This article was taken from our archives. It first appeared in The Bermudian in Winter 2007. It appears here exactly as it did originally.
The Guild of Holy Compassion has been honouring those lost as sea for 90 years.
The morning of August 16 starts with stormy cloud and driving rain, but by late morning the sky has brightened. Which is just as well, since the St. David’s pilot rescue boat is out on its routine mission to pick up Bermudian pilots who have guided the container ship Bermuda Islander and the Norwegian Majesty through the reefs. But today it has another mission as well: to lay three wreaths upon the waves in honour of those who have perished at sea.
Leading seaman Averell and coxswain Tyrone Edwards are joined by the Reverend David Raths of St. Peter’s Church in St George’s, together with Henry Hayward and Dr. Derek Tully of the Guild of Holy Compassion, a local Anglican organisation devoted to helping seamen. Though the rain has stopped, the pilot boat is still bouncing on the waves off St David’s Head, and as the Islander draws parallel there’s a thud when the two boats knock against each other. Deputy warden Brian Richardson safely on board, the boat waits for the Norwegian Majesty to emerge through the Cut. As it waits, another pilot boat carrying senior branch pilot Mario Thompson draws up so that he can take part in the ceremony. The wind starts to pick up again, and as one famous Scottish ballad puts it, “Gurly grows the sea.” Within minutes, the Norwegian Majesty looms dramatically close. One of its crewmen on a lower level opens a door and drops a rope ladder, which flaps in the wind. And then, like a film star, pilot warden Edward Welsh appears on the ship, nimbly negotiates the swaying (“Jacob’s”) ladder and boards the St. David’s rescue boat. The wreath ceremony can begin.
The story of the Guild of Holy Compassion begins in the early hours of New Year’s Day, 1918, when 16-year old St. Georgian Dickie Tucker was presumably fast asleep at the house of his father, Canon Arthur Tudor Tucker of St. Peter’s Church. Two American tugs were moored side by side at Meyer’s Wharf in St. George’s: the Fred E. Richards and the Kingfisher. The crew of the Fred E. Richards were quiet—most were resting in the tug’s forecastle—but one, Thomas Crealy, noticed fighting on board the Kingfisher. He alerted his fellow crew, including seaman Henry De Barr and oiler Harold Forest, telling them that some of the men on the Kingfisher were making threats against its captain, Lawrence Flynn. Once up on deck the Richards men saw a cabin or mess boy brandishing a six-barrelled revolver and then shooting into the air. They jumped from the rail of their boat to the deck of the Kingfisher and immediately became engaged in a brawl with three Russian firemen and the cabin boy, all fighting for the gun. Crealy threatened to put the firemen in irons. One of the firemen wrenched the gun from the boy, and when his crewmates pinned Crealy to the ground, he jammed the weapon into Crealy’s side and shot him twice in quick succession. Crealy died some two hours later at the military hospital. He was just 33 years old.
An inquest was held at 9:00 a.m. that same morning, and the next day The Royal Gazette reported on the evidence with the headline “Curious Shooting Affray at St. George’s.” The old town was “severely shocked,” it said. But one thing was certain; the inquiry held Crealy’s death to be definitely suspicious. Two of the three arrested Russians, William Boordyn, who had allegedly fired the shots, and Kosme Nicolenko, who had pinned Crealy down, were indicted for murder. The third, J. Kochagaraski, who according to Harold Forest “…took no part in the fray, but was running around the ship more like a lost sheep…,” was discharged.
However, the inquiry and the ensuing murder trial revealed anomalies. The cabin boy, identified as William Ross, stated that the three Russians had attacked him in his bunk because they thought he was withholding money the captain had given him for them. Ross then went to the captain’s cabin, the men following him. He said the captain gave him a revolver to chase the men. He then fired into the air. Boordyn got hold of the revolver. Ross jumped into the sea and was shot in the elbow. When he climbed back on board the Kingfisher, he saw Crealy had been shot. The captain agreed that Ross had come to his room shortly after Crealy had rushed in to tell him his firemen were threatening to shoot him. He said the boy was crying and “badly used up,” explaining the firemen had beaten him as he was going to bed. But the captain did not agree that he had given Ross the gun. Instead, he said, Ross went to his drawer, took the gun and went out with Crealy. What’s puzzling about this version is that De Barr gave evidence that he and Crealy saw Ross fire the gun as they we were watching from the Fred E. Richards.
Whatever the truth, the jury found Boordyn guilty not of murder but of manslaughter and Nicolenko innocent of all charges. Perhaps they thought the New Year’s alcoholic festivities were to blame. In its “What the Man’s Saying on the Street” column, The Royal Gazette was somewhat sardonic:
That the old year went out noisily in St. George’s.
That it is too bad that the only Russian who wants to fight is so far away from the seat of war [Russia had pulled out of the First World War. In fact, there were several uprisings within Russia in 1917].
That the New Year has begun with several mishaps but a bad beginning often means a good ending.
Perhaps both crews had the last saying in mind when they clubbed together to give Thomas Crealy a decent burial in St. George’s Cemetery. Canon Tucker agreed to officiate, and as luck would have it his son, Dickie, accompanied him at the graveside. According to Dr. Tully, the sailors of both ships went up to the boy and asked him to tend to the grave until they returned. Of course, they never did return, but something about the incident and the request ran deep within him. From that time on, Dickie Tucker became a man with a mission: not only would he honour their request (a gravestone exists to this day), he would help all seamen visiting Bermuda. And so the Guild of Holy Compassion was born, its name the suggestion of the Canon. Martha Hayward, Henry Hayward’s mother, became the treasurer, while Maud Jennings was secretary. Gradually, Dickie’s name became a byword among sailors—if they needed clothing and a shower upon their arrival, they knew Dickie would provide them.
