Tag Archives: Argentia

Truxton and Pollux: “No m’am, that’s the colour of my skin.”

ARCHIVAL MOMENT

February 18, 1942

Standing Into Danger

The American destroyers Wilkes and Truxton and the supply ship Pollux were on their way to the Argentia Naval Base when they went off course and smashed on the rocks in Lawn Point and Chambers Cove on the Burin Peninsula on February 18, 1942.

The Truxton and Pollux were a total loss. Two hundred and three officers and crew (203) lost their lives. Their life jackets which were not equipped with crotch straps slid off on impact with the water.

Residents of nearby St. Lawrence and Lawn managed to rescue 186 survivors.

At this time the US Navy was segregated. Of the 46 survivors from the USS Truxton, one was black. When Lanier Phillips was rescued by residents of St. Lawrence they treated him the same as they treated the white survivors. He woke up in a room surrounded by a group of white women who were bathing him — many of the rescued sailors had jumped into cold ocean waters covered with a layer of heavy black bunker C oil, which then coated the men. All were in need of cleaning. Phillips noted that if he had woken up in his home state of  Georgia,USA, naked and surrounded by white women, he would have been lynched (and the women branded and run out of town).

“NO M’AM, THAT’S THE COLOUR OF MY SKIN’

One of the women helping with the rescue had never before seen an African American and was puzzled that the crude oil seemed to have soaked his skin to the point of colouring it. She was determined to scrub it off, and Phillips had to tell her that, no m’am, that’s the colour of my skin. Phillips  later found himself sitting at the family table, using the same china cups and plates that the family used, and was dazed (and appalled) to find himself in one of the family beds, looked after by the lady of house who didn’t seem to be afraid of being in the same room with a black man. He said he didn’t sleep all night, it terrified him.

This experience in St. Lawrence galvanized the Navy Mess Attendant to fight racial discrimination within the US Navy. He later became the Navy’s first black sonar technician. After completing a 20 year career in the navy, Lanier Phillips joined the exploration team of Jacques Cousteau. He helped find and uncover a sunken atomic bomb, became active in the civil rights movement, and now  travels’  speaking to young men and women in the U.S.military about the destructiveness of bigotry and racism.

Dr. Lanier Philips received an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree May 31, 2008 from Memorial University of Newfoundland. The university cited what it called ‘his resistance to and capacity to rise above repression’.  In 2011, Phillips was given honorary membership into the Order of Newfoundland and Labrador for his work in civil rights in the U.S.

Phillips died on March 12, 2012, at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Gulfport, Mississippi.

Recommended Archival Collection:  At the Rooms Provincial Archives read  MG 956.187, A letter from Joseph Manning, Lawn to Gerard Ryan, Corbin:  a description of Manning’s experiences during the rescue of seamen from the USS Pollux and USS Truxton.

Recommended Reading: Oil and Water, a play by Robert Chafe  is based on the true account of shipwrecked African American sailor / veteran Lanier W. Phillips and his experiences in St Lawrence, Newfoundland.  (Text above taken from the play list of Oil and Water)

Recommended Reading: Standing Into Danger by  Cassie Brown Flanker Press Ltd, St. John’s, NL

 

Argentia and Marquise claims for Expropriated Property

Archival Moment

September 1940

Argentia and Marquise claims for Expropriated Property

Alexander Maher's house in Marguise and hundreds of other homes in Marguise and Argentia were torn down in 1940 to make way for the American base in Argentia.

Alexander Maher’s house in Marquise and hundreds of other homes in Marquise and Argentia were torn down in 1940 to make way for the American base in Argentia.

In September 1940, a squad of American army and navy personnel arrived in Placentia Bay to investigate possible base sites. Impressed by the landlocked harbour, and level land that had the potential for airstrip construction, the group recommended building a naval air station at Argentia and an army base in the neighbouring village of Marquise.

The undertaking meant large-scale and long-lasting disruption for the area’s 750 residents. Over the course of a year, the entire populations of both Argentia and Marquise – alongside three cemeteries – had to be relocated.

The properties were expropriated by the Dept. of Public Utilities, Commission of Government, to provide sites for American military / naval bases and installations under the Leased Lands Agreement and American Bases Act (1941).

The process was documented and is now available at The Rooms Provincial Archives. This new online collection  consists of 175 photographs (b&w) relating to claims for remuneration for expropriated property in the community of Argentia,  and 78  photographs relating to claims in the nearby community of Marquise, Placentia Bay, Newfoundland.

The photographs document houses, fences, shops and warehouses, household items, hotels, farms, agriculture, vehicles, sheds and garages. These properties were eventually expropriated for military and defence during WWII.

