Shoal Har­bour sailor dec­o­rated with Mer­i­to­ri­ous Ser­vice Medal

The Packet (Clarenville) - - Editorial - Lester Green Where Once They Sailed

Wal­ter Ge­orge Critch’s bap­tism can be lo­cated among those recorded at Green’s Har­bour Mis­sion be­tween 18671903.

Critch is listed has be­ing born at Shoal Har­bour (Cavendish) on Nov. 20, 1892.

Jessie and Ge­orge moved to North­ern Bight (Hil­lview) af­ter her mar­riage to James Dodge in

1898 and the death of his fa­ther Gar­ret Bryant. He was raised with two step­broth­ers, William Thomas and Eli, along with two step­sis­ters, Vi­o­let Mary and An­nie.

Within two days of Bri­tain declar­ing war on Ger­many, the Bri­tish Ad­mi­ralty sum­moned all trained re­servist to the HMS Ca­lypso at St. John’s by Royal Procla­ma­tion. The Procla­ma­tion was fol­lowed by an ag­gres­sive re­cruit­ing cam­paign in news­pa­pers and post­ing at pub­lic build­ings to en­tice young men with sail­ing ex­pe­ri­ence from both St. John’s and sur­round­ing out­ports of New­found­land to join.

Critch an­swered this call and signed his ap­pli­ca­tion for en­list­ment two months later. Drill ship registry for the Ca­lypso show that he trained be­tween Oct. 14 to Nov. 14, 1914. List­ing his gen­eral con­duct and re­marks as to his char­ac­ter and ef­fi­ciency for a sea­man of the fleet as be­ing good, he was re­leased from train­ing and dis­patched on HMS Carthaginian for ac­tive duty overseas.

He was as­signed to HMS Vivid I, Devon­port upon his ar­rival overseas and spent an­other month com­plet­ing fur­ther naval train­ing. He was de­ployed to the HMS Al­sa­tian, flag­ship of the

10th Cruiser Squadron, pa­trolling the wa­ters off the Shet­land Is­lands. He spent the next two years en­forc­ing the block­ade on mer­chant ships in the North At­lantic.

Critch was dis­missed from the HMS Al­sa­tian in May 1917 and spent a short pe­riod of time at HMS Pem­broke be­fore be­ing granted leave and re­turned to the HMS Bri­ton (for­merly HMS Ca­lypso). He spent two months at St. John’s and vis­ited fam­ily at North­ern Bight.

When he re­turned for ac­tive duty at HMS Bri­ton on Aug. 18, he was as­signed to the schooner Dorothy G. Snow, a de­coy ship. The ob­jec­tive for this mis­sion was to dis­guise the ves­sel as a fish­ing schooner in hopes of at­tract­ing a Ger­man sub­ma­rine to sur­face. Once the sub­ma­rine sur­faced, the schooner would ex­pose its hid­den guns and fire upon the sub­ma­rine in hopes of sink­ing it.

Af­ter com­ple­tion of this mis­sion, he was then as­signed to the Royal Cana­dian Navy ship, HMCS Niobe at Hal­i­fax.

It was dur­ing this ser­vice that he sur­vived the big­gest dis­as­ter of his en­tire naval ca­reer — the Hal­i­fax Ex­plo­sion. This dis­as­ter was brought about by a series of hu­man er­rors at Hal­i­fax Har­bour on Dec. 5, 1917. It led to one of the great­est man-made ex­plo­sions in North Amer­ica dur­ing the Great War.

It re­sulted from a series of hu­man er­rors di­rect­ing ship traf­fic at Hal­i­fax Har­bour.

The mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tions led to the col­li­sion of the SS IMO, car­ry­ing a load of mu­ni­tions des­tined for overseas and the SS Mont Blanc that was leav­ing port. The re­sult­ing ex­plo­sion caused thou­sands of lives to be lost and re­sulted in an enor­mous amount of phys­i­cal dam­age to ships, har­bour in­fra­struc­ture and homes.

At the time of the ex­plo­sion, a crew from the HMS Niobe was work­ing on re­pairs to a con­crete struc­ture sup­port­ing a crane on the docks. Critch, along with five other sailors were man­ning hand pumps to sup­ply air for two naval divers that had just been sub­merged into the wa­ters. The men were be­ing su­per­vised by Chief Master-at-Arms John Gam­mon.

The ex­plo­sion killed five of the six sailors, leav­ing the lives of the two divers in the hands of an in­jured, shocked Able Sea­man Ge­orge Critch. When he re­cov­ered from the ini­tial shock, sur­vival in­stinct took over and he made his way to the badly crum­pled pump house that had col­lapsed unto the air pump. He man­aged to wig­gle and squeeze his body into the air pump ly­ing be­neath the rub­ble and found it was still in work­ing or­der. He pushed up­ward on the de­bris with his shoul­der us­ing one arm and be­gan us­ing the other to pump air to the divers.

Chief Master-at-Arms John Gam­mon man­aged to work his way down a lad­der and as­sist the divers who had been saved by air sup­ply that had been de­liv­ered by Critch.

For their heroic deed, Critch re­ceived the Mer­i­to­ri­ous Ser­vice Medal (Naval), while Gam­mon was made a Mem­ber of the Or­der of the Bri­tish Em­pire.

Ge­orge was de­mo­bi­lized from the HMS Bri­ton on March 31, 1919 and re­turned to North­ern Bight (Hil­lview). He mar­ried Alice, daugh­ter of Joseph and Martha Smith of Goose­berry Cove on Dec. 22, 1919. Alice and her fam­ily also had ter­ri­ble mem­o­ries of the Great War hav­ing five of her brothers en­list and serve their King and Coun­try in the Royal Naval Re­serve. She lost her brother Luke when the HMS Lau­ren­tic sank in 1917.

Af­ter their mar­riage Ge­orge and Alice set­tled at Hil­lview and raised seven chil­dren, five boys and two girls. Wal­ter passed away on May 17, 1982 and is buried at Hil­lview.


De­struc­tion at Hal­i­fax Har­bour af­ter ex­plo­sion on Dec. 6, 1917.


Able Sea­man Ge­orge Critch (cir­cled) with crew on deck of a pa­trol ves­sel.


Mer­i­to­ri­ous Ser­vice Award


Able Sea­man Ge­orge Critch

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