Video: by Daniel Rees
© Shipwreck Preservation Society of Newfoundland & Labrador Inc., 2019
David Rees shares stories from his grandmother Emma Rees of how survivors from the two German U-boat attacks and sinkings in 1942 were cared for in Emma’s home near the beach at Lance Cove on Bell Island, Newfoundland.
Transcript of video:
The old house here it’s a four-bedroom house and built in 1920 by my grandfather during … it was finished around 1920. My grandparents [Ralph & Emma Rees] had three kids: Stewart, Chelles and Sophie. Stewart married Marjorie (my mother) and so he, I think was 1939 they got married, and anyway they had by 1942 they had their first child.
David Rees standing by doorway into bedroom of old home.
He was 13 days old when, in this room right here, this one my parents had, that’s the room my parents had. And they would have had a crib in there for their 13-day-old child.
David Rees gestures with his arm into the bedroom.
My mother had come up pick up the child and she said she was carrying the carrying my brother out of the room when she heard a loud explosion. My mother with the baby in her arms walked down this hallway here to the head of the stairs.
David Rees walks along upstairs hallway to a window facing the ocean.
She would have looked out through this window right here, and because the ore boats were anchored a couple of miles offshore here, which was typical anchorage for the ore boats at the time. So she glanced out and that’s when she saw the ship. Both ends go up in the air. She spoke many times about seeing that. She never really got over that, that the ship did that and sank.
David Rees gestures with his arms out the window.
So then of course, you know, things moved downstairs as things progressed through the day,
through the morning or afternoon. They set up a clinic downstairs in the kitchen, and they set up a morgue in another room downstairs.
David Rees gestures with his arms down the stairway to the main floor of the house.
So why don’t I take you downstairs and show you that.
David Rees walks down the stairs to the main floor.
We’re standing here in the kitchen of the old house now and that’s the back door right there, and you know typically years ago people use the back door as their primary entrance, you know. So the survivors would have been, injured people, would have been taken in here. So locals would have carried them in here and positioned them here in the kitchen.
David Rees is standing in kitchen of old home and gestures toward the back door.
The doctor here, Dr. Templeton, was here attending to the, attending to the injured. And my mother and grandmother was also assisting the doctor with the injured.
David Rees in the kitchen, gestures towards the kitchen table and wood stove.
One of the things that she, and they, did which is interesting at that time in 1942, she tells us that instant coffee had just come out. So what they were doing was making coffee for the 40 injured,
using the first jar of instant coffee they had ever purchased.
David Rees standing in the kitchen.
So anyway what she tells as well, she said as the doctor was attending to different individuals with different amounts of injury. She remembers one man underneath this table here with his arms wrapped around the leg of the table, and every now and then, she said, he would scream very loud. So she asked the doctor why did the man scream, you know, like that. And he said he’s in shock. He thinks he’s holding on to, he thinks he’s holding on to something that’s keeping him afloat. And uh, so he had a broken leg as well. It was there.
David Rees gestures with his arms under the kitchen table.
So during this time that the people were, the survivors were, being brought in here, some of them didn’t make it. And so the doctor, although he tried to revive them, they just didn’t make it. So what they did was take the people who died and they set up the room or just used the room in here, I’ll take you in a minute, as a morgue. So my mother remembers like having to get things from that room and having to step over these bodies in the room. I think at one point she said there were nine bodies in the room laid out on the floor. And uh, so eventually, of course, there are people coming along to take all the corpses away, you know.
David Rees standing in the kitchen, gestures towards another room in the house.
Uh, so why don’t I take you in now from the kitchen over to the, to where they put those bodies.
So we’re walking down the corridor here. Although this is the main entrance there but most of the activity took place in the back entrance.
David Rees walks from the kitchen, down a hall, past the front door, into the living room.
So this is a small room here, but my parents (Stewart and Marjorie) when they got married … uh, my grandparents set up a little kitchen here so that they’d have their own place to cook and her own privacy. So this was like mother’s, I’ll say, kitchen sitting-room combination here.
David Rees standing in the living room.
And uh, so this is where they had the bodies laid out, she explains, laid out along the floor here, along here. And uh, so she would have to come in to get something she needed for the … That’s how she said she had to step over bodies to do so.
David Rees in the living room, gestures towards the floor to show where the dead bodies were laid out.
One interesting little side story here that happened when the PLM was sunk, the radio operator on the PLM had his arm broken, couldn’t swim. But he owned a dog and the dog towed the radio operator to shore. In doing so they had to swim through, of course, hot burning oil that was, that happened as a result of the explosion. And the dog burnt the hair off his back. So anyway in the process of looking after everybody here, Um, my grandmother went out and noticed the dog outside with the scald, the burnt back. So she took some ointment and she applied it to the burn on the dog’s back So the dog adopted my grandmother, and uh … So when everything settled down, the dog was left here with my grandmother. She called him PLM, after the ship. And so PLM stayed around for a short period of time with my grandmother. The problem she ran into, was uh … the dog would, there’s a gate to the property here, the dog would let people in through the gate no problem, but when they wanted to leave, the dog got angry with them for some reason or other we don’t understand. So (my mother) my grandmother was fearful that the dog might you know, bite somebody. So she gave the dog away to I believe, a local businessman here. And he had it for a while and then he, I think, gave it to a … gave it to one of the policemen on the island. So the dog had a … lived a full life after here on Bell Island as PLM.
David Rees sitting at the kitchen table near a sunny window.