Recommended Archival Collection: Department of Public Works Newfoundland Board of Arbitration records Expropriations claims: Photographs: GN 4.3, Series  (Argentia) Click to view the photographs: http://gencat.eloquent-systems.com/therooms_permalink.html?key=40866

Recommended Archival Collection: Department of Public Works Newfoundland Board of Arbitration records Expropriations claims: Photographs: GN 4.3, Series  (Marquise) Click to view the photographs: http://gencat.eloquent-systems.com/therooms_permalink.html?key=38235

Recommended Exhibit:   From This Place: Our Lives on Land and Sea Where:   Level 4, The Husky Energy Gallery, The Rooms.  This exhibition showcases how the province’s peoples connected and are connected, and how different cultures shape this place. See in particular the exhibit cases “The Friendly Invasion.”

Recommended Reading:  Houlihan, Eileen (Hunt).  Uprooted! The Argentia Story. St. John’s: Creative Publishers, 1992.

Patrick’s Cove man “… represents the Dead who rest in France.”

Archival Moment

April 13, 1921

The-Call-To-Duty-Join-The-Army-For-Home-And-CountryWhen the United States entered the Great War of 1914-1918 it was only to be expected that sons of Newfoundland living in the United States would be amongst the sailors and soldiers who would join the American ranks.

Newfoundlanders living in the United States joined the Americans in the hundreds. Some died a hero’s death. The government of the United States had decided (if a request was made by parents or next of kin) to remove from foreign soil the bodies of those killed in war and bring them home for burial. Thousands were transferred, amongst those bodies was one destined for Newfoundland.

The dead soldier was Private Anthony McGrath, a native of Patrick’s Cove, Cape Shore, Placentia Bay, the son of George McGrath. Anthony had been working in New York when the United States declared war on Germany. Shortly afterwards he enlisted in the 106th Infantry Battalion of New York. After training he embarked with his unit as a part of the American Expeditionary Force to France, and in short order was in the front line trenches.

On September 27th, 1918, in the Argonne district, Anthony McGrath sealed his patriotism with his blood, when he was killed in action. The Meuse-Argonne offensive, in the Argonne forest (Sept 26–Nov 11), was their biggest operation and victory, in which Sergeant Alvin York became a national hero (played by Gary Cooper in a 1941 movie).

In the spring of 1921 the remains of Anthony McGrath were removed from France, brought to the United States, and then forwarded to Newfoundland.

In St. John’s, the newly formed Great War Veterans Association (G.W.V.A.) and Newfoundland Militia Department were consulted and arrangements made for a suitable military escort to meet the body on arrival of coastal steamship Kyle in the city.

Upon being notified the G.W.V.A. took charge of all arrangements and issued an appeal to all veterans to assemble at the dock pier, on arrival of S.S. Kyle to do honor to the remains of their deceased comrade. Permission was granted to all sailors and soldiers to wear uniforms and it was requested that all who could do so to wear them, as also for all American sailors or soldiers in St. John’s and vicinity to attend the funeral.

Commenting on the arrangements, the St. John’s newspaper the “Daily News” reported:

“This is an unique occasion in that it is the first body of a Newfoundland soldier who fell in France to be brought back for interment in his homeland …”

Another quotation from the same paper states:

“…. a Newfoundland soldier is being carried from the battlefields in France to find a resting place in his own country, and preparations are being made to pay him due respect in this instance, for he, after all, must represent the Dead who rest in France.”

The funeral procession paraded through the several communities on the Cape Shore, flags were flying at half-mast everywhere. All who could do so joined the funeral en- route to the soldier’s home, where, on April 13th, (1921) he was laid in his final resting place in the little cemetery on the hill overlooking Patrick’s Cove.

The final chapter was written in November, 1942, when representatives of the American Legion went from Argentia to Private McGrath’s grave at Patrick’s Cove and posthumously made him a member of the American Legion.

Anthony was the son of George McGRATH, age 65. He left to mourn his brother Bartholomew McGRATH, age 35; John J. McGRATH, age 25; George McGRATH, age 20; and sister Lucy F. McGRATH age 23.

Recommended Archival Collection: Distinguished Service: the Royal Newfoundland Regiment in the Great War, this exhibition documents the lives and experiences of the province’s soldiers and aims to encourage interest in research on the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. This on line exhibit focuses on the World War I service records of the Regiment, available at the ARCHIVES on microfilm. http://www.rnr.therooms.ca/part1_entering_the_great_war.asp

Recommended Exhibit: At the Rooms: Pleasantville: From Recreation to Military Installation. Level 2 Atrium.

Recommended Reading: Author: Collins, E.J. Repatriated: Veteran Magazine, July 1943, Vol. 14(1), pp. 93-95.