers could easily be hit on the way back out. He wanted to have a look at the rear part of the anchorage, deep inside the Bay, so he continued past the piers.

Twenty-five minutes later and barely visible through the periscope, a plume of smoke was spotted on the horizon to the southwest. An hour passed and two large steamers were sighted at anchor and sitting low in the water. Just as he suspected: fully loaded ore carriers ready to join their convoy – prime targets.

As Ruggeberg moved from the control room and into his attack position inside the conning tower, he encountered a problem with the boat’s smaller attack periscope. Further problems with the boat’s trim control caused another delay. The crew quickly repaired the defects and the attack periscope was finally raised. U-513 was now well inside Conception Bay.

The ships were lined up like ducks on a pond. Ruggeberg couldn’t believe his good fortune as he manoeuvred U-513 into position for its first kill of the war. Ruggeberg took stock of his situation and assessed the targets. There were two steamers at the piers along the steep coast of Bell Island, and one at anchor, just off Lance Cove. Three more were sitting slightly further out in the Bay, closer to Little Bell Island. Two were ore carriers. 

At two minutes past noon, two electric torpedoes were loosed from U-513’s bow tubes. Their target: the freighter lying at anchor furthest to the southwest and only 400 meters away. Ruggeberg and the crew listened intently for the sound of the impact. No detonation! The stern tubes were readied. Again, two shots were fired, range 600 meters. WHAP, WHAP! This time, success! The horrific, yet gratifying, sounds of a ship sinking were heard three minutes later. The SS SAGANAGA had become U-513’s first victim.


SS SAGANAGA U-513’s first victim

New Brooms Clean Well But Old Ones Know The Corners 

After firing two torpedoes from its stern tubes, the loss of almost two tonnes of ballast caused the U-boat’s stern to rise and the bow to drop down close to the bottom of the Bay. Excited by the thrill of their first kill, the crew corrected the trim and brought the boat up again. Not realizing how close they had come to the second steamer, U-513 collided with its stern, causing serious damage to the U-boat’s conning tower!


Damage to U-513 Conning Tower Cause by the Impact with the LORD STRATHCONA.Photo courtesy of Barry and Marita Collings. Copyright B. Collings, Not for reproduction or display.

Ruggeberg ordered the negative tanks to be flooded, forcing the boat down again, although faster than he wanted. The submarine descended quickly, hitting the bottom hard. He discovered that this location in the Bay was very shallow, with a depth of only forty-four meters. Fortunately for U-513, the chart data was incorrect and the bottom was sandy, not rocky. Luckily for Ruggeberg, the only damage was a small leak through the direction finder on the bottom of the hull.

Wasting no time freeing itself from the bottom, U-513 manoeuvred inside the anchorage and began its next attack run, this time the target was the ship with which it had just collided. Two single bow tube shots were fired. THUD! WHAM! The SS LORD STRATHCONA went down in one and half minutes. 



Two confirmed kills! Ruggeberg knew both ships he had sunk were loaded and this would earn him extra credit. As he listened, the sounds of his latest victim in its final moments could be clearly heard through U-513’s hull. However, this was not the time for celebration. He knew there were more targets in his vicinity. “Both motors slow ahead together! Come right to new course 047 degrees!” Ruggeberg shouted through the open hatch to the Control Room below. “I want the steamers at the piers!” Peering through the attack periscope, Ruggeberg screamed more directions down to the Chief Boatswains Mate who was at his action station position at the diving plane controls. “Stabsbootmann Hissmann! Keep the boat level at fifteen meters! You and Kotting have to keep the boat steady at periscope depth!” He was referring to the Engineering Officer, Leutnant Otto Kotting, who was managing the trim tanks. “I swear to Christ, Otto, one more mistake in maintaining my depth and I’ll bust you back down to Obermaschinist!” Leutnant Kotting had recently been promoted from the lower ranks and the last thing he wanted was to be banished from the Wardroom and made a Machinist’s Mate again.

With the boat on its new course and level at fifteen meters, Ruggeberg scanned the eastern side of the island for any sign of the steamers he had spotted at the piers during his inbound run. Through the periscope he could easily see the splashes created by the ordnance now being fired all around the anchorage. “Damn!” Ruggeberg swore as he continued his search. As he panned the attack periscope around to the east, he glimpsed a new contact. “Target bearing 053 degrees, range approximately 1300 meters!” Doing a quick calculation in his head, he continued, “Angle on the bow left 120 degrees!”. Taking a second bearing he shouted “Angle on the bow right 140 degrees, range 1500 meters! She’s zigzagging and opening!”

A Master Has Never Yet Fallen From The Sky 

Ruggeberg continued to track the contact, ordering two of the four forward tubes to be re-loaded. “Murl, get those fish into the forward tubes!” U-513 carried two spare electric torpedoes stored on the deck in the forward torpedo room and four more stored below the deck plates. He needed them loaded and he needed it done now! “Jawohl Kapitan!” the First Officer acknowledged. Leutnant Murl clicked the switch to the intercom and relayed the Captain’s order to the forward torpedo room. “Wetzel, re-load tubes one and four and make sure the battery switches are set to ‘fire’ this time! Get it done quickly!”. “Ja Leutnant,” Mechanikermaat Wetzel responded back to Murl in the control room. “We will move as fast as we can but it will take at least twenty minutes!”

Torpedoman’s Mate Third Class, Wilhelm Wetzel, who was in charge of the forward torpedo room, was well aware of his grave mistake earlier in the day when he had failed to set the electric torpedoes switches from ‘charge’ to ‘fire.’ It had cost U-513 a quick kill during its first attack run and it had certainly tarnished his image in the eyes of the Captain and First Officer. In other boats, the mistake would probably have earned him a court-martial upon return to Lorient or even worse. His biggest fear was being transferred out of the U-boat service and into the Wehrmacht. Life in U-boats was tough but it was far better than what his life would be like if he were fighting the Russians on the eastern front! He was lucky Korvettenkapitan Ruggeberg was a reasonable man!

Not pleased with the news he would have to relay to the Captain in the conning tower, Leutnant Murl slammed his fist down hard on the chart table. “Twenty minutes! Too long!” Hearing that he would have to wait for his tubes to be readied, Ruggeberg was furious. “I can make the shot now!” The Captain hissed. “Not ideal, but doable with a two shot spread and the correct lead angle. In twenty minutes that steamer will be far out of range and I sure as hell can’t surface to get ahead of him! Leutnant Murl, when we get out of here I want those torpedomen drilled until they drop!”

Accepting that he had lost his opportunity to attack a third ship, Ruggeberg decided that his most prudent course of action would be to proceed out of the Bay and make his escape. Once clear of danger, he could surface and inspect the conning tower for any damage caused by the collision with the steamer. He would also affect any urgent repairs and reload all tubes. Despite having to let his last target slip out of range, Ruggeberg was confident that there would be more ships in the area. He could lurk at the mouth of the Bay and watch for any ships making their way into the anchorage. He was also certain he could find more targets just a short distance to the east, off the coast and not far from St. John’s.

Accepting that he would have no more luck today, Ruggeberg took a final look through the attack periscope. The mast of the small steamer was just visible on the horizon now, farther to the south-west. “My friend, you have no idea how lucky you are,” he muttered. The EVELYN B had escaped.


Actual track of U-513 showing it’s route into the anchorage, manoeuvring during the attack and escape route.

A Steady Drop Will Carve The Stone

After penetrating the anchorage at Bell Island, conducting a spectacular attack, and slipping undetected from the anchorage deep inside Conception Bay, U-513 continued its patrol. Over the coming weeks, it would continue to lurk at the entrance of the Bay and ventured close to St. John’s, where it monitored the traffic patterns of the steamers and small convoys as they arrived and departed from the safety of the port. Under constant threat of attack by the ever-increasing air patrols, Ruggeberg observed and signalled to Befehlshaber der Unterseeboote (BdU or Commander U-Boats) back in Berlin that most vessels were sticking close to the rugged coastline and not venturing within his reach. 

On September 26th, Ruggeberg’s luck seemed to change when a large convoy steamed across his path. However, this time, the advantage was to be on the side of the convoy as U-513 was soon detected, depth charged, and driven off by the screening destroyers. It would be another three days before Ruggeberg would be provided another opportunity. The SS OCEAN VAGABOND would become Ruggeberg’s next target.  Although the steamer was under escort, Ruggeberg managed to manoeuvre U-513 close enough to her to fire a three torpedo spread. Soon after, two explosions were heard. Thinking he had claimed yet another victim, Ruggeberg radioed the news to headquarters. Unbeknownst to him, SS OCEAN VAGABOND had only been damaged and had survived the encounter.



On October 10th, Ruggeberg received orders to rendezvous with U-757 to take on fuel. U-513’s patrol was coming to an end and it would soon be time to make for her home in the newly constructed and impenetrable submarine pens at Lorient, France. The valuable information Ruggeberg had gathered during his voyage and communicated to Headquarters would prove invaluable, especially to Kapitanleutnant Friedrich-Wilhelm Wissmann. Wissmann, who had departed Kiel on September 26th, was now at sea. His boat, U-518, was steaming westwards with a bone in her teeth, towards Newfoundland, and, ultimately, Bell Island.  

One Disaster Rarely Comes Alone

U-69 had been at sea for forty-six days having departing its base in St. Nazaire, France in August. Much to the displeasure of her commanding officer, Oberleutnant zur see Ulrich Graf, the boat had seen little action during this, its tenth wartime patrol. Graf was the fourth officer to have the honour of commanding U-69 since the boat was commissioned in 1940. He was eager to continue the successes of his last patrol where he had sunk four Allied ships. As the new commander of U-69, he was hoping to further add to its record of fourteen ships sunk and two damaged. 


U-69 “The Laughing Cow”

On October 9th, Graf spotted a Montreal-bound convoy near the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. He quickly selected his target, the twenty-three hundred tonne steamer SS CAROLUS. The CAROLUS was sunk, taking twelve crew members with her. U-69 had the first kill of its patrol; it wouldn’t be the last. As the Canadian Corvettes, HMCS HEPATICA and HMCS ARROWHEAD, picked up survivors, Graf made his escape to the southeast. As the sounds of the CAROLUS breaking up faded slowly behind, he headed back out into the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  

After days of fruitlessly searching for another victim, Graf moved U-69 closer to the entrance of the Gulf and continued his patrol in the Cabot Strait between Newfoundland and Cape Breton. In the early morning hours of the 14th, Graf spotted the passenger ferry SS CARIBOU, which was sailing from Sydney to Port-aux-Basques. With ruthless efficiency, he went about his deadly task.



After sinking the CARIBOU, despite the presence of naval and air patrols Graf stayed in the area suspecting there were many more targets in the vicinity. He believed that smaller, outward-bound convoys may be passing through the Canso Straits, between Cape Breton Island and mainland Nova Scotia. Fortunately, he found no more victims.

On October 20th, not far from Ferryland, Newfoundland, and with a full load of Bell Island iron ore vital to the war effort, the SS ROSECASTLE was steaming in convoy at full speed towards Sydney and its steel smelters. Also passing through the area, now en route to its home port of St. Nazaire, was U-69.

Graf spotted the seventy-eight hundred tonne steamer and hoping to be able to hoist yet another pennant from his conning tower when he entered port on completion of his patrol, he manoeuvred into firing position. From his stern tube, he loosed his last remaining torpedo at the steamer. As he counted down the seconds on the stopwatch around his neck, Graf patiently waited for the sound of the impact that would signal his success. Nothing! He quickly realized his attack had failed and suspected the magnetic detonation device on the torpedo may have malfunctioned. Peering through the periscope, Graf saw that the ROSECASTLE had unexpectedly stopped, most likely to carry out an inspection for damage. As he had surmised, the torpedo had struck but failed to explode. He considered a surfaced attack with his deck gun but determined that the risk of counter-attack from prowling air patrols and escorting corvettes was too great. After twenty minutes, his target was underway again and soon steamed out of range. Graf grudgingly accepted that he had lost the opportunity for a final kill. Low on fuel and out of torpedoes, he turned U-69 to the east and its home in France. 

Take The Bit Between Your Teeth

Leaning against the chart table in the dimly lit control room, Kapitanleutenant Frederick-Wilhelm Wissmann, Captain of U-518, checked his watch. It was 0500 and it would soon be sunrise. Time for some fun. A wry grin formed on his bearded face as he stepped to the base of the conning tower hatch. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, relishing the fresh air that drafted down through the opening. Opening his eyes and stared two decks up to the bridge; he decided it was time. “ALARRRRMMMM!” he screamed through the hatch, breaking the morning silence.

As his voice trailed off, he immediately heard scrambling above and more activity behind him as the crew started clearing the bridge and preparing the boat for a panicked crash dive. On the bridge, and not aware of what had prompted the alarm, Oberleutnant Seehausen, the boat’s First Watch Officer or Executive Officer, was startled by the Captain’s scream. “Rig the bridge for dive!” he ordered. “Lookouts, strike the bridge weapons and grab the binoculars from the UZO (torpedo directing site) and get below!” As the port and starboard lookouts scrambled to secure the bridge, the two bells indicating the boat was diving, sounded from the control room. “Schnell!” Seehausen bellowed as the lookouts half slid, half fell through the conning tower hatch. Taking one last look around to ensure the bridge was clear, the Executive Officer closed the watertight voice pipe cover and descended the ladder, slamming the hatch to the bridge down hard above him as the U-boats bow started to disappear below the surface.


