Think Like a Historian: Introduction to the Halifax Explosion

ETHEL BOND Annotated Letter 298 South Street 1 Halifax, N.S. Dec. 16th 1917 2 Dear Uncle Murray , 3 Little I thought when I wrote a couple of weeks ago, that I’d be writing now under such altered circumstances. I know you are all very anxious to get some first hand, definite news 4 from us and I’m going to try to let you know just all about things. It is very hard to write about it all 5 and yet the later one leaves writing the harder it is to get at it. You have bye[sic] this time got the wire 6 Jean sent and also her letter so you know that the worst has happened to us. But really Uncle Murray when we see the suffering and agony of people and how one person after another has been cut up beyond recognition, lived awhile and then died, why we have a very great deal to be thankful for. 7 Daddy, while he was killed and we simply do not know where to turn, is free from all this pain and suffering and he never knew what happened to him. 8 The morning of the disaster Bid [nickname for sister Bertha] 9 was late getting up and Daddy and I had had our breakfast and family prayer. 10 Miss Newcombe was coming to sew and I was in a hustle, so when we came out into the kitchen Daddy picked up our sugar tin from the pantry floor and went to the mill to fill it. I went to the front door to get the morning paper and had merely reached the door when I was knocked down, stunned. Things kept coming on me and I got a bang in my chin and I really thought that it was all up with me. 11 Everywhere it was pitch black and coming as it did out of a clear beautiful morning. 12 I immediately thought the magazine in Wellington 13 had blown up. The first thing I remember is scrambling up out from under things and climbing up the remains of the stairway to Bertha. She was standing in the upper hall just by the sky-light, dark closet door and blood seemed dripping from everywhere. She had been in the bathroom and was blown from the toilet clean out into the hall and I think her cuts were from the glass on that big picture hanging there. Her left leg up above the knee was cut in a number of places. Her face seemed all cut and she had two teeth knocked off. You see she only had her underclothes on so she was pretty well exposed. 1. The South Street address served as Ethel’s temporary home after the explosion, as she notes later in the letter. 2. Ethel Bond is writing 10 days after the Explosion. 3. Ethel is writing to her uncle, Murray Kellough (1874–1965), who grew up near Halifax but was living in Winnipeg in 1917. Murray was 14 years older than Ethel. 4. Letters were an important means of conveying immediate, first-hand experience in the wake of the disaster. The wording implies that Ethel expected Uncle Murray to have heard general news of the Explosion through the press or from others. Ten days after the Explosion, news had travelled across Canada. 5. This suggests Ethel’s emotions were making it a struggle to recall the traumatic event and think through the events in detail. 6. We can infer that a telegram was sent to alert distant family and friends of who had survived and who had died in the Explosion. 7. We can infer that Ethel believed that she and her sister were lucky to walk away relatively unscathed, compared with the thousands who lost their lives or were seriously wounded. 8. We can infer from this that Ethel is reassuring herself and her uncle that her father died instantly, and that he is free from the suffering they are now going through. 9. Family members used nicknames for one another as a short-form and a term of endearment. 10. The morning of 6 December began as any other, with breakfast and family prayer. 11. A phrase used at the time to describe thinking that you were about to die. When Ethel was initially knocked down, she thought she was going to die. 12. Ethel draws a visual contrast between light and dark. 13. The magazine was a military arsenal for weapons and explosives at the Wellington Barracks, only two blocks from Kaye Street, where the Bonds lived. Use this worksheet to support Activity 4 of Think Like a Historian: The Halifax Explosion Education Guide. Bold passages indicate annotations for context . Underlined passages indicate annotations for inference . T H I N K L I K E A H I S T O R I A N . C A