A cel­e­bra­tion at the Clarke’s Beach rail­way sta­tion

The Compass - - SPORTS - Bur­ton K. Janes bur­tonj@nfld.net

On New Year’s Day, 1915, a train pulled in to the Clarke’s Beach rail­way sta­tion. Her flags were fly­ing and her whis­tles blow­ing. Hun­dreds of crying, jubilant, laugh­ing and shout­ing peo­ple lined the tracks to wit­ness a spe­cial event: the ar­rival home of the cap­tain and crew of the Swal­low who were, as one on­looker put it, “back from the dead.”

In the spring of 1914, 14-year-old Gertrude (“Ger­tie”) Frost, a North River res­i­dent who had lived on Bell Is­land for many years, boarded the “Swal­low,” bound for the Labrador for a sum­mer of fish­ing.

“For al­most 500 years,” wrote the late John W. Ham­mond, who first re­lated this story, “the wa­ters off the Labrador have been ac­knowl­edged as be­ing among the rich­est fish­ing grounds on the east coast. It is be­lieved by many that Basque cod and whale fish­er­men fished there as early as 1470.

“Through­out the 19th cen­tury and into the 20th cen­tury, the ‘sta­tioner’ or shore-based sum­mer fish­ery in Labrador was pros­e­cuted by east coast New­found­lan­ders. Fish­er­men would sail from east coast com­mu­ni­ties, more es­pe­cially Con­cep­tion Bay, to fish­ing sta­tions in the Strait of Belle Isle. They would sail in the spring of the year, catch and dry their fish on the Labrador, and leave for home in the fall.

“Young girls would of­ten be taken along to cook for the fish­ing crews.”

Ger­tie Frost was given the task – and a task it was at times – to cook for six men. The cap­tain’s name is un­known at this late re­move, but it is known that he was from ei­ther Bare­need or Bay Roberts.

They fished and dried their catch from Domino. The Bell Is­land res­i­dent, Charles Mor­gan Sr., who was fish­ing at Black Tickle, later said that the “Swal­low” left for home around Oct. 10, 1914.

Mak­ing her way down the east coast of New­found­land, the ves­sel was struck by a hur­ri­cane force gale. The wind and waves were so great that, un­able to bear up, the Swal­low was left help­less in the white, swirling foam.

“Ter­ror struck the hearts of both cap­tain and crew,” Ham­mond con­tin­ued, “as she sank down be­tween moun­tain­ous waves.”

The main­sail, lo­cated be­hind the main mast; the fore­sail, set on a fore­mast be­tween mid­ships and bow; the fly­ing jib, at­tached to an ex­ten­sion of the jib boom; and the stay­sail, a fore-andaft rigged sail, all blew off at the same time, leav­ing only the spars.

The Swal­low drifted aim­lessly out into the At­lantic. To make mat­ters worse, the ves­sel be­gan to take on wa­ter.

In time, a Ger­man ship ap­peared on the hori­zon and took the New­found­lan­ders aboard. Mean­while, the cap­tain and crew were un­aware that Great Bri­tain and her colonies had re­cently gone to war against Ger­many.

Soon, the New­found­lan­ders watched in sor­row as the Swal­low dis­ap­peared into the depths. The Ger­man cap­tain, show­ing great kind­ness, put the four teenage girls in his cabin.

Back at home, fam­ily and friends feared the Swal­low, along with her cap­tain and crew, had been lost.

Three weeks later, a large Bri­tish warship was spot­ted steam­ing to­wards them. The Ger­man cap­tain, fear­ing an at­tack, took the quar­tet of girls out on deck. Ob­serv­ing the skirts blow­ing in the wind, the Bri­tish with­held fire. The New­found­land and Ger­man crews were trans­ferred to the Bri­tish warship be­fore the Ger­man ship was sent to its own wa­tery grave.

Iron­i­cally, the Ger­mans had saved the New­found­lan­ders, while the New­found­land girls had helped to save the Ger­mans.

The New­found­lan­ders were taken to Glas­gow, Scot­land, where they were treated kindly, re­ceiv­ing food, cloth­ing, lodg­ing and med­i­cal at­ten­tion. They sailed back across the At­lantic to the port of Saint John, New Brunswick, where a mes­sage was sent to friends and rel­a­tives that the New­found­lan­ders were safe.

Which is why there was such re­joic­ing aboard the train that rolled in to the Clarke’s Beach rail­way sta­tion on New Year’s Day, 1915.

— Bur­ton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His col­umn ap­pears in The Com­pass ev­ery week. He can be reached at bur­tonj@nfld.net

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