Gerhard Seehausen, U-518’s Executive Officer (second in command to Wissmann). It was Seehausen who as First Watch Officer had responsibility for directing the attack on 2 Nov 1942 from U-518’s bridge. Seehausen went on to command his own boat, U-66 and was killed when it was sunk on 6 May 1944.

Sliding down the ladder with both feet dangling, Seehausen hit the control room deck plates with a shudder, narrowly missing the lookouts that had preceded him down the ladder. The control room was a flurry of what could only be described as organized chaos as sailor rushed to assume their designated positions. Not hesitating, Seehausen ran through his diving drill checklist. “Confirm ballast tanks 2, 3, and 4 open and flooding?” he yelled to the Chief Boatswains Mate. “Jawohl Oberleutnant,” came the response. “Stop and unclutch diesels, both electric motors ahead together, emergency speed, close all supply and exhaust valves!” In the same breath, Seehausen continued, “Forward planes down thirty degrees, aft planes up thirty degrees, all crew forward!”

Spinning the large wheels that controlled the diving planes, the Petty Officer of the Watch repeated back the order as other members of the crew scrambled past him heading towards the forward torpedo room, “Forward planes down thirty, aft planes up thirty!” As the sound of rushing water filling the tanks was heard through the pressure hull, the boat’s bow dipped sharply downwards. Seehausen watched the depth gauge… 8 meters… 10 meters… 15 meters! “Flood tank 1, close tanks 2, 3, and 4!” The descent continued… 20 meters… 30 meters… 40 meters! Breathing heavily, Seehausen suddenly felt a hand on his shoulder. “Three minutes! Well done! I think that’s deep enough.”

Turning, Seehausen saw it was the Captain, now standing behind him. “Mein Kapitan?” he asked, not completely understanding the Captain’s directions. “Level the boat off at fifty meters and stand down action stations. I consider the drill complete.” Coming to the realization that the Alarm had been a drill and seeing the hint of a smile on the Captain’s face, Seehausen let out a long sigh. “Forward and aft planes to zero degrees. Shut all ballast tank valves. Chief Boatswains Mate, level the boat off and maintain fifty meters. Crew stand down from action stations,” he ordered. The Executive Officer now knew why they called the Captain “The Wise Guy!”

 Wait A Fair Wind And You’ ll Get One

 U-518 was just east of the Straits of Belle Isle and on her first wartime patrol. She had been commissioned in April and departed her berth at Tirpitz Pier in Kiel, Germany on September 26th, Kapitanleutenant Wissmann in command. The orders he had been given were simple: to patrol an area north of Newfoundland and seize every opportunity to attack shipping and secondly, to affect the drop-off of a spy, Werner Von Janowski, somewhere along the Canadian coast.

As the end of October approached, Wissmann was having no luck in his assigned area. The only surface vessels encountered were small fishing boats in which he had no interest or mandate to attack. Heavy air patrols were forcing him to spend his days submerged, only returning to the surface during the safety of night.

“Signal from BdU, Kapitan,” Ballert said softly as he pulled aside the curtain to the Captain’s tiny cabin. Oberleutenant zur see Rene Ballert was U-518’s Second Watch Officer and was responsible for decoding all messages from Headquarters. With the assistance of the boat’s wireless operator, Funkmaat Klein, he had just spent the past hour struggling with the complex Enigma machine, attempting to de-crypt the latest signal. “Can’t you knock?” Wissmann responded grumpily as he swung his feet out of his bunk. “Tut mir Leid (Sorry) Mein Kapitan, but we have new orders,” replied Ballert. “Never mind, at least this time you and Klein managed to de-code it on your own! I was getting tired of holding your hands in the wireless room,” Wissmann chided sarcastically as he snatched the paper from Ballert.

He quickly read through the short message: 


“It’s about damn time!” Wissmann exclaimed as he stuffed his feet into his high leather boots and grabbed his kepi off the hook on the bulkhead. He preferred wearing the wedge style hat while at sea rather than the normal white-topped peak cap favoured by most U-boat commanding officers. Pushing past Ballert and stepping into the control room, Wissmann wasted no time informing his Executive Officer and others present of the new orders. “Gentlemen, we have been ordered further south! Headquarters reports shipping in the area of Wabana. It should be about a day’s run on the surface. Let’s see if we can find something worth wasting a few fish on!”  

He gave the order to surface the boat, followed by the required course change. “Von Janowski my friend, you will have to wait awhile longer before earning your Knight’s Cross! I’m taking my turn now!” Wissmann declared, smiling at his guest.

A few hours later as the boat sped south on the surface, Funkmaat Klein, who had been listening to announcements on the German Broadcast Service, emerged from the wireless room, grinning. Stepping into the crowded control room, he looked at the Executive Officer. “Mein Oberleutnant, I believe congratulations are in order!” he announced. “For what?” Seehausen responded, both surprised and confused by the announcement.

“Congratulations on being a father!” Klein smiled broadly as he stepped forward to shake Seehausen’s hand. “I just heard it announced on the latest broadcast. Your wife back in Hanover has finally given you and the Fatherland a fine, nine-pound baby boy!” Seehausen was speechless. Even though he knew his wife, who had been eight months pregnant when he departed, would give birth during his absence, the news was still a shock. Slapping his Executive Officer on the back and bringing him back to his senses, Wissmann announced, “Gentlemen, this calls for a quick celebration! Gerhard, I shall grant you the opportunity to buy us all a drink!” 

Tossing him the keys to the liquor locker, Wissmann continued, “Two bottles of France’s finest should serve the purpose, I think!” Smiling a grin only a new father could, Seehausen proceeded to the Captain’s cabin to retrieve the champagne. As U-518 plodded its way to the southeast, the two bottles were shared amongst the officers, their spirits buoyed by Seehausen’s news and the thought that they would soon see action.

“Damn, the boat smells like shit!” observed Seehausen as he drained the last of the champagne from his mug. “We all smell like shit and I hear several of the men have been to see the medic complaining of crabs!” added Leutenant Roenneberg grinning. Roenneberg, the Engineering Officer, had just finished his rounds in the engine room and now stepped into the cramped Wardroom to join the rest of the officers.

“I have some good news though. The engines are running perfectly and now that we have eaten all the food that was stored in the second head (bathroom), we can finally use it! I even tested it on my way from the engine room!” They all laughed as the crusty Engineer winked, scratched at his crotch, and drained the last of the champagne directly from the bottle. 

Arriving at the mouth of Conception Bay the following day, U-518 submerged, surfacing again only after dark. It was raining lightly and the visibility was poor. Wissmann decided he would press on with an attempt to penetrate the anchorage on the surface. As he carefully made his way into the Bay, he was aware of activity on the shore. Running close to the eastern side of the Bay, he was close enough to observe the headlights of several cars and the searchlights that swept the north-eastern entrance. “Except for the searchlights, you would think people here could care less that there was a war being fought!” Wissmann whispered as he stood next to Seehausen on the open bridge. “We need to get closer to the anchorage. Come port to course 000 degrees, both engines ahead dead slow. We’ll head between the smaller islands and come in on the anchorage from the west.” “Jawohl Kapitan,” responded Seehausen, as the searchlights swept the Bay again.

If You Can’t Take The Heat, Don’t Tickle The Dragon 

As U-518 approached Bell Island, the weather improved. The visibility was now excellent, with the sea calm and winds light. As the moon appeared, Wissmann realized the conditions were not ideal for a surface attack as the light from the moon increased the chances of being spotted, but he was committed and pushed on.

Passing the south-western tip of the island, a large, yellow lattice buoy could be seen with rocks awash beyond it (Bell Rock). “There! Close to the island. Shadows!” Wissmann exclaimed as his finger jabbed out into the darkness. “Damn it!” he swore as the searchlight once again swept the Bay, this time almost illuminating the boat. 

The shadows of the two steamers were now clearly visible between U-518 and the cone formed by the searchlight’s beam. “It’s too risky. We’ll head back to the west and get closer to the island. We need to avoid those damn lights!”

Ten minutes later and now as close to the island as he dared go, Wissmann approached once more, this time clearly making out the silhouettes of three large steamers. Everyone on the bridge held their breath as once again the search light swept towards them. A few more degrees and the boat would be clearly visible in its beam. Then it stopped and swept in the other direction before going out. Turning to his Executive Officer, Wissmann snapped through clenched teeth “You have ten minutes! Set up for your shot! SCHNELL!” Responsible for controlling the conduct of surface attacks from the bridge, Seehausen quickly prepared himself. He had run through the procedures hundreds of times in training and as an instructor at the torpedo school; He was most capable. 

U-518 pressed forward and Seehausen lined the boat up for its first shot. “Open all tube doors, ready tubes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.” “Tubes 1 to 4 ready,” came the reply from the forward torpedo room through the voice pipe. “Tubes 5 and 6 ready!” was reported from aft. As the bow swung and lined up with its first target, the farthest of the three steamers, Seehausen yelled, “Tube 1, FIRE!” As the torpedo flashed from the tube, the bow lined up with the second vessel just eight hundred meters ahead. “Tube 2, FIRE! Tube 3, FIRE!” he shouted. “Hard to starboard! Both engines slow ahead!”.



As the bow of U-518 swung in a wide arc, the wakes of the torpedoes were clearly visible as they streaked towards their targets. A long forty-eight seconds later, explosions broke the stillness of the night. Shortly after the torpedoes struck their target, (SS ROSECASTLE), another flash was seen further in the distance along with another more muffled explosion. Seehausen assumed the ship furthest away had also been hit. Unbeknownst to him his first torpedo had narrowly missed its intended target and had impacted the loading pier beyond. 

The crew of U-518 watched as the steamer closest to them began to settle by the stern. It promptly rolled onto its side, engulfed in a cloud of smoke and steam as it sank. Still in its turn, U-518’s stern swept past the second steamer in the anchorage, and Seehausen fired once more. “Tube 5, FIRE!” A torpedo surged from the after tube towards its next victim impacting moments later. The PLM-27 had been hit.


PLM 27

Continuing in a wide circle, U-518 now steadied on the target again about eight hundred meters away. This one, smaller than the first at about five thousand tonnes, sat very close to the island. “Tube 4, FIRE!” Thirty-five seconds later, another explosion could be seen and the ship continued to sink, its bow now forming a ‘V’ with the stern as it rose clear of the water. With flares illuminated the sky, turning night to day, Wissmann and Seehausen standing on the bridge could clearly see the results of their work. Wreckage floated everywhere on the oily sea, and the screams of drowning men could be heard above the steady drone of the boat’s diesel engines. 

Wissmann observed the beach just beyond his last victim, whose bow was now pointed vertically skyward. A small crowd was starting to gather, drawn out of their homes by the terror unfolding on the water. “Come left to course 260. Both engines full ahead!” Wissmann ordered. “We’re finished here!”


The remainder of the war passed quietly for the residents of Bell Island. Although the war would rage on for another three years, there would be no more attacks in Conception Bay. By the end of December 1942, anti-torpedo nets, which had been recommended after the September attack, were finally installed at the Wabana piers. The coastal defence battery of 4.7 inch guns that overlooked Bell Island Beach and the piers (but not the anchorage) and two searchlights put in place before the attacks, remained on guard. These measures, in conjunction with the considerable Allied effort in the Battle of the Atlantic, seemed sufficient to deter the enemy.

Bell Island is one of only a few locations in North America to be attacked by a U-boat. It is however, the only place to suffer damage as a result and the only site where coastal artillery was fired in self-defence. On three separate occasions in 1942, U-boats conducted attacks where torpedoes missed their intended targets and reached land. The first took place on March 3rd at the mouth of St. John’s harbour where a U-boat fired at least two torpedoes which missed their objective and hit the cliff s below Fort Amherst. The second was on September 5th at Saint Yvon, Gaspé, Quebec, the same day as the first deadly U-boat attack in Conception Bay, when the impact of the torpedoes against cliffs would rattle the windows in the small Quebec town.

The third, and the only one to cause damage, was the attack in Conception Bay on November 2nd. The first torpedo fired by U-518 during the attack was likely intended for the collier ANNA T anchored not far from Scotia Pier, but it failed to hit its mark. Missing the ANNA T and barely missing the SS FLYINGDALE tied up at the Scotia Pier, the torpedo impacted the pier and exploded. 


With the terrible ferry disaster of 1940 still fresh in their memories, the residents of Bell Island were unprepared for the first U-boat attack on September 5, 1942. That day U-513 successfully sank two ore carriers, the SS SAGANAGA and the SS LORD STRATHCONA during a daring daytime attack. Twenty-nine of forty-three crew members of the SAGANAGA were killed while the forty-four man crew from the LORD STRATHCONA were fortunate enough to escape.

