Thursday, March 15, 2018

Book Review: The Great Halifax Explosion by John U. Bacon

On December 6, 1917, two ships, the Belgian supply ship Mont-Blanc and the Norwegian ship Imo collided in the harbor in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The resulting explosion was the most powerful manmade explosion on a human population excepting Nagasaki and Hiroshima, a force of 2.9 kilotons of TNT. Over 3,000 people lost their lives, and many more were wounded. Huge swathes of the city were flattened, reduced to rubble and burying survivors beneath the destruction.
Mr. Bacon's wonderful book was recommended to me by my two sisters and my brother-in-law (his grandfather Ernest Barss is one of the people mentioned in the book). It is an amazing story of resilience and courage as well as the willingness of many to help the survivors. Boston, Massachusetts sent trains and boats filled with supplies and personnel to help; as a result, Halifax has every year since sent a Christmas tree to be erected in that city.
A blizzard came in the day after the explosion and just made it even harder for the survivors and those trying to help them. It was a truly astounding event and I'm surprised how little I knew about it. The book mentions how cruise boats today will visit the cemetery where Titanic victims are buried, but nothing is told to them about the Halifax Explosion. That was certainly my experience several years ago when I visited that lovely city. But I guess this book gives me a reason to go back and visit with new eyes.
The author has a very comfortable writing style with a good eye for the small details that enhance the story. His narrative doesn't take away from the horror of the event but also addresses the acts of courage that took place.  This is probably best exemplified by this quote from the book:
"Tragedy comes quick and loud, while the small acts of decency that follow come slowly and quietly."