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|At 22 years of age, George volunteered to serve his country and King at the onset of WWI. On 21 October 1914 he "signed up" with the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve. During his tour of duty with the navy he worked on the following ships:|
|CALYPSO||21 Oct 1914 - 18 Nov 1914|
|VIVID||19 Nov 1914 - 3 Dec 1914|
|ALSATIAN||04 DeC 1914 - 19 May 1917|
|PEMBROKE||20 May 1917 - 10 Jun 1917|
|HMS BRITON||11 Jun 1917 - 17 Aug 1917|
|HMCS NIOBE||18 Aug 1917 - 25 Mar 1918|
|Demobilized on HMS Brtion||25 Dec 1918|
An excerpt from the book "The Town that Died" by
Michael J. Bird
On the morning of the Great Halifax Explosion of 1917
George, along with other crew members of HMCS Niobe, was working at dockside.
The book, "The Town that Died", written by Michael J. Bird chronicles the
harrowing experiences of both sailor's and civilians caught up in the maelstrom
of nightmares that fateful morning of December 5, 1917. Able Seaman W.
George Critch was one of many heroic people who displayed courage and perseverance
that day. The following is an excerpt from this book: ...By 9 o'clock on
that fateful morning, six minutes before the explosion, the naval divers
from Niobe were working on the concrete foundations of a crane bed off
a dockyard pier just astern of the Depot Ship, were ready for their first
descent. With Chief Master-At-Arms John Gammon, O.K. in charge, the detail
consisted of two experienced divers
and six sailors to man the pumps and attend to the life and air lines. The air pump itself, hand operated by twin pumping wheels stood in a wood and corrugated iron shelter not far from the ladder down which the divers would ponderously lower themselves into the cold, oily water. For the past half-hour the party had been so engrossed in their work that they has seen and heard nothing of the drama further up the harbour.
Gammon carefully checked the divers into their suits and helmets and then as face glasses were tightly screwed into position he signaled to the men in the shed to start pumping. The heavy wheels turned and the life-giving air poured through the lines and into the rubber suits. Responding to a rap on his helmet one of the divers got to his feet and thumped his way awkwardly over to the ladder. he descended slowly and then the sea closed over him he was gone, a thin line of bubbles marking his position on the bed of the harbour. The second diver was halfway down the ladder when the explosion occurred and he was thrown backward into the water by the concussion and sank like a stone. The two men playing out his lines died on their feet and were blown off the pier. Gammon and the sailor who was standing next to him - Able Seaman Walter Critch, RNR, - were sucked up by the blast, carried for twenty feet along the wharf, and then thrown violently to the ground.
For a moment they lay where they had fallen, dazed and badly bruised but otherwise unhurt. Then the two men scrambled to their feet again and the Master-at-Arms saw to his horror that the sailors manning the diving pump had been hurled away from it and that two of them were dead, and the third obviously beyond help. The heavy corrugated iron roof of the shelter has collapsed onto the pump, which was silent and still.
Gammon could not be certain whether or not either of the divers was still alive but he knew that, even by some miracle they had survived the blast, without air they would quickly suffocate. "Get to the pump!" he shouted to Critch and then he raced for the ladder and the lifelines.
When Critch reached the shed he found the pump undamaged but jammed under the fallen roof. Realizing that alone he could never completely clear the broken timbers and metal sheeting in time he squeezed between them and the pump and heaved upward with his shoulders. Grunting and straining he managed in this way to lift the wreckage off the wheels and then, with one hand supporting the leaning roof, he started to pump.
Slowly, painfully slowly, the pistons began to suck in air again. Operating the diving pump normally called for a team of four men, two to each wheel working in relays, to ensure a steady flow and even then it was considered strenuous work. Now, alone, his body aching with bruises and with only one free hand Critch found it almost impossible. Soon he was blinded by a veil of sweat and gasping for breath but somehow he managed to keep the pump going to maintain a trickle of air. By the time Gammon got to the head of the ladder the pier was being bombarded by falling debris. red-hot fragments of metal, stones and large pieces of concrete fell around him but he was not hit and he hardly noticed them for the incredible sight below.
The level of the sea had fallen by more than eighteen feet in the first phase of the tidal wave which even then was forming in a boiling mass six hundred yards further upstream. The divers, already half suffocated despite Critch's valiant efforts, their lifelines and air hoses tangled, floundered helplessly one against the other like partners in a grotesque dance in muddy water only chest high. The Master-at-Arms swung himself down the ladder. In a little while the sea would roar back into the unnatural trough with a mighty rush and with overwhelming and killing force. Before that happened he must somehow get the men to safety up on the pier.
He climbed down until he was just above the divers and from where, by reaching out, he was able to grab the twisted lines. Frantically he struggled to untangle them and at last he was successful. Then he guided the almost exhausted men onto the ladder and, hauling on their life-lines, helped them up, rung by rung, urging them on with threats and curses. But they could not hear him through their helmets and weighed down by their diving equipment and near to passing out for want of air they climbed very slowly. There was still some way to go when Gammon saw the wave, arched like a cobra about to strike and foaming white at the top, racing at express speed toward them.
Desperately he strained on the ropes, willing the divers to safety but at the same time certain that none of them would make it in time. Then, and it seemed to Gammon suddenly, they were at the top and at that very moment the wave struck the pier to shatter the ladder and break over them in a tumult of spray and hissing brine. George Critch passed away in 1982. As a tribute to his actions, Lucy Critch-Smith and CPO1 K. P. McNamara, have framed a picture of George in his Naval Uniform, along with a copy of the newspaper clipping, which now hangs in the canteen of the Dartmouth Fleet Dive Unit.
Return to the Heroes Index
Military Records Contact: Daniel B. Breen
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