From the time she was commissioned until her demise, U-513 would sink six ships and damage two. In July, 1943, less than one year after her stunning attack in Conception Bay, she was sunk in the South Atlantic by depth charges from a U.S. aircraft. Forty-six of her crew of fifty-three perished.

Korvettenkapitan Rolf Ruggeberg commanded U-513 on several more wartime cruises until May 1943 when he was transfered and took command of a U-boat flotilla based in Norway. Following the war, he remained in the German Navy, progressing through the officer ranks. His last position was as the German Naval Attaché in London.

SS Caribou and U-69

On the night of October 13, 1942, the passenger ferry SS CARIBOU was torpedoed by U-69 in Cabot Strait, sinking sixty-four kilometers off the coast of Newfoundland. Of the crew of forty-five and 206 civilian and military passengers on board, 137 lost their lives. U-69, on her way home following this significant event, encountered and attacked the SS ROSECASTLE, which had survived the attack by U-513 just five weeks earlier in Conception Bay. However, the torpedo fired at the ROSECASTLE by U-69 was a dud and it failed to do any damage.

Throughout its career, U-69 sank sixteen ships, damaged one, and damaged another so badly that it was declared a total loss. She was sunk in February, 1943, four months after the attack on the CARIBOU, by depth charges from a British destroyer east of Newfoundland. All of its crew of forty-six were lost.


U-69 Departing on a ‘Southern’ Patrol


In the late hours of November 2, 1942, U-518 successfully sank two ore carriers in Conception Bay. The attacks could have been much worse as a third ship at anchor was missed, resulting in damage to Scotia Pier. The ROSECASTLE, which had survived two previous U-boat encounters, was sunk by two torpedoes with the loss of twenty-eight of its crew of forty-three.


The PLM 27, the second vessel to be attacked that night, sank with the loss of twelve of its crew of fifty. This had been a lucky victory for U-518, which was on its way to the Gaspé where it had orders to drop off a spy. Despite being landed successfully in the vicinity of New Carlisle, Quebec, Werner Von Janowski was quickly captured by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police after using out-of-date money and Belgian matches.


German Spy Werner von Janowski who was onboard U-518 during the attack of Nov 1942.

Kapitanleutenant Frederick-Wilhelm Wissmann left U-518 after completing his fourth and last patrol in December 1943. He would go on to be a U-Boat training officer until the end of the war. U-518 would sink nine ships and damage three before she was sunk in April 1945, just one month before the end of World War II by depth charges from U.S. destroyer escorts northwest of the Azores. All of her crew of fifty-six were lost. 

u518 under attack

U-518 Being Attacked by a RAF Aircraft 27 June 1943. She Survived the Attack but was sunk in Apr 1945.

September and November 1942


In the little Newfoundland coastal village of Lance Cove, Bell Island, war was a thing of history books; of distant places and of other times. It was the hearing of stories of deeds of valour by young men who “went off to war”, and it was a sad remembrance each July 1st of those who never returned.

All of that was to change within an hour one very ordinary autumn afternoon when on September 5th, 1942, a German U-boat ventured into Conception Bay where ore ships lay waiting in the anchorage. Suddenly the air was filled with the frightful roar of exploding ships, of angry gunfire and the screams of drowning men. This event was soon followed by another of even more treacherous and tragic proportions. War had come to the very doorstep of Lance Cove. It was one of the few places in North America to have experienced so directly the horror of the war’s modern capacity for death and destruction.

Though history might have taught him differently, the Commander of U513 that day, Korvettekapitan Rolf Ruggeberg did not comprehend as he celebrated, that his successful actions that day were a far cry from the victory his country sought. Only time would determine the inevitable winner of the war and what was to become its longest battle; The Battle of the Atlantic.

In September 1942 Britain had already known her “Finest Hour”. The Commonwealth had rallied to her aid and not the least amongst them was little Newfoundland, the cornerstone of the Empire, who, relative to her size and resources, as in 1914-18, had made, in terms of emptying her coffers and reddening the fields of Europe, one of the greatest contributions of all. The mighty Luftwaffe had been driven from the skies over England and the “Battle of Britain” won. The sea lanes to Murmansk and elsewhere in the broad Atlantic would be kept open in defiance of Doenitz’s lurking predators, albeit at a mind numbing sacrifice by men of the Merchant-Navy and the valiant volunteer sailors manning the little corvettes of the Royal Canadian Navy that escorted them. The Desert Fox was about to meet defeat at “El Alamein” at the hands of Monty. The humiliation of Dunkirk was being avenged in no uncertain terms.

So was the state of the world on the night of September 4th 1942 when U-513 stealthily made its way into the peaceful waters off Lance Cove. With windows open to the wholesome sea breeze and the somnolent whispering of waves lapping on the shore, the community slept, blissfully unaware of the evil in their midst that was about to defile its waters with the litter of sunken ships, and the gentle loveliness of a new Autumn day with the screaming of drowning men and the terrifying thunder of gunfire.

What follows is an account of the events of September and November 1942 as witnessed by a sixteen year old boy named Lloyd Rees and recounted by him while still vivid in his memory. While I have taken the liberty to make minor editorial changes, re-ordered some paragraphs and changed the tense to what Lloyd wrote many years ago, the story and words remain his. I am quite certain my old friend would not mind.

As was the case with the original work, this edited and re-worked version remains dedicated to Lloyd’s parents, James and Mary Rees as well as to all the people of Lance Cove and Bell Island whose compassion and caring during those fateful days stood in stark contrast to the enigma of  Lloyd termed “man’s inhumanity to man”.


Lloyd on Lance Cove Wharf. Copyright Lloyd Rees

A Wolf at the Door

September 5th, 1942 was one of those Newfoundland days that started out with a cozy-grey promise of Indian Summer loveliness. A light mist lay over Lance Cove and Conception Bay, softening the outline of the distant hills, but seeming to magnify and cast in stark relief, Little Bell Island, the ore ships riding peacefully at anchor, and the Port de Grave fishing boats with their peculiar little barked spankers and raised fore-cuddies, tending their trawls in the early morning silence. The only sounds were the muffled clanking of wakening shipboard activity and the greedy squawking of sea gulls, swooping in search of breakfast over the undertow swells that hove ashore and receded in a never-ending rattle amongst the polished stones of the landwash that lay only a few yards from Lloyd’s bedroom window. They were the familiar sights and sounds of Lance Cove, and, though not always noticed, they whispered unobtrusively in the background of the playful and busy din that all was well.

Five ore carriers, the SS SAGANAGA; SS LORD STHRATHCONA; PLM 27; SS ROSECASTLE and the SS DRAKEPOOL were in Conception Bay that morning. Both the SAGANAGA and the LORD STRATHCONA had finished loading ore and were now waiting in the anchorage for instructions to join one of the main convoys between St. John’s and Halifax. In 1942 enemy U-boat activity was at its peak in the North Atlantic and many thousands of tons of allied shipping were being lost every day. The ROSECASTLE and the DRAKEPOOL were in the process of being loaded and were tied up at Dominion and Scotia piers, while the PLM 27 was standing by, awaiting her turn in her usual anchorage spot just off the wharf in Lance Cove.

During the night a small British coal freighter, the EVELYN B, had arrived and was anchored at the western extremity of the anchorage, which, as things were to turn out, was a lucky circumstance for some of the other ships in her company. The EVELYN B, recently arrived from Sydney, Nova Scotia, was carrying a cargo of coal for DOSCO’s (Dominion Steel and Coal Corporation) coal yard from which most of Bell Island’s residents obtained their main fuel supply, and for the company’s auxiliary power plant located at the Dominion pier.

All of the younger lads recognized the coal boats and welcomed them when they arrived because during the summer holidays it meant the chance of getting “hired on” for a shift or two with the unloading crew. It was dirty work and hard work unless one was lucky enough to get taken on as a “checker”. But the pay was good: $27 for a forty-eight hour week. One of Lloyd’s proudest memories was of presenting his first full week’s pay to his mother, Mrs Mary Rees. Crisp Newfoundland bills neatly folded in a little brown envelope that had been handed to him by Mr. Peter Pitts from the paymaster’s wicket. For a “gaffer”, to line up with the men on pay-day was an experience that had to be as loaded with mixed emotions as almost any primitive “coming of age” ritual. However, even without the pay cheque, being caught up in the “rough-and-tumble” camaraderie at one of the piers would have been sufficient reward for most young fellows.

That particular day though, Lloyd’s dad, Mr. James Augustus Rees or “Jimmy Gus” had other plans in store for Lloyd. Jimmy Gus was a blacksmith and his forge was located at the foot of Steel’s Hill, about three and a half miles from their house on Lance Cove beach. Instead of walking there as Mr Rees did every day, he suggested that since it was Saturday, such a nice morning and because Lloyd was home from school, they would harness their pony ‘Old Dan’ to the box-cart and take him to work. Unfortunately it was not just for the ride. Mr Rees had fenced the small parcel of bog land behind his forge with the intention of making it into a garden in his spare time. He already had more than enough gardens under cultivation to occupy all his spare time, but that was his way. Gardening was a leisure activity and never regarded as being real work. To walk “in over the hill” on a Sunday afternoon to “see how the gardens were doing” was a pleasure that was discounted by Lloyd, given the fact that he’d be working there on Saturday evening until after dark.

Old Dan was a Newfoundland Pony, about twenty years old and weighing not much more than six hundred pounds. However, pound for pound, like other members of his now almost extinct breed, Dan was probably the strongest, most durable, and most gentle of any four-legged creature on the face of the earth. Lloyd and Dan’s job that day would be to gather up top soil and cart it into the garden to cover over the bog.


Lloyd’s pony Old Dan with brothers Don and Jim Rees. Photo Courtesy of the late Lloyd Rees.

Lloyd wasn’t particularly thrilled with the prospect of having to spend his day off school with a pick and shovel, but neither did he recall feeling “hard done by”. In those days having to pitch in and lend a helping hand with whatever work needed to be done was something learned early by all young people growing up in Lance Cove.

As they set out up over Pitts’ Hill the mood was cheerful. Mr Rees was whistling some ditty or other in his peculiar manner of being able to do so without puckering his lips. It was a habit Lloyd suspected he cultivated to keep himself company on his long walks to and from work. Not much else was stirring. Everything was so peaceful; almost drearily so. In that sense it was good to be going to the forge where at least there was never a dull moment. How could anyone possibly suspect or even imagine the high drama being unfolded, even at that very moment, beneath the glassy surface of Conception Bay.

The Attack

The previous night while the community slept, a German submarine, the U-513 – brand new off the Deutche Werf, Hamburg and on her first patrol, arrived at the mouth of Conception Bay. After having departed her original patrol area in the Straits of Belle Isle she had moved south with the hope of finding a better hunting ground. On the night of September 4th she followed the little coal freighter EVELYN B into the bay. Having observed that freighter go to anchor, the U-boat settled down on the muddy bottom to await the dawn.

When daylight arrived, Korvettenkapitan Rolf Ruggeberg brought his boat to periscope depth to survey the confines of the anchorage in which he had daringly ventured in the darkness. Having been at sea since August 5th without making a kill, his delight can be well imagined when he spotted not just one, but five freighters within range. Two of those freighters were only a few hundred yards in the distance and sat deep in the water with their precious cargo of iron ore, a commodity critical to the allied war effort. Understandably, any interest in the little EVELYN B was temporarily abandoned.

Because of the inexperience of her crew and the shallowness of the water in the bay the U-boat’s manoeuvrability was severely limited. Add to this the excitement of their first engagement with “the enemy” and it is not surprising to learn that the firing of the first salvo of torpedoes directed at the SAGANAGA turned into a real fiasco. The first two torpedoes were discharged from U-513’s forward tubes without their electric drive motors having been switched from “charge” to “fire” resulting in them sinking harmlessly to the bottom. The chastened crew, boys really, since few of them were more than twenty years of age, manning the U-boat’s bow tubes, having flubbed so embarrassingly their first engagement, set about preparing the two remaining bow tubes for firing. In the meantime, Ruggeberg guided the submerged craft into position so that the two stern torpedoes could be brought to bear. Here the torpedo men had better luck and those two ran true, exploding almost simultaneously into the belly of the SAGANAGA. In less than thirty seconds, even before the smoke had cleared or all the flung debris settled back upon the water, SAGANAGA had disappeared from sight. It’s hard to imagine how anyone could have escaped uninjured from such a holocaust, yet, by some miracle, thirteen of the forty two who were on board did.

With no compensation having been made for the alteration in buoyancy after firing its torpedoes, the U-boat bobbed close to the surface and in that vulnerable position came perilously close to meeting an ignominous end. This unexpected change in depth also brought U-513 dangerously close to the LORD STRATHCONA, so close in fact that  it collided with her stern, damaging the U-boat’s conning tower and causing it to bounce down heavily to the bottom where, fortunately for Ruggeberg the seafloor was sandy and not rocky as was indicated on his chart.

During U-513’s momentary loss of depth keeping ability, she was spotted by gunners Mr. Eugene Walters and Mr. Pete Meade on the EVELYN B who were able to get off a couple of shots, one of them narrowly missing before the U-boat managed to scurry deeper beneath the surface. After regaining buoyancy control U-513 maneuvered into firing position and fired two more torpedoes from its forward tubes. It did not take the weapons long to cover the 550 yards to the LORD STRATHCONA which slipped beneath the sea 1 1/2 minutes later. Her watery grave was so shallow that her remains were clearly visible lying on the bottom.

