Author Archives: Larry Dohey

Newfoundland Woman Interned in German Prison Camp

November 16, 1941

Mr. and Mrs. Andrew B. Edwards of Lawn, Placentia Bay, Newfoundland wrote Cluny Macpherson, Assistant Commissioner of the Red Cross at St. John’s on 16 November 1941 informing the Red Cross that their daughter Marie Andrew Edwards, age 22 was interned in a German prisoner of War Camp in France. The Edward’s were aware that McPherson was the local representative of the International Red Cross.

Mary Andrew Edwards: was born in Lawn, Placentia Bay. She was the daughter of Andrew Edwards and Nora (Picco). She received her early education in Lawn and at age sixteen she went to work in St. Pierre et Miquelon.

After a few years in St. Pierre et Miquelon she felt the calling to religious life, this she confided to her parish priest who encouraged her to join the St. Joseph of Cluny Sisters, a teaching order of nuns at St. Pierre. Upon being accepted into the congregation at St. Pierre she took the name Sister Therese. She left St. Pierre et Miquelon in 1938 going to a convent in Paris.

After the Nazis victory over France in 1940, Sister Therese and four hundred nuns from different congregations were rounded up and sent to Prisoner of War Camps. She was in a particularly difficult position, as a Newfoundlander, she was carrying a British passport.


During one period the commander of the POW camp, allowed the nuns to have Mass celebrated by priests and bishops who were also prisoners of war there. Sister Therese and two other sisters of the order were allowed to take Religious Vows, the ritual that officially made them nuns.

Near the end of the war the Swiss Red Cross investigated the camp, finding many of the prisoners were very ill. They encouraged the Germans to release the nuns to a healthier camp. This was done.

When Sister Edward’s was liberated she was sent to Africa for six years after which she was recalled to France. After a few months in France she was sent to New Caledonia.

After twenty three years there she was allowed home to visit parents and family members, after which she returned to the mission. She did this a few times in the ensuing years and at one time she and her sister Nora – who also joined the convent – came home together.

Mary Andrew Edwards died in 1997.

Recommended Archival Collection: Search the Rooms online database for descriptions of our archival records and view thousands of digital photographs.

Recommended Archival Collection: Archives of the R.C. Archdiocese of St. John’s File 107-15-8

Recommended Book: Did you know that German’s were interred in camps in Newfoundland during WWII? Read: Gerhard P. Bassler. Vikings to U-Boats: The German Experience in Newfoundland and Labrador. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2006.

“Unite the old world and the new”

Subscribers to the St. John’s newspaper, The Courier on  (November 8, 1850) read about the feasibility of an underwater electric cable running from Ireland to Newfoundland. The letter to the Editor read:

“I hope the day is not far distant when St. John’s will be the first link in the electric chain which will unite the Old World and the New.”

Previous to this proposal all discussion about this new form of communication “telegraphic communication” had suggested Halifax as the terminus.

The writer of the letter Bishop John Thomas Mullock, the Catholic Bishop of Newfoundland in making the proposal was the first to suggest Newfoundland as the terminus rather that Nova Scotia. Mullock wrote:

“Now would it not be well to call the attention of England and America to the extraordinary capabilities of St. John’s, as the nearest telegraphic point? It is an Atlantic port, lying, I may say, in the track of the ocean steamers, and by establishing it as the American telegraphic station, news could be communicated to the whole American continent forty-eight hours, at least, sooner than by any other route.”

Prior to penning the letter Mullock had done his home work. Critics had for example argued that an underwater electric cable would not be safe from icebergs. Mullock had read extensively on the subject collecting a number of books on the electric telegraph. He also subscribed to a number of geological publications and collected geological maps and surveys. Based on his research he argued in the letter that the electric cable will be perfectly safe from icebergs. These book and maps now form part of the collection in the Basilica Museum Library in St. John’s.

In 1854, Frederick Gisborne secured financial backers, including American capitalist Cyrus Field and British telegraph engineer, John Brett. The New York, Newfoundland and London Telegraph Company was incorporated in 1854; the Newfoundland legislature granted the company exclusive rights to the submarine telegraph for 50 years and a government subsidy. The company successfully installed the transatlantic cable between Heart’s Content and Ireland (1866); and Heart’s Content and Valentia (Ireland) (1873-1874).

Recommended Archival Collection: Take some time to explore MG 570 at the Rooms Provincial Archives. MG 570 are the records of the Anglo-American Telegraph Company (Harbour Grace) fonds. The collection consists of letter books received, outgoing correspondence, general orders, rules, and regulations and service messages sent and received.

Recommended Book: Atlantic Sentinel by D.R. Tarrant, Fkanker Press. Atlantic Sentinel is illustrated with sixty vintage photographs and maps. The illustrations range from sketches of the early transatlantic attempts in the 1850s and 1860s to photographs of cable station staff in the twentieth century

Recommended Reading: Frederic Gisborne, Cyrus Field and the Atlantic Cable of 1858  By Ted Rowe Newfoundland Quarterly: Fall 2008, Volume 101 Number 2 .




