By KAREN WELLS
LEWISPORTE — Thursday, June 25, 1942. 11:50 a.m. “Something is wrong at Hann’s Point. Something has exploded.”
It was a day that literally shook Lewisporte to its core. Eighteen hundred pounds of dynamite exploded. It leaves a crater 20 feet in width and five feet in depth. Five Canadian soldiers died. Another 18 were injured to varying degrees.
This Monday will mark 70 years since the explosion that was — determined at that time to be accidental in nature — was set off by a soldier on duty who fired a shot that ignited an ammunition tent. Inside were 14 boxes of dynamite and one-and-a-half boxes of caps being stored because an ammunition shed had yet to be completed.
In a background document provided to The Pilot through the archives of By the Bay Museum, “Everyone was badly shaken that day by the sounds of death and destruction, but the only sound heard after was the deafening silence.”
For the past six years museum coordinator Barry Porter has included the Hann’s Point explosion in his research efforts.
“It is a piece of history that people have forgotten, so I am slowly piecing together more and more of the picture,” said Mr. Porter. “The explosion changed some people’s lives forever.”
With the 70th anniversary of the explosion taking place on June 25, Mr. Porter took time to share the information he has collected on the incident and the overall military presence that existed in Lewisporte during WWII.
One of the people Mr. Porter had spoken to pertaining to the explosion was his own Uncle Harrison Porter of Porterville, who has since passed away. He had worked as a civilian carpenter at Hann’s Point during the setting up phase of the military base.
“He told me he was there the morning it blew up and he said he saw actual arms and legs flying through the air going out into the bay,” said Mr. Porter. “He thought there was surely more killed — in the commotion I guess it was hard to tell. He was so lucky he wasn’t injured himself.”
The actual explosion didn’t happen at Hann’s Point lookout, but much closer in the area near the end of Dildo Street where it meets Main Street.
“This is a story we need to tell and retell." - — Barry Porter
Mr. Porter has had contact with two men who are the sons of men who served at Hann’s Point. One of them is John Sinclair of New Brunswick. His father, Major Alexander C. Sinclair, was in charge at Hann’s Point at the time of the explosion. He has also had contact with Reverend Rick Walsh. His father was stationed at Hann’s Point. Neither of these gentlemen were injured in the explosion.
Mr. Porter noted that Major Sinclair, along with a Lieutenant Colonel Mackenzie, were charged with negligence. The court martial later cleared them of all charges as the cause of the explosion was deemed to be entirely accidental.
The dynamite was in a tent amongst the base buildings being built in one of three military camps established in Lewisporte.
“Really, it was not safely stored,” said Mr. Porter. “These Canadian soldiers signed up, were sent overseas to be posted in Newfoundland.
“This should have been a ‘good, safe’ location to be stationed during the war, compared to being in Europe. But sadly, five soldiers were killed here and never returned to their loved ones.”
During his work of interviewing area seniors to have their stories on record, Mr. Porter many times asks people about the war and Hann’s Point.
“Some of them told me you could see the mushroom cloud for miles away from the explosion,” he noted. “There was still a gray area as to if it was actually accidental or if it was sabotage.
“Some people say there were several mysterious incidents happening around this place during that time. People have told me about strange people around Salt Pond (Embree) and the power building caught fire just before the explosion. It might be just folklore, but it was wartime and there were German submarines out in this run. I have documentation of two official sightings and apparently there were dozens of other unofficial sightings.”