Had the first torpedoes in the U-boat’s arsenal not been wasted, the fate of the LORD STRATHCONA would certainly not have been so long-delayed. Many questions have subsequently been raised as to why this ship made no attempt to escape, unlike the EVELYN B and the PLM-27, when, as it turned out, there was probably a fair chance of her being able to do so. This argument is well documented for those who wish to pursue it further.

The dud firing of U-513’s first two torpedoes turned out to be a lucky circumstance for the PLM-27 as well. As has been noted before, she was anchored in close proximity to the two other loaded ships. Now all six of the U-boat’s readied torpedoes had been fired and it was necessary to reload. This provided time for the PLM-27 to get underway and out of range. For Commander Ruggeberg to have any hope of overtaking her, it would have meant coming to the surface where the U-boat’s powerful diesel engines could drive her in excess of eighteen knots, as compared to only seven while submerged. There were eight torpedoes remaining in his arsenal, plus eight more strapped down on deck for later use, but to his chagrin, these would have to await another time. With the pugnacious little EVELYN B in hot pursuit and being now almost directly under the guns of the shore battery, his top priority became one of executing an escape without further mishap being caused by his inexperienced and now jubilant crew.



SS Lord Strathcona


Much of this information only came to light after the U-513 had herself been sunk on July 19th, 1943 by an American PBY aircraft. Seven of her crew of fifty-three, including her Commander at the time, Friedrich Guttenberger who had sunk the HMS ARK ROYAL, were rescued by the USS BARNEGATE. Several of the surviving crew had been onboard during the action of 1942 and recounted their stories during interrogation. Details also emerged when the Ruggeberg’s log books became available after the war.

Lloyd’s Experience

Lloyd had managed to load up old Dan with a couple of loads of topsoil for the garden before the twelve o’clock whistle at the distant mines blew indicating it was lunch time. Mr Rees and Lloyd were toasting their sandwiches over the hot coals of the forge when young Billy Stone came running down the hill from his house with the message that Mr Rees was “urgently wanted on the phone”.

The party on the other end of the line was his wife Mary with the incredible news that an ore ship, the SAGANAGA, had blown up! There were a lot of men in the water and a lot of shooting going on. Some people were saying that it was the boiler on the ship that had exploded, but Mrs Rees didn’t think that was the case. Any uncertainty about the cause of the explosion was quickly dispelled when about thirty minutes later a second ship, the LORD STRATHCONA, blew up.

Lloyd’s younger brother Don was ill at the time with rheumatic fever and was sleeping on a cot downstairs where he could be more easily tended. Jim, Lloyd’s youngest brother, was not yet three years old, and his mother was five months pregnant with his baby sister, Vivian.

Their house, perched precariously on the seashore and being closest to the terrifying commotion in the bay, must have seemed like a frightfully vulnerable place to Mrs Rees. Fearing for the safety of her children, she believed it best if she took them in over the hill to her mother’s place, which she did with the assistance of her daughter Vera who was thirteen at the time, and Fanny Vaters the housekeeper. In the meantime the house would have to be left unattended. Because of this Mrs Rees wanted Jimmy Gus and Lloyd to return home as quickly as possible.

It was not only Mrs Rees who was frightened by the chaos erupting in Lance Cove that fateful Saturday morning, for surely it must have also been an equally terrifying experience for all the men, women and children who witnessed it. Many of the men of Lance Cove were at work, many of them deep in the iron ore mines beneath the sea and unaware in the shuttling cacophony of their noisy work place of the tumult raging on the bay. The ore they were busily mining was a strategic commodity in the struggle to eradicate the lair from which had sprung the predator. Now, unbeknownst to them, that predator was seeking vengeance on its would-be destroyer at the very doorsteps of their homes.

The horror of seeing ships, hardly noticed before in their familiarity, exploding and sinking beneath the sea, hearing the screaming of terrified and drowning men in the cold water, the chilling screech of shells whizzing past from the shore battery; melded with the thunderous roar of the guns on the ROSECASTLE, PLM 27, and the EVELYN B as she scurried in frenzy amidst the white geysers tearing up the placid surface of the bay…Is it any wonder that Mrs Rees wanted to flee with her children to some safer place? It would not be so the next time around! She and Fanny Vaters and all the women in Lance Cove would be much too busy then, ministering as best they could to the cold, wounded and dying men who came or who were brought into their homes to be afraid any longer.

Having received this shocking news, Mr Rees immediately phoned Pop Russell, the head constable of the Bell Island Constabulary, who, surprisingly, had not yet been informed about what was happening. In a matter of minutes he was at the forge in his police car to pick up my Mr Rees and together they sped off towards Lance Cove beach. Lloyd was left with instructions to lock up the forge and bring Dan home.

Needless to say, old Dan returned to Lance Cove at a much quicker pace than his leisurely trot earlier in the day. With Lloyd standing in the box-cart and hanging on for dear life to a secured loop in the reins, he galloped straight out almost all the way and soon arrived at the rise in the road just before Mr. Tom Lahey’s store. From there Lloyd had only a partial view of the anchorage, but he could clearly see the widening circle of debris marking the spots where the ships had gone down. There were also some small boats bobbing around and gunfire could be heard from the shore battery further to the east and closer to the loading piers.

Hurrying on, Lloyd and old Dan soon arrived at the top of Pitts’ Hill. From there the scene that lay before him, now all in clear view and much closer, seemed more like a bad dream than anything that could be real. What was the most incredible sight was that of the EVELYN B, zigzagging around the anchorage like something gone berserk! Her gun blazing away almost non stop, and each time she swerved into a sharp turn it looked as if she were teetering on the brink of capsizing. Lloyd never imagined a ship like that could move so fast. It was unbelievable!

The EVELYN B having spotted the enemy U-boat and having fired upon it, quickly weighed anchor and was underway by the time the LORD STRATHCONA was hit, but not before lowering and manning lifeboats in an effort to save some of the men of the SAGANAGA. In recognition of his gallantry and that of his crew, Captain Clayton L. Guy, a native of Burgeo, was Mentioned in British Admiralty Dispatches and was later made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.


The Pugnacious Little EVELYN B.

Because of the spunky action of that little ship and the alertness of her gunners, fewer men were to die that day than would have otherwise been the case. The ROSECASTLE and PLM-27 were given a temporary reprieve. Foolhardy indeed would have been Ruggeberg had he dared to expose the periscope of his craft once more in the presence of such fury. The PLM-27 was still in range and the ROSECASTLE and the DRAKEPOOL still tied up at the piers. These latter two, as he noted in his log, had been spotted by Ruggeberg on his way into the anchorage earlier in the morning and he planned to deliver to them, and the loading piers, a coup de main on his “way back out”. How terribly frustrating it must have been for him to have this extraordinary opportunity foiled by such an unlikely adversary as a little coal tramp.

The U-513, being a type IXC U-Boat, carried a compliment of 22 torpedoes. The six positioned in her firing tubes were now discharged, so there was need to rearm. Either Little Bell Island or Kelly’s Island would have provided total protection from the shore battery in order to carry out whatever preparations were necessary for the continuation of the attack. A low fog bank hovering over the calm water limited ceiling visibility to a mere couple of hundred feet, so there was little chance of her being spotted by patrolling aircraft, and it would be several hours yet before the RCN Corvettes and Q-boats which had set out from St. John’s would arrive on the scene.

Commander Ruggeberg chose discretion as the better part of valour and while insuring that his ship remained submerged, retraced his course out of the bay and into the relative safety of the open sea. The surface ripple supposedly caused by the retreating U-boat was observed by Captain Saunders of the ferry, MANECO. It passed under the guns of the shore battery and within only a few hundred yards of the ships at the loading piers. Many other books written on the subject of the attack state that U-513 shadowed the EVELYN B while leaving the bay. This is unlikely however seeing as the EVELYN B went to anchor on the far side of Little Bell Island and didn’t leave the bay until the next day.

A great crowd of people had gathered on the seashore near Lance Cove wharf, many of them obviously crew members of the sunken ships who had made it ashore. The risk of being so exposed to the presence of real danger appeared in all the hubbub and confusion to be of no concern. If it were, there was no evidence of it. Had the U-boat been forced to surface, the temptation on the part of its fanatical crew to shell the area might have been too much to resist. Amongst the vehicles near the wharf were several canopied army trucks from Bell Island’s Militia and a few private cars and trucks from Wabana. Pop Russell’s white police cap could be seen in the melee, and it was he who seemed to be in charge of whatever procedures were being carried out for the evacuation of the survivors.

Out in the anchorage, most of the rescue craft, lifeboats launched from the EVELYN B and the LORD STRATHCONA, and fishing boats from Lance Cove, were gathered around where the SAGANAGA had gone down. Butler’s custom’s boat was the only one of those small craft that Lloyd could recognize as it looked for victims amongst the flotsam.

Lloyd had arrived in the yard and was unharnessing Dan with the intention of putting him in the barn when Mr Rees appeared with instructions that he was to take Dan in over the hill to the “big garden” pasture. Not wanting to miss any of the excitement Lloyd rebelled at this, but the look of chastisement he received in return warned him that this was not the time to argue his case. At first he assumed that it was because of the saturated and exhausted condition of Dan that his dad was so edgy, but he realized later that it was more likely because he wanted his son removed from whatever it was that was going on in and around the house at the time.

The thirteen survivors and the three bodies from the SAGANAGA were brought ashore to the wharf in Lance Cove. Dr. Walter Templeman had now arrived on the scene and examined the rescued men. Those needing further medical attention were rushed immediately to his surgery in Wabana. Those in better shape were taken to the homes closest to the seashore where they were provided with reviving nourishment and dry clothing. Later that day the survivors were assembled in the town hall and provided with new outfits by the Women’s Patriotic Association, an assemblage of virtually all the women of the community who devoted their skills and spare time to providing warm knitted clothing and other necessities for the boys overseas. The three bodies having been examined by Dr. Templeman were laid temporarily in Jimmy Gus’ back store. It was this, presumably, that he did not want Lloyd to see.

For that first foray by a marauding member of the “Atlantic Wolf-Packs” into the seclusion of the anchorage, the services of the homes in Lance Cove were not much required. The day was warm, it was broad daylight, and even though the water was cold the surviving men who were exposed to it were soon cared for and whisked away to warmth and shelter by the civic and military personnel who were quickly on the scene. It was to be very different when another wolf returned for a second kill in November.

The guns at the shore battery were still firing and Lloyd could see that other gunfire, besides that of the EVELYN B, was coming from the ships tied at the loading piers. The PLM-27 who had been anchored just off Lance Cove had weighed anchor and had disappeared somewhere out of sight, presumably heading out the bay in order to seek the protection of the approaching corvettes. Shells were exploding all around the anchorage, and because of the low elevation of the guns; particularly those on the ships, some of the shells were skipping unexploded off the surface. It seems almost a miracle that there were no casualties from friendly fire across the bay. One 4 inch shell likely from the ROSECASTLE or EVELYN B did however find its way, luckily without unexploded, into a woodpile in St.Phillips.

Amongst the crowd still lingering about the harbour wharf, the talk was no longer about it having been overheated boilers that caused the explosions. Although it would be some time yet before the reality of it would sink in, everyone knew what had really happened. Death and destruction on such a brutal scale, so unthinkable and so alien to the pastoral serenity of Lance Cove, was not something that could be easily assimilated. Nor was it any easier to accept that war, believed to be so far away, could come so close to their doorstep.

Later in the afternoon when it appeared that the submarine had been driven off, the EVELYN B retreated to safety on the far side of Little Bell Island where she remained until the following day when she was escorted to St, John’s by an RCN Corvette. Undaunted however, the brave little EVELYN B returned within days to unload her cargo of coal at the pier and then set out once again, without convoy, for Sydney.


Because of the unexpectedness of the attack and the suddenness with which she sank, there was great loss of life on the SAGANAGA. Of her crew of forty-three, twenty-nine perished and of those only four bodies were recovered.

The crew of the LORD STRATHCONA were more fortunate. After the torpedoing of the SAGANAGA which had been anchored within hailing distance, they expected the fate of their ship to be similar and immediate. However, because of the clumsy manoeuvring of the U-boat, there was adequate time for the order to abandon ship to be completely carried out. Of her crew of forty-five, not a single man was lost or injured.

The following day saw the largest funeral service ever witnessed on Bell Island up to that point in time. The three bodies, all of British seamen, recovered on the day of the sinkings, were provided with coffins by DOSCO and waked overnight in the Wabana municipal building. Hundreds of local residents, the survivors of the sunken ships, crew members of the ships remaining in harbour, military and civic dignitaries and a guard of honour accompanied the funeral procession as it wended its way towards the Church of England cemetery where the remains were laid to rest. The body of a fourth British seaman which was recovered later, was later interred in the same place.

