'Remembering the MP33 Fort Walsh'
Many years have passed since I experienced a sad day and the quiet and somber anticipation that hovered over our household in Burgeo, NL. A child can sense when something is wrong, when Mom and Dad are upset, and children well know when a situation is going dreadfully downhill.
Some time ago when the 'RYANS' COMMANDER' was destroyed by a storm with loss of life, a sad state of affairs for any small community. In Newfoundland we all feel the loss of those that go down to the sea in ships. It has always been that way, and will continue to be so. I have now accepted that, so I was amazed at the memory the loss of the 'COMMANDER', and the journey of the mind it caused me to revisit. The childhood experience happened many years ago in 1958, and I thought it had long been forgotten. But it is still there, as fresh now as the day I experienced it.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, of which my father was a member and stationed in Burgeo at the time, had patrol vessels, the names of which are as familiar to me as my own. The 'Fort Steele', the 'Wood', the 'Irvine', to name just a few. However the memory that surfaced a few weeks ago is that of the 'MP33 FORT WALSH'. Over the years I have thought of these boats that visited the various places in rural Newfoundland, helping my father travel to outports to do his work. I liked the RCMP boats and planes, and admired them, as did my siblings. They were part of our lives, always.
My father had been brought back to Burgeo on a late September Day by the Fort Walsh, his work up the coast finished for the time being.We were glad to have him home. Home was never the same without Dad. He had debated going on to Halifax on the 'Walsh' but decided against it, mainly because his work was piling up and time was of the essence. So the 'Fort Walsh' dropped him off, stayed at the wharf for a very short time assessing the forecast of poor weather conditions. A hurricane was barreling up the Eastern seaboard, destroying everything in its' path.
However the captain of the 'Walsh' decided to head straight for Halifax, thinking that he could outsmart the storm and be in port before it got to our area. The seven member crew prepared to leave and the patrol boat pulled away from the dock, much to the dismay of some of the older mariners on land. Dad was one of the people who had grave doubts about this departure.
The 'FORT WALSH' was 112 feet long and a sturdy enough ship. All the latest that was available in navigation equipment at the time was used on this boat, and no sense of danger bothered the crew.
Sept 28, 1958 arrived. It was my Mothers birthday, but nobody was in the birthday mood, least of all my parents. My Father was in his office on the end of the detachment quarters in which we lived, and I noticed several men coming and going throughout the day. The Code XJL20 calling XJ927 was repeated over and over by my father, as well as XJL20 calling 'Fort Walsh', but there was no answer from the boat. There was just a deadly silence, while the wind whipped up the white caps on the water as the storm raged on.
The 'Fort Walsh' obviously had been caught in the hurricane. Where were they? What had happened to our boat? What happened to the crew, all of whom were well known to us, and especially to my parents.
All day and into the evening the radio crackled and sputtered, but nobody could find the missing boat. A dark and foreboding feeling hung over our home, my parents were very upset, and the worse was expected. As a child I can clearly recall that day and the ominous fog that hung over the detachment.
Then came good news! At last we knew where the 'Fort Walsh' was, and there was no loss of life. My mother cried and Father manned the Radio and I am sure felt immensely relieved that his mates were alive.
Apparently the storm had gathered momentum and the Captain of the Fort Walsh realized he was going off course, and would not make it to Halifax. Fixing his bearings he realized they were heading for the rocky shores of Scatterie Island, off the coast of Nova Scotia. Rather than have the boat bashed against the cliffs, the Captain detected an area where, if luck was on his side, he could run the boat full steam ahead and up onto the rocks, and at least he would have some control. So this he did!
The waves beat the boat against the rocks, she was taking on water, and the crew formed a human chain and walked through the cold water to shore. Freezing cold, wet, hungry and feeling ill, they cautiously made their way in the dark toward the lighthouse. In due time the light keeper and his wife saw the struggling men and rushed to help. They were fed and made warm. Each very grateful to be alive. It was a close call they would never forget.
Meanwhile the 'MP33 Fort Walsh' lay alone on the rocks of Scatterie. The storm thrashed and threw her around, but she stayed where the captain had jammed her between two large rocks. The wind gradually died down, morning came, and although still miserable, their boat destroyed, the members of the RCMP crew managed to get onto the boat and salvage all they could, including food.All the files, electronics, clothing and anything movable was taken off the boat, and she was left to die on the shores of Scatterie. The sorrow of the crew was overwhelming, but they were thankful to be alive.
The storm finally settled enough for a radio transmission to be sent and received. With great relief members of the Force, and the families spread the word that they were alive. In a few days the storm abated and the 'MP 40 WOOD' arrived to fetch the stranded ' FORT WALSH' crew. The appreciation and thanks to the light keeper and his wife was emotional and difficult. Without them nobody would have survived.
The atmosphere in our home changed to one of celebration. The crew was alive, the 'Fort Walsh' was finished, but there was no loss of life, the most important factor. Mothers Birthday celebration was twofold that year.
After I moved away from home I met members that had been on the 'Walsh' that fateful night. They accepted it as part of the job. But I was awestruck as I remembered that sad day when they were among the missing. It was sad to lose the boat; she is still on the shores of Scatterie, a reminder of what could have been to all who see her skeleton there.
Another boat would replace her. The 'Fort Walsh' had done her work and was now left to the rocks and the sea, to slowly fade away.
As for the crew members, they have no doubt whatsoever how close they came to death, and no doubt either that 'THE FORCE WAS WITH THEM' that night.
May the Force be with each one of its' members, the Force of Police comradeship, of seamanship, and the Force of the Universe that controls all.
The movie Star Wars brought the words back to me years ago as it would be said man times in the movie, 'MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU!'
I am sure it will be. Godspeed!
"I do not strive to be different for the sake of being different, but do not mind being different if my difference is the result of my being myself."
[center]Click the thumbnails to view larger images
[a href="Fort_Pitt.jpg"][img src="Fort_Pitt_TN.jpg" alt="Fort Pitt, Sister ship to the Fort Walsh"][/a] [a href="RCMP_Crest.jpg"][img src="RCMP_Crest_TN.jpg" alt="RCMP Crest,familiar to us all today"][/a] [a href="Modern_Patrol_Vessel.jpg"][img src="Modern_Patrol_Vessel_TN.jpg" alt="Modern Patrol Vessel"][/a][/center]