Burin Tsunami

November 18, 1929

“You could hear the poor humans who were caught, screaming … Oh God, Jack, it was terrible…”

On November 18, 1929 at 5:02 pm Newfoundland time, a major earthquake occurred approximately 250 km south of Newfoundland along the southern edge of the Grand Banks. This magnitude 7.2 tremor was felt as far away as New York and Montreal.

Traveling at a speed of 140 kilometers per hour, the tidal wave reached the Burin Peninsula at 7:00 p.m. The tsunami struck the southern end of the Burin Peninsula as three main pulses, causing local sea levels to rise between 2 and 7 metres. At the heads of several of the long narrow bays on the Burin Peninsula the momentum of the tsunami carried water as high as 13 metres.

This giant sea wave claimed a total of 28 lives – 27 drowned on the Burin peninsula and a young girl never recovered from her injuries and died in 1933. This represents Canada’s largest documented loss of life directly related to an earthquake.

At Port aux Bras a fisherman saw his home being swept away. He tried to save his wife and family but was blocked by another floating house. He was helpless as his imprisoned family whirled into darkness. His house was pulled out to sea faster than a boat could steam.

Mr. Ern Cheeseman of Port au Bras on the Burin peninsula in a letter to his brother Jack a few days after the tsunami wrote: “You could hear the poor humans who were caught, screaming, women and men praying out loud. Oh God, Jack, it was terrible… Excuse this scribble but we are not over the shock yet. Every move one hears one jumps expecting the same to happen again.”

The Newfoundland government sent ships with doctors and supplies. Canada was the largest foreign donor donating $35,000 individual Newfoundlanders raised more than $200,000 to help their countrymen.

Apart from the Burin tsunami, two others have been reported, at Bonavista in 1755 as a result of the Lisbon earthquake, and St. Shott’s in June 1864. These caused damage, but no reported loss of life.

Recommended Archival Collection: At The Rooms Provincial Archives take some time to read MG 636: South Coast Disaster Relief Committee Report consists of a list of losses by settlement, reports, telegrams, correspondence, minutes of meetings; regarding the tidal wave and earthquake disaster on the Burin Peninsula, 1929. The collection also includes a report of the South Coast Disaster Committee, 1931.

Recommended Web Site:

Recommended Book: Hanrahan, Maura. Tsunami: The Newfoundland Tidal Wave Disaster. St. John’s: Flanker Press, 2004.

The McGrath’s of Branch

On 17 April of 1917, twenty one year old George McGrath of Gull Cove, Branch, St. Mary’s Bay left Branch for St. John’s. He was determined to sign up for the war effort to fight for “country and king.”

Just one month following George’s departure from Branch his nineteen year old brother Joseph told his father Patrick and his mother Elizabeth that it was also his intention to join the war effort. Joseph left Branch and met with recruiters in St. John’s signing his attestation papers on 11 May, 1917.

In August 1917 Joseph McGrath #3760 with the other First Newfoundland Regiment volunteers marched from their training camp near Quidi Vidi Lake to the SS Florizel, the troop ship, anchored in St. John’s Harbour. They were beginning the first leg of a journey to the fighting fields of Europe. He joined a battalion in Rouen, France on January 15, 1918.

Five months later Patrick and Elizabeth McGrath – were approached by the parish priest clutching a telegram – it read “Regret to inform you that the Record Office, London, officially reports NO 3760, Private Joseph McGrath wounded on April 13 and missing in action.”

Patrick and Elizabeth McGrath for consolation turned to family and friends in Branch. They lived in hope – in letters to the war office they pleaded for “any shred of news.” There was also confusion – their son George who was fighting in Europe had heard rumors that Joseph was in Wandsworth, a large hospital about 5 miles outside of London. Wandsworth Hospital was where many members of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment were treated for injuries.

On 13 November 1918 word spread quickly in Branch that a second telegram had been delivered – via the Newfoundland Postal Telegraph – the telegram was addressed to “The Parish Priest or School Teacher.” The telegram read: “London reports today that Private Joseph McGrath previously reported wounded and missing in action is presumed dead. Please inform next of kin Patrick McGrath, Gull Cove, Branch.”

The blinds in all the homes of Branch were drawn.

Joseph was buried at BEAUMONT-HAMEL – Somme, France. He had just turned twenty years old.

Lost Tradition: Upon hearing the news of the death of someone in most Newfoundland communities the curtains and blinds were drawn. Houses on the funeral route had their doors closed and their curtains drawn

Recommended Archival Collection:Over 6000 men enlisted in the Newfoundland Regiment during WWI. Each soldier had his own story. Each story is compelling. To read some of these stories go to: click on soldiers at the top centre. Find a soldier from your home community or with your family name. Read his life story.

Recommended Song: Great Big Sea – Recruiting Sergeant

Recommended Book: Browne, Gary. Forget-Me-Not: Fallen Boy Soldiers: Royal Newfoundland Regiment World War One, St. John’s, DRC Publishing, 2010.