The water where the SAGANAGA went down was so shallow that the tip of one of her masts remained protruding above the surface for many months afterwards. Apart from being a serious hazard to navigation in the anchorage, it made it very easy to locate her position. Often when the water was calm and clear, the younger lads in Lance Cove would row out to look down upon her shattered hulk. It was an eerie and unsettling experience that not everyone dared do, especially since the body of one of the victims could be clearly seen spread-eagle on the foredeck with one of his arms trapped beneath a piece of the wreckage. That body remained visible until an accumulation of seaweed, snagged by the wreck, concealed it from sight.

If there was apprehension hanging in the air in the coming days as the residents looked out over the anchorage, and concern for the ships that continued to come to their moorings there, increasing rather than diminishing in numbers, there was never in anyone’s mind a shadow of doubt of what the inevitable outcome would be. Indeed, the blackout regulations were taken more seriously; the rationing and other minor inconveniences treated with greater tolerance, but now there was a better understanding of what some of the best of the young men of Lance Cove and Bell Island, off to war in their navy uniforms, were having to contend with, and a deep-seated certainty that in the end they would prevail.


Upon returning from taking Dan to his pasture, Lloyd did not tarry long at the beach but went instead to his grandmother’s house to see how his mother and the others were doing. He found them all standing around the front-yard gate, gazing in bewildered silence at the subsiding chaos in the distant anchorage. Mrs Rees, with baby Jim held closely in her arms was weeping; still very much shaken by the harrowing event that had brought her there.

Looking out upon the littered surface of the bay, once more restored to relative calm and quiet, it was hard to grasp the nightmarish reality of the past four hours; hard to imagine that this beautiful place was no longer a safe haven from the ravages of war; hard to imagine that the flotsam drifting incongruously on the outgoing tide was all that remained of the ships that a few hours ago had been riding peacefully at their moorings; it was harder still to imagine that beneath that shimmering surface lay, silenced forever, the voices of so many young men who such a short time before awoke to welcome the splendour of that beautiful autumn day.

Mr Rees arrived shortly thereafter and together they all returned to their home on the beach; changed forever, as were all the people in Lance Cove, and Bell Island by an event that robbed them of the innocence of their isolation. Nothing would ever be the same again; nothing could ever be the same again. The world had suddenly become a much smaller place; the concept of distance and of being far removed from that with which was almost impossible to identify, rudely redefined. The long arm of an unseen enemy had reached into their midst and could return. They knew that now, with a certainty soon to be confirmed by an even more treacherous act of cruelty. But the next time, there would be no time for crying.

Part 2 – No Time for Crying


Sunday , November 1st 1942 was All Saints Day in Newfoundland. While the Church of England residents in Lance Cove were attending Church Service at 3 p.m., the ore carrier SS PLM-27 moved from its berth at the loading pier to the anchorage. The only thing unusual about this was how close she was to shore when she dropped anchor. She was so close in fact that after church Lloyd stood on the wharf and called out to Tony, a young black deck hand not much older than himself, whom he had befriended while he was on shore leave during one of the earlier visits of his ship to Bell Island that previous summer.


PLM 27

Because of the noisy clatter on the ship, it is unlikely that Tony would have heard Lloyd call out to him from the wharf, but he did see him there and waved from the railings on the foredeck. Lloyd walked over to Mr. Hussey’s store where some of the young folk usually gathered after church for ice cream and other treats. The conversation was mostly about the PLM-27 being so unusually close to shore and speculation as to whether the water there would be deep enough to cover her if she should get sunk. It would not be long before they were to find out that indeed it was.

There was another seaman on the PLM-27 whom some of the local boys got to know or at least got to recognize because, besides being one of the few white crew members, he was so different in other ways. The local boys called him ‘Pop’ for he seemed to them to be an old man, although it is doubtful if he would have been much over fifty. ‘Pop’ would come ashore with the rest of the crew who were on shore leave and set out with them for the taverns and shops of Wabana. However he always returned alone, long before the others, to sit on Lance Cove wharf and await the arrival of the launch that would take him and his companions back to their ship.

On summer evenings just about every young lad in Lance Cove gathered on the wharf to jig tomcods, “conners” (blue perch), flatfish and sculpins. Late in the evening was the best time because it was then that “seacats” (catfish) and huge “maiden-rays” (skate) came in to shallow water to feed. Lloyd clearly recalled ‘Pop’ on some of those summer evenings sitting on the bollard on the wharf; always the same one, the one farthest out on the southeast corner of the wharf, the packages with which he had returned placed near his feet and guarded carefully. There he sat, sometimes for hours on end watching the young lads play. As young boys are apt to do, they sometimes teased him. It was not however in a cruel manner but rather more in an effort to communicate with him which of course was impossible because of the language barrier. The PLM (Paris-Lyon-Marseilles) was crewed mostly by French-speaking sailors, likely from the French colonies in Africa, . ‘Pop’ seemed like such a gentle and kindly man who tolerated mischievousness with a smile as if he too in his obvious lonesomeness wanted only to make friends.

‘Pop’ was the first person Lloyd ever watched die. The men who brought him  ashore, scantily clad and fouled with bunker oil, placed him on the daybed in Lloyd’s kitchen. ‘Pop’ died in the midst of men crying from the cold and retching from the oily sea water they had swallowed; in the midst of women trying to comfort them and cover their nakedness with bed sheets or whatever else they could find that was not already sopping wet. This was done while at the same time trying to get close enough to the stove to keep the kettles boiling for hot tea; downed by the shocked and shivering sailors as fast as it could be brewed. That was the surroundings in which ‘Pop’ lived out the last few minutes of his last visit to Lance Cove. Dr. Templeman sat beside him, wiping away the grime from his still gentle face and holding his hand with such obvious tenderness and compassion as to much defy any ability to describe it. It was a profoundly moving scene and all the more so because of the shocking incongruity of its setting.

As Lloyd stood there filled with remorse, feeling terribly guilty about the times he and others had teased ‘Pop’, he wondered, as he would many times in the future, who the gifts he purchased on his shore leave were intended for. It was comforting to think that they were for his own children in some far off place, and if so, he would have understood the thoughtless ways of the young boys and known that they meant no harm or disrespect. After about fifteen minutes or so, Lloyd heard Dr Templeman say, “he’s gone”. The good doctor then hurried off to do what he could for the other injured and the dying men needing his attention in some of the other homes in Lance Cove.

‘Pop’s’ body was quickly moved to make room for others who needed that place on the daybed, and in the haste of the moment was placed on the floor of the pantry where it hindered access to whatever might still have been remaining on the pantry shelves. Lloyd recalled Fanny Vaters pleading with some of the men to take enough time off from their rescue work to remove the body to some more respectful place.

Sailors Being Sailors

During those hectic war years, shore leave for some of the other ships’ crews was not always as orderly as those of the PLM-27. The Greek sailors were particularly boisterous and if they happened to be around when there was a dance at one of the local schools a row was inevitable. On one occasion Lloyd saw them fight amongst themselves with beer bottles and one old man had a bottle smashed on his bald pate. Apart from being a little bloodied, he seemed none the worse for the blow. They were a tough and rowdy bunch! On other occasions they would sometimes return from their visit to the taverns intoxicated and in a mood for “raising Cain” by terrorizing any young girls who happened to be around and by attempting to take fishing boats from Lance Cove beach without permission. No one would volunteer to row them back to their ships in that condition. This sometimes resulted in fisticuffs with the locals of Lance Cove and on one occasion what started as a scuffle turned into a real brawl that might have ended in bloodshed had cooler heads not prevailed.

It happened one night when a group of about twenty Greek sailors returned, ‘three sheets to the wind’ from the taverns in Wabana. Failing by offers of money and by threats to persuade anyone to row them out to their ship, they tried to take some small fishing boats that were tied up at Lance Cove wharf thereby inviting a fist fight with some of the local boys who were on hand.

The area near the wharf was known as uncle Solly’s meadow (likely named after Mr Solomon Rees), where there was a small field for pitching horse shoes. It was the hang-out place for all the young people in Lance Cove in those days, and a rendezvous point for the lads and girls who were of courting age. On summer evenings it was a jolly place to be, for, besides fishing off the wharf and pitching horse shoes, there were many other games such as hide-and-seek, burrow-up and “bazzing marbles” that were engaged in depending on the age of the group and the mood of the moment. The constant traffic of foreign sailors to and from the ships that were nearly always anchored off shore, added only another dimension to the ongoing excitement and fun.

As it turns out the local boys were handling themselves pretty well in this particular fight. No doubt it would have soon ended in exhaustion and handshakes if a contingent from the local militia unit had not come marching on the scene with rifles shouldered and bayonets fixed. The sailors, as is still the case with sailors and soldiers, immediately turned on the young militiamen and in a matter of minutes had the contingent completely disarmed. The sailors then shouldered the rifles themselves and marched around taunting the soldiers and terrorizing those who stood there watching. Fortunately everyone kept their cool and eventually the sailors, tiring of their mocking game, threw the rifles aside. Still wanting to return to their ship they launched an old fishing skiff that had been lying abandoned on Lance Cove beach for many years; it was anything but seaworthy. Needless to say they didn’t get more that fifty yards from shore before the leaky old boat sank; leaving the hapless crew to swim for their lives. By now it was dark and the dunking in the cold water restored them somewhat to sobriety. Floundering back to the beach they quickly dispersed somewhere out of sight and sound. The next morning when Mrs. Sandy Bennett went to her barn to milk her cows she found some of them sleeping soundly in her hayloft.


That night when Lloyd went to bed he had a strange feeling of unease; whether it was caused by the conversation earlier in the day at Hussey’s store or because of some premonition, there is no way to tell. However, as he was to discover later, he was not the only one lying awake with a feeling of foreboding.

The SS ROSECASTLE was a freighter operating out of Sydney, Nova Scotia and owned by the Dominion Steel and Coal Corporation. She was employed in the business of transporting iron ore from the DOSCO mines at Wabana to the DOSCO smelters in North Sydney and carried a crew of forty-three, most of whom were Canadians and Newfoundlanders.

The ROSECASTLE’s Chief Engineer who was suffering from the terrible stress caused by his hazardous occupation remained ashore for this fateful last trip of his ship to Wabana. Though he was due for retirement, Chief Henderson who had been the Chief Engineer on the LORD STRATHCONA when she was torpedoed and sunk less than 2 months before, volunteered to take his place for one last run to Wabana and back. The Chief too had a feeling of impending disaster that night and talked about it with his friend, Mr Ananias Rees, who was the DOSCO Superintendent at the pier. Chief Henderson seemed so distressed that Ananias invited him to spend the night ashore as a guest in his home. Not wanting to leave his shipmates and his ship should he be needed, he declined the invitation. Chief Henderson was also a musician and asked Ananias to take his collection of sheet music home with him for safe keeping; sending along with it a gift of chocolates for the two Rees girls, Doris and Enid. That night Chief Henderson went down with his ship. The music collection that was saved was later returned to his family.



From the Window

From his bed Lloyd could see through his bedroom window the PLM-27 cast in silhouette by the light of a crescent moon. High clouds were scudding overhead with a light breeze blowing from the west and there was a feeling of frost in the air. It was a typical fall night in Lance Cove.


The View From Lloyd’s Bedroom Window. Copyright Lloyd Rees.

He was still lying awake at 3:30 a.m. when suddenly his bed was shaken by a violent explosion and he knew in an instant from the direction of the sound that it was the ROSECASTLE. She was lying off “the point” about half way between Lance Cove and Scotia pier. Lloyd immediately ran to his sister’s bedroom window which overlooked the eastern portion of the anchorage, arriving  before the debris flung in the air had settled back upon the water. He could see that the ROSECASTLE, deeply laden with her heavy cargo of iron ore was mortally wounded. A few seconds later, as he watched from the window, she was hit by a second torpedo that tore her apart in a blinding flash. With bow and stern sticking almost vertically in the air she quickly vanished beneath the surface. The loss of life on board was horrendous for there was little time for the men who were sleeping below decks to escape. Those not killed instantaneously by the explosions, crushed by flying debris or drowned by the in-rush of water, would have been caught in the scalding horror of superheated steam bursting from the ruptured boilers. It’s impossible to imagine how anyone could have escaped such devastation, but miraculously some of them did. Of the eight Newfoundlanders who were on board, five were lost; including one young man from Bell Island, John Fillier, who had joined the ship the evening before. Altogether, of her crew of forty-three, only fifteen survived.

Hurrying from his sister’s bedroom, Lloyd paused at the top of the stairway where he could see through his bedroom window that the PLM-27 was starting to weigh anchor and already starting to move in an attempt to get away. Looking back, he sometimes thought about that action on the part of the crew to save the ship as being a foolish act of valour. Surely they must have realized that being anchored in such narrow confines and in the near presence of an enemy U-boat which was surfaced so it could travel at high-speed, their chances of being able to escape where practically nil. Pinned between the cliffs and the U-Boat there was no place they could have turned that would not have brought their ship in even closer range. Their previous good fortune in being able to escape in September, when their ship was similarly threatened, was more a consequence of the inexperience of the U-boat’s crew than it was a consequence of the PLM being able to get out of range before that U-boat could rearm. Had a flare from the PLM been sent up earlier, revealing the surfaced submarine, and it’s guns readied, the odds might have been a little more even. Or, what might have been a wiser decision, to abandon ship, as was the case with the LORD STRATHCONA, it is unlikely that as many lives would have been lost. This however, is simply the wisdom of hindsight, and in any case the crew of the PLM had little time to debate their options. The alarm having been sounded by the torpedoing of the ROSECASTLE, there was at least time for most of the crew to get on deck and consequently fewer lives were lost.