Some nine years later, he found a rest and recreation area for visiting seamen on the upper floor of Todd’s Building on the corner of York and Clarence Streets. But early in the new year of 1927, another tragic event no doubt strengthened his commitment to seamen even more. The luxury steamship Royal Mail Steam Packet Avon was due to arrive in Bermuda at nine in the morning on Thursday, January 28, 1927. Her arrival was anticipated with excitement since it was her first trip on the New York–Bermuda run. Six men went out in the pilot gig Ocean Queen II to put pilot H. M. Tucker on board the steamship. They were Gouldrich Richardson, Ernest Tucker, “Chippy” Edgar Smith, Irving Pascoe, “Boisey” Robert Gibbons and George Brangman, described by the Gazette as “a fine young man, the son of Pilot Brangman and Mrs. Brangman of Turkey Hill.” According to The Royal Gazette, “a very dark cloud made up in the northwest and gradually came across to the southeast and met the southeast wind when rain began to fall.” The crew reached the Avon, and pilot Tucker successfully got on board. “Are you guys OK?” the captain shouted. “We’re fine,” shouted back the answer. And they were last seen carrying mainsail and jib and making for St. George’s in thick fog. The Avon, hampered by the poor visibility, finally arrived in Hamilton at three in the afternoon. That evening the captain and officers were guests of honour at a dinner hosted by the Trade Development Board at the Hamilton Princess Hotel.
Meanwhile, no one worried much about the crew of the Ocean Queen II. It was thought they had missed land because of the fog and would drift to the south of the island. By Friday, though, there were “grave fears.” Wireless messages were sent to approaching ships, signal stations were contacted and the St. Abbs went out in search along with several motorboats. Friday afternoon the news came through: the St. Abbs had found the wrecked gig and had brought a portion back. The boat returned to St. George’s, flying her flag at half-mast. All hope for the men of the Ocean Queen II had gone. It was reported that the gig must have been struck by a sudden whirlwind just after the crew had left the Avon. Because many of the men were supporting their families, some visitors staying at the Mid Ocean Club wanted to contribute to a fund for the relatives and presumably did so when the governor opened a public subscription. Once again, the Guild of the Holy Compassion took care of the memorial. Ordered from a company in London, it can also be seen in the sailors’ section of St. George’s Cemetery. But from 1918 on, Dickie made sure a memorial service for those lost at sea was held in St. Peter’s Church every All Souls’ Day, November 2.
The years rolled by, but Dickie’s aid for seamen in no way diminished. When World War II broke out in 1939, he continued to look out for visiting seamen and for those lost at sea. If bodies were found, he would make sure they were buried with due ceremony in plots at St. George’s, Roberts Avenue and Paget. His name became a byword with Norwegian sailors who might arrive here from Halifax and then face the voyage to Liverpool. Perhaps he had particular sympathy for them, because for the duration of the war they could not return to their own Nazi-occupied country. In any event, he made sure they had fresh clothing and shelter in St. George’s. In fact, his name became so well known among Norwegian sailors that after the war he was knighted by King Haakon VII of Norway for all his support. Eventually, Dickie helped start the Bermuda Home for Sailors on Richmond Road in Hamilton, and the Guild became affiliated with Mission to Seamen, an international Anglican organisation.
Of course, not all the seamen he helped during the war were Norwegian, nor were the ones he buried all killed in enemy action. For example, one British sailor, a Mr. Mackintosh, was killed off Bermuda when a boiler on board his ship exploded. He was buried in the cemetery of St. Paul’s, Paget. Many years later, in 1990, Dr. Tully explains, his brother came to Bermuda for the first time to seek closure and found comfort in being able to view his sibling’s grave. For several years after he sent contributions from England to the Guild. When the contributions ceased, it was assumed that he too had died.
On December 28, 1988, disaster struck again when the 256-foot container ship Lloyd Bermuda suddenly capsized in 35-foot seas 200 miles east of New Jersey. Six of the 11 crew were rescued by a merchant ship and the Coast Guard, but just four survived. It seemed fitting for the Guild to erect a memorial, made by the same company who cut the tablet for the crew of Ocean Queen II, in St. George’s Cemetery. Dickie Tucker died that year and so was not part of a new arrangement: to hold a service at sea. The Guild started their annual wreath-laying ceremony in 1989 aboard a pilot boat toward the end of the cruise-ship season. It has been doing so ever since.
Three wreaths are tossed on the turbulent waves. Dr. Tully tells the story of a young cabin boy who was shot for trying to quiet a brawl and of another boy, perhaps the same age, who made it his life’s mission to help those at sea and their families. The pilots stand to attention, remembering with solemnity six brave Bermudian pilots who lost their lives in a fearful storm.
The Reverend David Raths also stands to give the prayer and the blessing: “Let us pray. Almighty God, Eternal Father, whose Spirit was upon the waters of the earth at its creation and whose Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, stilled the storm on the Sea of Galilee, receive the prayers we offer to you this day for all who have perished at sea, especially in the waters around these islands, and particularly those whose graves are in the depths. Bless these wreaths which we cast upon the waves to their memory, O Lord God, and when our memories fade and there is no longer anyone to remember them, in your great love for all people remember them, as we pray that you will remember us, for the sake of your mercy in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” The St. David’s pilot boat sounds a sad horn, and pilot Thompson leads the pilots in the traditional song for seamen, “Let the Lower Lights Be Burning.” The ceremony is over and the wreaths drift into the distance.