The Albert Medal for Saving Life at Sea awarded to Edmund Ernest Beard © Canadian War Museum

Canadian War Museum obtains bravery medal of First World War sailor killed in 1917 Halifax blast

Posted on on 27 April 2014
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The Canadian War Museum has acquired the second of two gallantry medals awarded to Canadian sailors who were killed by a massive explosion in the port of Halifax during the First World War.

Edmund Beard's Albert Medal for Saving Life at Sea joins that of Albert Mattison in the Museum's collection in Ottawa.

Both men were serving with the Royal Naval Canadian Volunteer Reserve (RNCVR) when they went to the aid of a French munitions ship that caught fire after a collision with a cargo vessel in Halifax Harbour in December 1917. 

Stoker Petty Officer Beard was on board a small naval boat which arrived at the scene just as the SS Mont-Blanc exploded. According to the official registry of the disaster, his body was never recovered.

2,000 dead

The blast killed 2,000 people and wrecked much of Halifax, Nova Scotia, leaving thousands homeless. It was the biggest man-made explosion in history until the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945. 

James Whitham, Director General of the Canadian War Museum, said: “December 6 1917 was a tragic day in Canadian history. The Albert Medal awarded to Edmund Ernest Beard will help us tell this story to present and future generations.”

The medal of Albert Mattison, an Acting Boatswain in the RNCVR, was obtained by the Museum in 2011. Its collection also includes two of the four Albert Medals awarded to members of the British Royal Navy for their actions on that day.

Devastation and heroism

The museum says the honours testify to the devastation and heroism that followed the collision between the Mont-Blanc and the freighter SS Imo, which had been chartered to deliver relief supplies to German-occupied Belgium. The Atlantic port of Halifax played an important role in shipping troops and supplies to Europe in the Great War.

The Albert Medal, named in memory of Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, was instituted in 1866. It was discontinued in 1971 and replaced by the George Cross.

The Canadian War Museum's latest acquisition also includes Edmund Beard’s three service medals, a memorial plaque and several documents and photographs. 

It was made possible in part by the National Collection Fund, which supports the purchase of nationally significant artefacts by the Canadian War Museum and the Canadian Museum of History.

Source: The Canadian War Museum

Date of press release publication: 23rd April 2014

Images: © Canadian War Museum,Tilston Memorial Collection of Canadian Military Medals, CWM20130162-001

Posted by: Peter Alhadeff, Centenary News