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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

 

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.

POW CAMP

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.

Nora Edwards at 99 years young is still active in her religious community. In March she celebrated her 77th anniversary as a member of the religious community.

Recommended Archival Collection: Search the Rooms  online database for descriptions of our archival records and view thousands of digital photographs. https://www.therooms.ca/collections-research/our-collections

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.