Lloyd’s immediate concern was for his young brother, Don, who was still sleeping in his cot downstairs. Seeing that the PLM-27 was getting underway, and being fearful that if a torpedo should miss, it would likely come ashore and demolish the house, he wanted his dad to move Don to the cellar where he believed he would be safer. This of course was not a very sensible suggestion, seeing as there in the dampness, the cold and the darkness, his chances of dying of terror were at least as great as the house being hit by a torpedo. Mr Rees was hastily dressing to join the rescue party that would soon be gathering on the beach. Lloyd wouldn’t see him again until after daylight.

The time it takes to describe the brief interlude between the sinking of the two ships is much longer than the time it took for it to actually happen. Lloyd was still standing at the head of the stairway, watching the PLM-27 when she was struck by the first torpedo. Instead of remaining there, he ran downstairs and out the front doorway onto the road; still barefoot and still in his pyjamas.

It was while he was standing outside the door that a second torpedo hit the PLM-27; ripping her asunder as if she were made of match-wood. Could Tony or anyone else still on board have survived such a fearful blast he wondered. Her bow section swung up vertically and began to sink, but the stern remained afloat, tipped at a steep angle; her propeller and rudder grotesquely high in the air. Flames were starting inside the remaining hull and what seemed strangely odd was that electric lights were being turned on inside and around the bridge which was located amidships.

The PLM-27, unlike the other ore ships familiar to most, carried her bridge amidships and funnel aft. It was from there that a flare was sent up; illuminating the anchorage in a bright eerie red glow that clearly revealed the submarine, completely surfaced, as it moved slowly westward towards the east end of Little Bell Island. It was directly opposite Lloyd’s house, with what remained of the PLM-27 in between, so that if a torpedo had missed its target his fears would most likely have been horrifyingly realized; particularly if the torpedo had impacted against Lance Cove wharf which was also directly in front of the house.

Standing there on the roadway in his pyjamas, spellbound by the horror of the scene before his eyes, Lloyd waited, expecting any moment to see shell bursts from the shore battery erupting around the surfaced submarine. It was such an easy target, so much bigger than the objects sometimes towed around the bay for target practice, and seeming not in the least bit concerned with being exposed so vulnerably by the flare from the PLM-27. Brazenly and leisurely the U-boat cruised along the surface as if daring anyone to challenge her presence. Slowly the flare fell back into the sea; slowly the stern of the PLM-27, lights still burning, slid beneath the surface, and the evil demon from the deep slithered off into the darkness. Instead of gunfire, the only sound was the screaming of men struggling in the cold water and a strange low-frequency pulsing noise coming from the submarine’s diesels. By now the men from Lance Cove were arriving, running from every direction towards the wharf and beach. Lloyd returned to the house to light the fire in the kitchen stove.


Lance Cove Wharf and Lloyd’s House. It was from the roadway in front of the house that Lloyd observed the final moments of the PLM 27 and watched U-518 disappear in the darkness.


The fire in the hall stove was already going, it was lit as soon as cold weather arrived and kept going all winter. Thinking he’d have lots of time to get dressed after he got the kitchen fire lit, Lloyd was very much unprepared when, before the kindling was sufficiently hot to place on the coals, the first survivors came stumbling through the door to crowd huddling over the cold stove. Some of them, shivering uncontrollably, kept trying to hold Lloyd in their arms for warmth, leaving him helpless to attend to the fire and soon wet and almost as cold as they were. Lloyd had no recollection of when, where or how he finally managed to get dressed and get the fire in the kitchen stove properly underway.

The PLM-27 was operated under the auspices of the British Ministry of War Transport and was manned mostly by black members of the Free French. All of the first survivors to arrive at Lloyd’s house were crew members of the PLM. Having been aroused so rudely from their bunks, they were clad only in their briefs or else stark naked, except for their life jackets which many of them had subsequently torn in two parts and attached to their feet to provide some protection while walking over the beach stones.

Any attempt to describe the situation existing in the house that morning would be futile and might better be imagined. The babble of foreign languages, men moaning from their injuries, from the shock and the cold, and from the nauseous sea water they had swallowed, the hectic pace of those who were trying to help and to console them. Needless to say there was barely standing room on the floors that were soon covered with discarded clothing, oily sea water and vomit that was at times in places almost ankle-deep. Besides Mrs Rees who was then five months pregnant with Lloyd’s sister, Vivian, and Fanny Vaters, the housekeeper, many other women whose homes were farther removed from the seashore came to help; bringing with them food and dry clothing.

Now, if it can be imagined, in the midst of all this commotion, the main power switch was turned off, creating a total black-out on Bell Island and leaving all in darkness. Apart from flashlights and candles, the only other available light in the house was a single oil lamp that was always kept in readiness for emergency purposes. It was then that Lloyd remembered the tin oil lamp that was hung on the wall in the barn besides the cow stall. It was usually his chore to do the milking which did not always get done before dark; especially on winter afternoons when there was hockey on the pond.

Upon feeling his way into the barn over what he supposed was a heap of discarded clothing, he reached the lamp but found that the head of the nail with which it was attached to the wall was larger than the hole through which it protruded. Not wanting to damage the lamp, it was some time before he could wriggle the hole big enough to free it and by then his eyes had adjusted to the darkness. With the lamp finally freed he turned to head back to the house but was horrified to see that what he’d walked over near the doorway was not only a heap of discarded clothing but the bodies of two men; ‘Pop’ and that of a black man whose eyes were still open and staring blankly in death. In the gray dimness of the false dawn and the waning moon, it was a gruesome sight. Foolhardy he may have been on occasion, but brave he was not. It was Constable Fury who heard Lloyd calling out for help and arriving with his flashlight, he was able to light him out without the necessity of having to step on those bodies again.

Constable Fury

Lloyd had other memories of Constable Fury, all of them fond. He was a member of the Newfoundland Constabulary who was posted in Lance Cove at the beginning of the war. Prior to his arrival, a Newfoundland Ranger had been posted there but he operated out of a boarding house and was not much involved in the ordinary events of the community. Constable Fury was a policeman, but he was also a friend of all in Lance Cove. His little guard-house, equipped with a telephone, emergency first-aid equipment and a tiny little coal stove was located on the beach, close to Lance Cove wharf and only a stone’s throw from Lloyd’s house. Many are the hours the young people spent with him there; enjoying his company and his hearty good Irish humour.

One day early in the summer while Lloyd was chopping down a dead tree in the glebe for kindling wood, a portion of the top broke off and in falling, a sharp spike from one of the branches pierced the skin on his forehead just above his right eyebrow tearing an ugly gash. Temporarily blinded, Lloyd was sure that he’d lost an eye. Constable Fury saw him come running down over Pitts’s hill, his face covered with blood. He was in the house with his first-aid kit in hand almost as soon as Lloyd arrived there. It wasn’t long before he had him patched up and assured that no serious damage was done other than a little flesh wound that would soon heal. Lloyd would always have a scar as a souvenir of that event.

On June 10th, 1940, after the fall of France and the Dunkirk humiliation, Mussolini, convinced of the certainty of German victory, brought Italy into the war with the hope that his ‘great friend’, the Feuhrer, would share with him some of the spoils. Britain was now at war with Italy and so, automatically, was Newfoundland.

On that day there were three ore boats anchored off Lance Cove, one of them manned mostly by Italians. Lloyd had a vague recollection that the ship was also Italian, but was not certain. What he was certain about was that on that day Constable Fury commandeered a flat-bottomed skiff that was tied up at Lance Cove wharf and, carrying only his side arm, rowed back and forth to the ship until he had brought all the Italian crew to shore. At the time Lloyd thought it was a wonderfully brave thing that he had done, but upon later reflection it was plain that the Italians were more than delighted to be “captured” and removed to safety. That at least was the impression that they gave as they stood unguarded on Lance Cove wharf; laughing and chatting cheerfully amongst themselves while they waited for their ‘captor’ to complete his round-up and paddle the last of their shipmates to shore.


Now back again to the events of November 2nd. One of the worst handicaps grievously hindering the rescue operations that morning was the heavy bunker oil oozing from the wrecks and congealing on the surface of the cold water in a thick gooey mass. Not only was manoeuvring through it extremely difficult, but soon the little boats involved in the rescue and the men themselves were covered with it while trying to remove the hapless victims from its horrible grip. Their oars became so slimy that it was almost impossible to hold on to them. Under those circumstances, those that were obviously dead were temporarily left so that the rescue boats could make every effort to reach those who were crying out for help.

If there is one thing that stood out most vividly in Lloyd’s memory, it was the screaming in darkness of terrified and drowning men. As the night moved slowly towards the dawn and as more and more survivors swam to shore or were otherwise rescued, the screaming gradually ceased until finally, just before daylight there was only one voice left. That lone voice seemed to be coming from away in the distance beyond where the PLM-27 had gone down; as if whoever it was that was calling out had swum away from the shore in panic or else had drifted away clinging to a piece of wreckage. After what seemed like endless minutes, that voice too was stilled. Of all the tragic events of that awful morning, it is the cry of that one last lonely voice that haunted him. Was that cry for help finally answered, or was it finally silenced in the icy waters; Lloyd never knew.

With the ROSECASTLE being farther from the shore and much farther from Lance Cove wharf, rescue work around where she had gone down was the most difficult. The survivors from the PLM were more fortunate. Those who were not too seriously injured were able to swim to safety before being trapped in the deadly goo and were not so long exposed to the cold water. That and having received warning which enabled most to escape from below deck, resulted in the death toll amongst her crew being relatively low. Of her crew of fifty, only twelve were lost.

Whether or not Tony was amongst those lucky survivors, Lloyd was unable to find out even though he searched for him and inquired. Hopefully he was taken to one of several other homes in Lance Cove where survivors were being cared for. With so much going on, it was hard to tell who was where. A few survivors on a raft, and some bodies, were picked up by an RCN Corvette that arrived on the scene in the early dawn, but it is most likely that they would have been members of the ROSECASTLE’s crew.

There was not much Lloyd could do in the house to help other than tend the fires, but with so many women bustling around the kitchen stove he was hardly needed for that; certainly it was no place for anyone who did not have some useful task to perform. Someone else had gotten the fire going in the little Franklin dining room stove.

Going outside, Lloyd met up with some of his buddies who were standing together in a group. There was Dan Churchill, Thomas Hammond, Bill Rees and his cousin Sterling Rees, amongst others. Two or three of them decided that they would walk down along the shore to see if they could find anyone who needed help. They had not gone far, not more than quarter of a mile, when they heard splashing and could tell from the florescence in the water that someone was swimming near the shore. Upon coming closer they saw that it was a huge black man who appeared to be quite capable of taking care of himself. He looked them up and down suspiciously. Not being able to communicate with him, they kept their distance and watched as he crawled up on the beach, made slippers for his feet from his life jacket and set off towards the house. It had been at least an hour and a half since the PLM-27 had sank, so they wondered why it had taken him so long to swim to shore, considering that many of the others had arrived in a much shorter time. Concluding that he must have swum up from the ROSECASTLE, or floated in on some wreckage, they continued on their way a little farther. The farther they went the more uneasy they became, but relieved that they didn’t find anyone else. It was a scary feeling and a scary place to be.

When Lloyd returned to the house to inquire whether Mrs Rees needed him for anything, he saw amongst the crowd a young British sailor who could not have been more than twenty years old, sitting alongside the dining room stove. He was still wearing his navy uniform, was in obvious distress and was pleading for information on the whereabouts of one of his friends. Lloyd gathered from his impassioned pleas that he was a gunner on the PLM-27 and that his friend was also a British sailor and fellow gunner. Lloyd thought he knew where his friend was but didn’t say anything until he knew for sure. Sometime before, while he was standing out in the yard, Lloyd saw two men carrying a young man who appeared to be dressed in a sailor’s uniform along the pathway on the beach side of the yard fence. Upon making inquiries, Lloyd soon found out that he was indeed a young British Navy man. His back was broken and he died shortly thereafter in the home of Mr. Ralph Rees. Not having any good news to bring to the young man who was weeping in his dining room, Lloyd stayed away. He was sure the distraught sailor would find out about his friend soon enough.


Daylight finally crept into the sky and it was then that one of the strangest events of the morning occurred. Looking down along the eastern shore towards the Point, Lloyd could see a man approaching, capless but otherwise dressed in full officer’s uniform; including a great-coat which came down to his ankles. The story he told was that while leaping off the side of the sinking ROSECASTLE, a pocket of air became trapped inside his great-coat and it was this that kept him afloat as he swam towards the shore which he reached on the far side of the point. There, he was close to the Scotia pier but could not proceed in that direction because of the headland which rises vertically out of the sea, and so, turning around, he walked towards Lance Cove and was only now arriving.

