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Postcard written day before Halifax explosion death made its way to family in Yarmouth

Yarmouth resident Don Parnell next to a family photograph of his great-grandfather Henry Doane, his grandfather Leslie when he was just a child, and his great-grandmother Etta. Henry Doane was among those to die in the Halifax Explosion 100 years ago.
Yarmouth resident Don Parnell next to a family photograph of his great-grandfather Henry Doane, his grandfather Leslie when he was just a child, and his great-grandmother Etta. Henry Doane was among those to die in the Halifax Explosion 100 years ago. - Tina Comeau

Henry Doane had written the postcard to his wife on Dec. 5, 1917. He was killed the next day.

YARMOUTH, N.S. – Henry Doane’s thoughts were on his family. An engineer aboard the Royal Canadian Navy vessel F.W. Roebling, situated in the basin of the Halifax harbour, he wrote a postcard to his wife Etta at their Yarmouth County home.

In it he asked what he should buy their son for Christmas.

It was a gift he wouldn’t get to pick out.

He wrote the postcard on Dec. 5, 1917.

The next day he was among those killed in the Halifax explosion on Dec. 6.

The postcard arrived in Yarmouth later that week.

Doane, 42, was the great grandfather of Don Parnell. Don and his wife Mary Ann only learned of the postcard’s existence about four years ago when they were cleaning things out of Don’s parents’ attic.

“He wrote the postcard and the next day there was the explosion and he was killed. They already knew he had passed when the postcard arrived,” Mary Ann says – noting receiving it must have been both a shock and a treasured keepsake.

“He must have gone directly to the post office and mailed it right away for it to get out,” says Don. The postcard written on Dec. 5 arrived in Yarmouth by train. “It’s interesting that he wrote the postcard and that it actually got out of Halifax.”

Don says the postcard, and other letters Doane had written, gave those back home a glimpse of what life was like for him.

“It gave you a sense of what was happening onboard the tug,” he says. “He talked about different things that they did.”

This year is the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion, which occurred the morning of Dec. 6, 1917, when the French munitions cargo ship SS Mont-Blanc, loaded with explosives, collided with the Norwegian Belgium-chartered relief vessel SS Imo in Halifax harbour. Around 2,000 people were killed and an estimated 9,000 others were injured. Much of Halifax was destroyed in what was the largest man-made explosion before the atomic bomb.

The Parnells knew of their family’s connection to the explosion. Henry Doane’s name is also amongst those listed on the Lost to the Sea memorial on Yarmouth’s Water Street. But until a few years ago, the couple – celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this week – never knew of the final words Doane was able to send home so close to his death.

“This was just by accident that we found it,” says Mary Ann. “We didn’t know until four years ago that it existed.”

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