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Handley Page history comes to life in Parrsboro


PARRSBORO, N.S. – Crash-landing in Parrboro in 1919 had its benefits.

“We sat on the grass picking delicious wild strawberries, while the youth and beauty of the place ran over to us still in their night attire but afraid to come too near fearing we were Germans,” said Steve Johnson.

The 100th anniversary of the crash-landing of the Handley Page Atlantic aeroplane was celebrated in Parrsboro and at Ottawa House on the weekend of July 5 to 7.

Part of the celebration included readings from newspaper clippings about the crash-landing, including an account from crew-member Herbert Brackley, as read by Johnson at Ottawa House on July 7.

With the hopes of becoming the first aeroplane to travel from Newfoundland to New York City, the Handley Page departed from Newfoundland on the evening of July 4.

On the morning of July 5, one of the four Rolls Royce engines blew apart, sending a piston and connecting rod through the crankcase.

At the time, Parrsboro was one of the few towns in Nova Scotia to have electric street lights, and the crew saw the lights of Parrsboro at about 2:30 a.m.

“One and a half hours before dawn we were over the lights of Parrsboro on the coast of the Bay of Fundy,” said Johnson, through Brackley’s retelling of the event.

“We circled around and waited for dawn and land. Our noise disturbed the peaceful slumber in that part of beautiful Nova Scotia,” he added. “Several enthusiasts with motors (cars) shone their headlights on a small area of the beach on which they thought we could land.”

The Handley Page eventually landed on a horse racetrack at 5:45 a.m.

“We landed very gently on the oval track, but I could not keep on it because of the sharp left turn. We struck some rough ground at low speed which burst a tire and we tipped gently on our nose.”

The Handley Page remained in Parrsboro for repairs until Oct. 9, then continued its flight to New York City, carrying the first airmail from Canada to the U.S.

Twelve people were on the flight to New York, including four reporters. At the time it was the greatest number of people to fly in one aircraft.

After New York, the Handley Page flew to Chicago.

Besides the retelling of the crash-landing, the July 7 events at Ottawa House included a fly-over of several airplanes from the Debert Airport, a Q&A by Kerwin Davison, builder of a full-size replica of the Handley Page's 347 horsepower V12 Rolls Royce engine, and, also, a display of a 1/18th sized model replica of the Handley Page Atlantic built by John Meadows, with the engines created on a 3D printer by Garry Stern.

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