Lucy Maude Har­ris – New­found­land’s ‘won­der child’

Northern Pen - - Community - Pam Framp­ton Pam Framp­ton is a colum­nist whose work is pub­lished in The West­ern Star and The Tele­gram. Email pamela.framp­ton@thetele­gram.com. Twit­ter: pam_framp­ton

On May 19th, I read an obit­u­ary in The Tele­gram that was unremarkable but for one de­tail.

Lucy Maude Har­ris, who died May 15th in her 92nd year, asked that in lieu of flow­ers, do­na­tions be made to the lo­cal ceme­tery or to search and res­cue (SAR).

I didn’t think much more about it un­til a reader, Barbara Moores, emailed me on May 25: “Are you aware who she is? She’s the lit­tle girl who was lost in Trin­ity Bay in 1936. She was lost 10 nights and 11 days.”

How I had gone through life with­out ever hav­ing heard Lucy Har­ris’s story was sur­pris­ing. Be­cause the na­ture of her sur­vival was so mirac­u­lous, so in­cred­i­ble, it made news around the world at the time.

In do­ing a lit­tle dig­ging — thanks, in part, to an ex­cel­lent ar­ti­cle by Jen­nifer Reaney of the Na­tional Search and Res­cue Sec­re­tariat (NSS) in a 1999 is­sue of SAR Scene mag­a­zine, and an NSS doc­u­men­tary made the same year that was for­warded to me by Rovers Search and Res­cue team co-or­di­na­tor Harry Black­more — I learned that Lucy Maude Har­ris had truly de­fied the odds.

On March 26, 1936, 10-yearold Lucy and her younger sis­ter, eight-year-old Margie of New Mel­bourne, Trin­ity Bay were go­ing trout­ing af­ter school when they came to a brook runoff that Lucy could jump over but Margie couldn’t. Ad­vis­ing Margie to head home, Lucy con­tin­ued on but be­came dis­ori­ented in the thick fog and wound up head­ing fur­ther away from home in­stead of to­wards it.

When she didn’t turn up for sup­per, ev­ery­one wor­ried, and the next morn­ing men from the area be­gan the search, fan­ning out in lines to re­trace her path. Her par­ents drew on their staunch re­li­gious faith and prayed for her re­turn, but surely even they could have been for­given if their hopes flagged as the weather wors­ened and the days dragged on.

As day 10 turned into day 11, some searchers rec­on­ciled them­selves with the idea that they might re­trieve Lucy’s body; that res­cue was no longer an op­tion.

Yet some­how, af­ter shel­ter­ing un­der a tree with no food or drink — beyond snow — Lucy had sur­vived.

When word reached New Mel­bourne that she had been found, the church bells rang ju­bi­lantly for three hours.

“It was amaz­ing — she was known as the mir­a­cle of 1936,” Lucy’s daugh­ter, Sharon Pynn told me. “She sur­vived and I’m here!”

Pynn says her mother re­called there were times she could hear searchers call­ing but was too weak to re­spond, and how she was com­forted by bird­song.

Lucy lost both legs to frost­bite and spent 18 months re­cu­per­at­ing in St. John’s. The Evening Tele­gram raised $3,000 to help with her re­cov­ery.

Her story was cov­ered ex­ten­sively, at home and abroad. On April 13, 1936, The Leth­bridge Her­ald in Al­berta re­ported: “Physi­cians ex­am­in­ing … Lucy Har­ris, lost in the woods for a dozen days, mar­veled at the phys­i­cal en­durance pow­ers of New­found­land’s ‘won­der child.’ … Her feet and hands were frozen, and death through star­va­tion was creep­ing stealth­ily upon her.”

But death would have to wait a long while to claim Lucy Har­ris.

Sharon Pynn said there were no ar­ti­fi­cial limbs avail­able to her mother in those days. “She got fit­ted for pros­the­ses in her late teens,” she says. “She worked in the sana­to­rium in oc­cu­pa­tional ther­apy, and she used to do a lot of sewing. Her dis­abil­ity didn’t hold her back.”

At an in­ter­na­tional search and res­cue work­shop in St. John’s in 1999, Lucy Har­ris’s story was re­counted to searchers from around the world.

“We did the whole con­fer­ence around Lucy,” recalls Harry Black­more.

At the cel­e­bra­tion of her life on May 19th in Hant’s Har­bour, eight pall­bear­ers from SAR were her fi­nal es­corts.

“It was her wish and that touched us a fair bit,” Black­more said. “We were more than proud to do it.”

How fit­ting then, that just as searchers and res­cuers had brought Lucy back into the world of the liv­ing, mem­bers of SAR were there to gal­lantly see her out again.

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