That seemed like such an unlikely tale that it is not surprising that wild speculation was soon flying around that he was a German spy who knew about the U-boat’s presence and intent, and had hidden himself on shore before his ship was sunk. This was almost certainly nonsense and the figment of overwrought imaginations, but there were many spy stories rumoured in those days and some well founded in fact. One such story had at least some good grounds for credibility.

Lloyd’s spy story happened this way. It was later during the summer of 1943, at about 11 o’clock at night, and Lloyd had gone to the outhouse for a pre-bedtime visit. While he was sitting in the privy he thought he could hear voices out on the water. Sure enough, standing by the fence, he could hear more clearly that the voices were coming from somewhere in the vicinity of Dickie Kent’s motor boat that was moored at the “collars” just off Lance Cove beach. Lloyd could also see the flickering glow from a small flashlight that was being turned on and off intermittently. The men, there were at least two of them out there, were speaking in low voices but no matter how much he strained his ears, he couldn’t understand anything that was being said  despite the air being still and the water perfectly calm. Neither was there anything he could see, the night being “pitch-black”, other than the occasional flickering of the flashlight.

Calling his dad from bed and his mom who was still up, they listened together at the fence but could make no sense of why anyone would be out there on the water at that hour of the night. There were no ore boats on the anchorage that might have accounted for their presence. It seemed apparent that whoever those men were, they were up to no good. Suspicious, Mr Rees thought it warranted calling it in to the emergency number he had been allocated as a member of the A.R.P. While Jimmy Gus departed to make the call, Lloyd and his mom remained standing at the fence to see if anyone came to shore; no one did.

A.R.P. stood for Air Raid Patrol. Mr Rees, Mr Peter Pitts, and other men in Lance Cove who were members, were each issued a stirrup pump intended for use in case of incendiary shelling. As members of the A.R.P.,  they were required to identify themselves by displaying prominently a large card bearing those letters in a window of their homes, and to wear an armband similarly marked; not that anyone actually wore it. Fortunately, there was no occasion when the stirrup pumps had to be used for their intended purpose, although it could quite conceivably have been otherwise. The pumps came in handy after the war for spraying the fruit trees in kitchen gardens.

About half an hour or so after Mr Rees phoned in his report, a Q-Boat came racing up the bay; her powerful searchlight probing into the darkness far ahead. The searchlight was beamed around Dickie Kent’s motorboat; around Lance Cove wharf, along the shore, and in widening circles around the anchorage, but there was nothing unusual to be seen. Since no depth charges were dropped, presumably there was no indication that there might be a submarine lurking somewhere in the neighbourhood. Whoever those men were, and what they were doing off the shore in Lance cove that night, remains a mystery.


The tragic drama that folded in Lance Cove that November night was not an isolated incident commencing and ending there. Though almost insignificant in comparison with some of the more horrendous acts of cruelty and destruction being carried out elsewhere in the world, by its preamble, consequence and affinity, it symbolized the horror and the triumph, the happiness and the sadness of that tumultuous era. Reaching out and down the years, it was a time that marked memories and the memories of those many, many thousands, both friend and foe, whose lives did not remain untouched by its passing.

When daylight came the shore battery opened up, directing its fire towards the western extremity of the anchorage. Residents of Lance Cove could easily hear the whistle of the shells as they whizzed by. A number of military vehicles had assembled along the beach to take away survivors, and some small boats were still searching amongst the flotsam for bodies and possible survivors who might still be clinging to bits of wreckage.

There was no evidence of any serious attempt being made to hunt down the submarine before ten and eleven o’clock that morning. The reason for this, people were told, was that the corvettes and planes assigned to patrol Conception Bay were away (with the exception of 2 Q-boats and HMCS DRUMHELLER); escorting a number of cargo ships from St. John’s to WESTOMP, (the Western Ocean Meeting Point) where allied shipping from the eastern seaboard converged to join the transatlantic conveys. If this was the case, it is likely that the U-boat commander may have been aware of it and picked such a time to carry out his mischief. When the corvettes and aircraft finally did arrive to scour the bay, the waters were severely pounded but, as is now known, the raider they were hunting had long since departed.

Following the sinking of the SAGANAGA and the LORD STRATHCONA, Conception Bay and particularly the area around Bell Island, was patrolled on a regular basis by aircraft and by high-speed submarine chasers referred to as Q-boats because of the manner in which they were identified. Those little craft, mostly wooden hulled, were lightly armed for their own protection, carrying only one small calibre gun on their foredeck. They were also equipped with ASDIC, a submarine detection and range-finding device and on their stern, a deadly rack of depth charges were mounted in throwing traps. They were a familiar sight in Lance Cove, racing up and down the bay, sometimes dropping depth charges which, if nothing else, brought up great quantities of codfish to float belly up on the surface. One day a huge finback whale, measuring fifty feet in length, likely an unfortunate casualty of one of those depth charges, was found floating in the bay and towed ashore to the beach by a local fisherman. Whales were regular visitors to the bay but not many had an opportunity to examine one up-close. The British base for the Western Atlantic Convoy Escort Group was located in St. John’s and was manned primarily by the Royal Canadian Navy. The Canadians as well as their American comrades based at Fort Pepperrell fondly called their adopted city Newfyjohn; from which derived, and stuck, the infamous label for the local population, “Newfie”; one of the more ignoble legacies of the war.

Aircraft based in Torbay also kept a vigilant watch over the ore ships arriving at Bell Island, and it was not unusual to see them carrying out target practice over Little Bell Island. Sometimes while berry picking there, it was not uncommon for boys from Lance Cove to come across fragments of those small practice bombs and, occasionally, one that had not exploded on impact. Foolishly unmindful of the danger, they would drop those over the cliff side, expecting them to make a big bang; they never did. Lloyd often wished that he’d kept one of those brass encapsulated bombs as a souvenir, but considering the possibility of less desirable consequences, dropping them over the cliff side was probably the better choice after all.

Besides the ROSECASTLE and the PLM-27, three other ships were in port on that fateful morning. Two of those ships were loading at the piers and the third, a coal boat, was anchored off the Big Head; only a short distance from the Scotia pier. Those ships were the ANNA T, SS FLYINGDALE, and the SS PENOLVER. The PENOLVER would herself be lost with 26 of her crew on 19 Oct 1943 after hitting a mine layed by U-220 not far from St.John’s

During the initial moments of the attack that night, one of the torpedos fired in the initial salvo by U-518, likely meant for the ANNA T anchored near Scotia pier or the FLYINGDALE moored at the pier, missed its intended target. In doing so the torpedo struck the pier but fortunately this was in an area where it did no serious damage. The crews of the narrowly missed ships and Constable Norman Noseworthy who was on duty that night in his little guard-house nearby, received a frightful shaking up as did most residents of Bell Island who were jolted awake by the explosion that shook the island.


Photo Showing Torpedo Damage to Scotia Pier

The following summer, during school holidays, Lloyd got a job with the construction crew repairing the crater made in the west end of the pier. His job was to assist with the shovelling of the silt into trolley cars as it was being brought up by the dredge for removal from the site. The crater was easily large enough to conceal a typical two-story house and huge timbers from there were flung up over the cliff side and into adjacent fields by the blast. Seeing this, it was easy to understand how such an explosion could rip apart a huge ship in the manner in which he had witnessed.

The bow of the FLYINGDALE which was loading at the at the pier would have protruded some considerable distance beyond the south-west corner of the dock, thus forming a right-angled nook into which the torpedo entered. That being the case, and from the position of the crater, it was easy to deduce that the torpedo must have been fired from the direction in which Lloyd had seen the submarine. Also, considering the ANNA T was anchored off the head  directly in line with that position, it was equally clear that both ships experienced a very narrow miss.

It seems strange that the U-boat commander would not have fired more torpedoes, or being on the surface,  engaged with his deck gun the ships tied up at the piers. Surely he was aware of their presence and must have realized the devastating blow it would have been, not only to the island’s mining operations but to the war effort, if he had succeeded in sinking them in their berths. As we now know, Commander Wissmann, concerned with being spotted by the sweeping searchlights and having fired all but one of his six readied torpedos, was pressed for time in which to attack and after sinking the PLM-27 he made his escape quickly around the southern end of the island. If there is any consolation in the harm that was done, it is in the realization that it could have been much worse. U-518 escaped that day but eventually met her end when she was attacked and sunk by US destroyers north of the Azores on 22 April 1945. None of her crew of 56 survived.

Besides the ugly green sea worms also known as sand lance, that were brought up with the silt and eagerly sought after by Greek sailors when they were in port and used by them for bait while fishing for conners over the side of their ship, fragments of the wayward torpedo were also occasionally brought to the surface and dumped on the silt heap. These consisted mostly of shattered fragments of the torpedo casing and hundreds of pieces of perforated celluloid. It was soon discovered that the thin metal of the casing could be nicely polished, so a good deal of this was taken home and shaped into various knickknacks.

Then, one day a piece of the torpedo was dumped on the silt heap that was obviously not a part of the casing. Lloyd happened to be the closest to it and claimed it as his; finders keepers. The object consisted of a bronze cylinder, about two inches in diameter and four inches in length. It was capped on one end by a large hexagon nut and from the other end protruded a highly polished rod to which was attached by means of a swivel joint a shattered piece of steel rod of a larger diameter and about eight inches in length. The cylinder was engraved with an assortment of numbers and various other markings. Other attachments to it were broken off, including its mounting bracket ,of which only a small portion remained.

When lunch time came, being curious to find out what was inside the cylinder, Lloyd hopped on his bike and took it to his father’s forge. There, he clamped it into a vise.  He got a bit of a start when upon slackening off the cap, a heavy steel coil spring that had been compressed inside was released and flew apart spattering him with the fluid contents. His father who was nervously watching his curious efforts got a bigger scare than he did.

Later that evening after work, much to his dismay, two officials turned up at the forge demanding that he turn the object over to them. They assured Lloyd that after it had been examined and identified it would be returned. He never expected to see his prize find again, but sure enough after several days it was returned and he was told that it was part of the torpedo’s hydraulic steering mechanism.

Thinking that some day he would fashion this into a lamp, Lloyd stored it away for safe keeping. Unfortunately he never got around to making the lamp and soon afterwards he left home. Years later when he looked for it, it was nowhere to be found and no one knew what happened to it. What Lloyd suspected was that sometime in the course of “cleaning-up” it was gathered up with other odds and ends of metal junk, of which there were usually lots around because Mr Rees’ occupation, and thrown over Lance Cove wharf.

This torpedo fragment is described in detail because somewhere, it is still in existence, likely buried somewhere along the beach at Lance Cove. Being made of bronze it would withstand many years of being exposed to the elements. Someone, sometime may find it again and if they should happen to have read this they will know what it is. What Lloyd did manage to hold onto and greatly treasure as a memento of that terrible November night was a spinning wheel lamp that he made from a piece of the ROSECASTLE’s mahogany railing that had drifted ashore and which he had stored away for such a purpose.


Lloyd’s Lamp

Lloyd’s was not the most interesting fragment of that torpedo to be discovered. One morning, when the water was calm and not yet muddied by the dredging, someone noticed a strange object lying on the bottom off the corner of the pier that looked suspiciously like a large section of the torpedo. A derrick was rigged and after many attempts and with the assistance of a nearby Q-Boat, it was finally snagged and brought to the surface. It turned out to be about a four-foot length of the rear section of the torpedo with its propeller and steering rudders still attached. This was placed on the deck of the Q-Boat and carried away, presumably to the naval station in St. John’s.

Remains of Torpedo 1942

After Section of Torpedo fired from U-518 that struck Scotia Pier

The sad events of that tragic night of November 2nd did not end until the following Tuesday when funeral services were held for the twelve victims whose bodies were recovered and, in absentia, for those twenty-eight who remained buried in the deep.

The twelve recovered bodies, placed side by side in their gray caskets, were waked in the Wabana municipal building where hundreds of the island’s residents as well as family and friends from other places, came to pay their final respects. Mining operations were suspended for the day so that workers could attend the funeral services. A guard of honour was assembled which consisted of representatives of the Royal Canadian Navy, the Newfoundland Militia and the Great War Veteran’s Association. These, along with representatives of all the island’s civic organizations attended the huge funeral cortege as it wended its way towards the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches.

Six bodies, including those that were identified as belonging to the Free French were interred in the Roman Catholic cemetery. After the war the bodies of the Free French victims, being members of the Muslim faith, were exhumed and returned to France for burial in their native land.

On the day of the funeral another body, that of the ROSECASTLE’s third mate, Mr. John Green of Nova Scotia, was discovered floating in the bay. His body along with the body of Captain Walter James MacDonald of the ROSECASTLE were returned to Sydney. The remaining five bodies were interred in the Anglican cemetery.

The five Newfoundlanders who lost who lost their lives that morning, all members of the ROSECASTLE’s crew, were: J. Fillier of Bell Island, H. King of St. John’s, F. Burt and C. Hardy of Rose Blanche and W. McLennon of Placentia. Those Newfoundlanders who escaped were: F. Rees of Bell Island; and G. Hardy of Port-aux-Basques.

As far as can be recalled, few if any ships ever ventured up to the anchorage off Lance Cove for the remainder of the war. Soon after the sinking of the ROSECASTLE and the PLM-27, torpedo nets were strung around the piers; thus creating a pound in which the ships would wait in relative safety for loading or for convoy escort. There were no further losses of shipping to enemy U-boats in Conception Bay. The installation and operation of this pound came under the supervision of the RCN in St. John’s where similar nets protecting against torpedo attacks had been strung across the “Narrows”. Mining operations on Bell Island continued at an even more frantic pace and a new term, “Boom Defence”, was added to the vocabulary. The remains of these booms can still be seen piled in the White Hills not far from Quidi Vidi and many of the large cubic concrete mooring blocks can still be found at the pier, Bell Isle beach and in Lance Cove.

A new sound was also added to the sounds of Lance Cove, and it was many days before the residents who were subjected to its mesmerizing presence became sufficiently inured to permit undisturbed sleep. A “groaner buoy” was placed over the wreck of the LORD STRATCHONA and, even on nights when the water was calm, the undertow swell was usually sufficient to insure knowledge of its ominous and aggravating presence. Silent buoys marked the graves of the less hazardous wrecks.

Towards the end of the war somebody mercifully silenced the pestilent voice of the groaner with a rifle shot. The ships eventually came back to their old familiar anchorage spots, happy once more with lights aglow, shimmering like jewels strung out across the welcoming waters of the bay, as if in celebration of a gaiety too long subdued. Peace had returned, the war was over, and the boys would soon be coming home. It was a beautiful sight.


Anchor recovered from the PLM-27 and now part of the Seaman’s Memorial in Lance Cove


Seaman’s Memorial Lance Cove Bell Island circa 1995

Dedication Plaque

Dedication Plaque at the Seaman’s Memorial

Photos of Lance Cove

Over the years I have managed to collect a substantial number of photographs from various sources that depict what Lance Cove and other parts of Bell Island looked like in their earlier days. In some ways the locations depicted have not changed significantly over the years and yet in other less tangible ways they are completely foreign. I’m still hoping that folks will share their historic photos that are locked way in old family albums and shoeboxes collecting dust in cupboards. We owe a debt of gratitude  to the late Mr Lloyd Rees for making many of these photos available as well as for preserving much of the history behind them. Here are a few that should bring back some memories.

House circa 1927

Lance Cove circa 1927

In the photo above you can easily see that the general layout of Lance Cove has not changed significantly over the years.  St.Mary’s Church is clearly visible. The cluster of homes in the centre of the photo were primarily occupied by the Rees family and are situated on the road where Mr Thomas Rees’ house currently is today. The old school house is also visible and it’s roof has been modified from its original peaked design. The area at the bottom right of the photo is where the harbour is today. It was a favourite skating place in the day.

House c 1900

Lance Cove Houses and School House circa 1900

The houses in the above photo were owned principally by the Rees family and were clustered in the centre of Lance Cove. The structure on the left with the peaked roof and four windows was the School House. It was the first school on Bell Island and was established by the Newfoundland Protestant Board of Education in 1841. It was in this schoolhouse where my Great-Great Grandfather Edward Bickford taught school from circa 1857-1870. Records from 1857 indicate that in June of that year Edward had 29 students that ranged in age from 4 to 13. Surnames  such as Rees, Hiscock, Kent, King, Cooper, Sparks, Leahy, etc feature prominently. Edward’s salary that year was 32 pounds, 10 shillings or about $2500 if converted into 2014 dollars.

Sometime between 1900 and 1927 the peak of the school was removed giving it more of a mansard roof design. After the building ceased to be used as a school it was used as the local Orange Lodge. It would have been situated at the corner of the road leading to Lance Cove Beach and the lane way leading to where Thomas Rees currently resides and directly behind the house owned by Cybil Rees (adjacent to the Seaman’s Memorial).

Lance Cove looking North circa 1940

Lance Cove circa 1940

This picture was taken from a position on Lance Cove Beach where Leander Bickford’s shed is currently located. 3 of the homes pictured can still be seen in Lance Cove. The one on the very left was owned I believe by Clarence Rees and I think it may have been destroyed by fire in the 1950’s. St. Mary’s Church is clearly visible in the background.


Skating pond and Kerry Head, Lance Cove circa 1940


Fishing Sheds on Lance Cove Beach circa 1940

Two pretty good views above of what Lance Cove Beach looked like in the 1940s. The sheds and boats in the photo above would have been located just west of where Leander Bickford’s shed is today. Note that in earlier years the road went west along the beach as opposed to where it currently is along the north side of the harbour.


Looking North up Pitt’s Hill from Lance Cove Wharf circa 1940

I’m sure there are many around who still remember the old wharf. It feature prominantly in the life of the community until the late 1960’s when it was destroyed in a storm after being battered by the SS Northern Ranger which was tied up to it while waiting to be towed away for scrap. The house on the right was owned by Mr James Augustus Rees (Jimmy Gus) after being purchased from his uncle Mr John Lee in 1925 for $850. It was here that my friend the late Lloyd Rees was born. Jimmy Gus was the son of William Thomas Rees and nephew of Martha Bickford (nee Rees) mentioned in my previous post.

GG Uncle James A Rees

James Augustus Rees (Jimmy Gus) 1890-1954


Home of John Lee circa 1910

Above is another earlier view of the home that was at the foot of Pitt’s Hill and the head of the wharf. The property on which this house was located was purchased in 1901 by John Lee from the estate of Captain William Pitts for $100.


The Lee Premises circa 1910

Mr Lee was the Constable in Lance Cove and was married to Caroline Rees, the sister of my Great Great Grandmother Martha.

John Lee

John Lee and Caroline Lee (nee Rees) circa 1900

Caroline was also the sister of William Thomas Rees and Reuben Rees. She is pictured below with her brother Reuben and her sister Jane.


Caroline, Jane and Reuben Rees.

The first Rees home in Lance Cove is pictured below. It was built by Mr George Rees circa 1800 and remained occupied and in use until approximately 1925.  George (1772-1859) was a shipwright from Bristol, England who came to Lance Cove aboard one of Mr James Pitt’s brigs in 1797. It is very likely that he came to Lance Cove at the request of Mr Pitt’s to assist him with the shipyard that he was establihing.


Home of George Rees built circa 1800 and the first Rees house in Lance Cove

George Rees was married to Mary Ann Neary (1787-1874) of Portugal Cove. When George arrived in Lance Cove all the beach front property had already been claimed. He did however establish his own claim to a substantial piece of property that extended basically from close to where Thomas Rees’ house currently is, all the way north across the island to where Middleton Ave is today. Some time later George was able to acquire a portion of waterfront property from Edward Cooper. It was here at the western end of Lance Cove beach where the Rees family would eventually have their own shipyard.

Edward Cooper owned all the property west and north of what people commonly know as the ‘droke’ which runs north south and which physically splits Lance Cove down the middle. Edward Cooper’s “estate” took in what is known as Big Hill, Little Hill, Kerry Head and the majority of what became Bickfordville likely after Edward’s daughter Amy married Henry Bickford in 1827. The remainder of the Cooper estate was parcelled off over the years with most of the land west of Lance Cove being acquired and farmed by the Kennedy family.


Pitt’s Hill Lance Cove circa 1880

The house with the numerous dormers in the background of the photo above was one of the first permanent homes built in Lance Cove. It was built by James Pitts in the late 1700’s and remained standing until 1944 when it was torn down. The site of it’s foundation can still be seen. It was built mainly of lumber imported from Nova Scotia and brought to Lance Cove aboard Mr Pitts’ ships. While it was being torn the skill that took to build it was noted. The framework  was all hand jointed using mortise and tenon joints and the areas around the doors and windows as well as the roof, underneath the shingles, were weatherproofed with sheets of birch bark. The last person to live in the house was Ms Francis (Fanny) Pitts, James Pitt’s Granddaughter. Below is another view of the old home in later years as well as it’s last resident Fanny Pitts.




House of James Pitts Jr.

The house above was original built circa 1800 by James Pitts Jr, son of one of the original settlers James Pitts. It was built across the road from his father’s house which is described above. It was purchased from James Jr by George Rees Jr in 1825 and was occupied by the Rees family until 1929 when its last occupant, Mr Ralph Rees built a new home closer to the beach. The photo below shows the same home circa 1890 when it was occupied by Mr William Rees, his wife Louisa and their 8 children. It is easy to see from a study of both homes that the Pitts’ were a family of considerable means and wealth compared to other early settlers. Mr Pitts certainly owned his own brig and the shipyard they ran on the eastern end of Lance Cove Beach (beyond where the Lee Premisses are shown in previous photos) was known to have manufactured a significant number of quality built brigs and schooners, most of which were used in the overseas trade. It should be noted that ‘Pitts Memorial Drive’ in St.John’s is named for this man and his family.

James Pitts Jr House

Home of James Pitts Jr circa 1890 when it was occupied by Mr William Rees

Below is a view of the upper portion of Lance Cove in 1958. Note that by this point in time St.Mary’s Church had been torn down and a new church built closer to Bickfordville.

Lance Cove May 1958

Lance Cove May 1958

My final picture shows Lance Cove as it appeared in the late 1990s. Even this photo which is fairly recent is in stark contrast to what can be seen today.


Lance Cove Late 1990s

Martha Bickford (nee Rees)

Martha Bickford (nee Rees) Oct 1840-Feb 1929

Martha Bickford (nee Rees) Oct 1840-Feb 1929

Martha Bickford nee Rees (Oct 1840 -21 Feb 1929). Grand Daughter of George Rees (28 Nov 1772 – 20 Jan 1859) and Mary Ann Neary (1787 -1874).

Martha married Edward Bickford (1830 – 6 June 1885) son of Henry Bickford and Amy Cooper (born 15 Dec 1804). Amy Cooper was the daughter of Edward Cooper (1764 – 15 June 1825) who’s headstone is located in the Old Pioneer Cemetery in Lance Cove.


Old Pioneer Cemetery Lance Cove

Cooper gravestone

Edward Cooper’s Headstone

Martha’s husband Edward Bickford taught school in Lance Cove from circa 1857 – 1870 replacing the previous School Master William L. Swansborough who had moved to New Perlican to teach there. Mr. Swansborough was married to Edward’s cousin Elizabeth Cooper (Daughter of James Cooper and Granddaughter of Edward Cooper).

William L. Swansborough

William L. Swansborough

Martha and Edward left Lance Cove circa 1870 and relocated to New Perlican, Trinity Bay where Edward once again replaced Mr. Swansborough as School Master. Mr Swansborough moved to Topsail with his wife Elizabeth and their children where he remained until his death in 1916. When Edward moved to New Perlican he was replaced by Mr. James Hiscock who taught in Lance Cove from 1870 – 1912.

While in New Perlican, Edward wrote the following letter to his brother-in-law, Mr. William Thomas Rees (1843-1900) back in Lance Cove. William was Martha’s younger brother and married to Drucilla Rees (nee Hibbs, 1846-1932).


Apr 16, 1877 Letter written by Edward Bickford to his Brother-in-Law William T. Rees

GGG Uncle William T Rees

William Thomas Rees (143-1900)

GGG Aunt Drucilla Rees

Drucilla Rees (nee Hibbs) 1846-1932

The letter read:

New Perlican
April 16th. 1877

Mr. Wm. T. Rees.

My dear Brother

“You would greatly oblige me by giving me the loan of Thirty Shillings until July coming when I will repay you again & I trust I will be able to thank you for your kindness – You will please hand it over to my Father if it be in your power to grant my request. I trust your Mother has received a letter from us containing all particulars before you see this – Give our Kind Love to all & accept the same from

Your Loving Brother
Edward Bickford”

Notice that the letter was written using the cross-writing technique (horizontal then vertical). This saved paper which was expensive and not in great supply.

When Edward died in 1885, Martha returned to Lance Cove with their five children (William, Henry T., Reuben J., Edward and Emma). She eventually re-married a Mr. Butt.

Once again widowed when Mr. Butt passed away, Martha lived her remaining years with her son William.

G Grandfather William Bickford

William Bickford (1879-1940). Son of Martha and Edward.

William was married to Minnie Bickford (nee Parsons) (Jan 1887 – 23 Jan 1973) pictured below with her three children and an unknown girl circa 1912.

great grandmother

Minnie Bickford nee Parsons (Jan 1887 – 23 Jan 1973) L-R Clarence Bickford, Minnie Bickford, Francis Bickford, young girl standing unknown, James Bickford

Poppy Jim

James Bickford (pictured on the right in the previous photo as a 4 year old)

Looking out across the tickle from Bell Island

Looking out over the Tickle from Bell Island.

Let’s weave together the story scraps that make up the long past history of Bell Island. Let’s tell their tales: the happy, the sad, the tales that ought to be remembered.

As a way to preserve the wonderful history of Bell Island, a book will eventually be created based on all the submissions. Therefore, all comments and pictures submitted on the Bell Island Original Settlers Project assign copyright privaledge to the publisher.