Halifax Explosion, The – Creighton

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Lyrics

It was on the sixth of December, nineteen hundred and seventeen,
That Halifax suffered disaster, the worst she’d ever seen,
It was five minutes after nine, those still alive can tell
That the beautiful city of Halifax was just given a taste of hell.

Children were gone to their lessons, their mothers were busy at home,
While fathers worked on at the factories little dreaming they’d soon be alone,
When there comes creeping up the harbour a ship loaded down to the rail
With the most horrible death-dealing cargo that was ever allowed to sail.

3 She carried a deck load of benzoil and shells for overseas,
In her hold a new explosive, they call it TNT,
But why should this death dealing monster be allowed to come creeping here
To bathe our beautiful city in widows’ and orphans’ tears?

4 There comes a cry from a merchant, there’s a vessel afire out there,
But a few pay any attention for that is a fireman’s care,
The relief ship had rammed the monster tearing a hole in her side,
And eased out in the stream again and drifted on with the tide.

5 It was five minutes after nine as those alive can tell
That the beautiful city of Halifax was given a taste of Hell,
The earthquake has its rumble, the cannon has its roar,
But this was worse than even those, yes, multiplied by four.

6 And then when the crash was over those still alive struck dumb
Turned into living statues wondering what next would come,
For no one knew what had happened, some thought the end of the world
While others thought it was the Germans marching in with their banners unfurled.

7 Then rushing out into the streets from their tumbling and shattered homes
Some with cuts and bruises and others with broken bones,
They were met with sights more horrible than any they’d ever seen,
For there lay the dead and dying, it was worse than a battle scene.

8 Houses were crushed like paper, people were killed like flies,
The coroner’s record tells us the toll was twelve hundred lives,
Two thousand were maimed and wounded, hundreds more lost their sight,
And God· knows how many children were alone in the world that night.

9 From the north to Rockhead Hospital and west to the Exhibition grounds
There wasn’t anything living and not a single sound,
The streets were filled with debris, with dying and with dead,
There lies a little baby’s hand there an old man’s head.

10 There out upon the Commons that cold December morn
Tender innocent little souls into the world were born,
Women hugged their children, their hearts were filled with fear,
While husbands lay beneath their homes they all had loved so dear.

11 Old time went on apace, chill night was drawing nigh
And many were those whose roof that night was just the bright blue sky.
And then the following morning as if to hurt them twice
There came a storm from the ocean, a blizzard of snow and ice.


4 Responses to “Halifax Explosion, The – Creighton”

  1. Richard Bell says:

    I came across a version of this song in an old clipping dated February, 1967, from a publication called “Twin Cities Review.” There was also a “courtesy of Radio Station CHNS.” The “U.S.A. reference makes it sound like these verses were added by an American.

    There were 3 more stanzas.

    Freezing the poor unfortunates,
    Who had no [lace to go,
    And many a poor soul drifted,
    To Heaven from out the snow.

    The States weep with you Halifax,
    In this your hour of sorrow,
    They offer you their help and gold,
    So don’t wait ’till tomorrow.

    Just wade right in, and help yourself,
    And we the bill will pay,
    For that’s the way they do things,
    In the good old “U.S.A.”

    • Heather Sparling says:

      Thanks so much for those additional stanzas, Richard. They don’t seem to fit the line lengths of the original song, though — they’re only half as long. Maybe the original song was sometimes shown with twice as many verses (splitting the longer verses above into two shorter verses)?

  2. Alexander Wilk says:

    There is a small 60 page book by Ernest Fraser Robinson, copyright 1987, about the Halifax Disaster.

    He ends the book with a poem, which he says was printed in the Halifax Mail-Star newspaper on the 50th anniversary of the explosion. No author is credited but it’s stated it was written by one of the survivors. It too includes those last three stanzas.

    It was the sixth of December
    Nineteen hundred and seventeen,
    Halifax suffered disaster
    The worst she had ever seen.

    The morning was bright with sunshine
    A typical winter day.
    None had thought of danger
    As they wandered their busy way.

    The children had gone to their lessons
    Their mothers were busy at home,
    While fathers worked in factories
    Little dreaming they’d soon be alone.

    There comes a creeping up the harbour
    A ship loaded down in the rail,
    With the most horrendous death dealing cargo
    That was ever allowed to sail.

    She carried a deck load of benzol
    And shells for overseas,
    In her hold a new explosive
    They called it TNT

    Now why should this death dealing monster
    Be allowed to come creeping up here,
    To bathe our beautiful city
    In widow and orphans’ tears.

    The relief ship rammed the monster
    Tearing a hole in her side,
    Then eased out in the stream again
    And drifted along with the tide.

    There came a cry from a merchant
    “There’s s steamer on fire out there!”
    But few paid any attention
    As that is the fireman’s care.

    It was five minutes after nine
    As those still alive can tell,
    The beautiful city of Halifax
    Was given a taste of Hell.

    The earthquake hath its rumble
    The cannon hath its roar,
    But this was worse than even those
    Yes, multiplied by four.

    And when the crash was over
    Those still alive struck dumb,
    Turned into living statues
    And wondered what next would come.

    For no one knew what had happened
    Some though it the end of the world,
    And others thought ’twas Germans
    Marching in with banners unfurled.

    Then rushing forth into the streets
    From their tumbling and shattered homes,
    Some with cuts and bruises
    And others with broken bones.

    They were met by a sight more horrible
    Than any there had been
    For there lay the dead and dying
    ‘Twas worse than a battle scene.

    Houses were crushed like paper
    The people were killed like flies,
    And the coroner’s record tells us
    The toll was a thousand lives.

    From north to Rockhead Hospital
    And west to the exhibition ground,
    There wasn’t anything living
    And not a single sound.

    The streets were filled with debris
    With dying and with dead,
    There lies a little baby’s hand
    And there’s an old man’s head.

    There out upon the Common
    That cold December morn,
    Tender little innocent souls
    Into this world were born.

    Woman hugged their children
    Their hearts were filled with fear,
    While husbands lay beneath the homes
    They all had loved so dear.

    And so on the following morning
    As if to hurt them twice,
    There came a storm from the ocean
    A blizzard of snow and ice.

    Freezing the poor unfortunates
    Who had no place to go,
    And many a poor soul
    Drifted to heaven from out the snow.

    The States weep with you, Halifax
    In this your hour of sorrow,
    They offer you their help and gold
    So don’t wait ’til tomorrow

    But step right up and help yourself
    And we the bill will pay
    For that’s the way they do thing
    In the good old U.S.A.

    • Heather Sparling says:

      Thanks for sharing the poem! I have a record of a number of disaster poems but decided not to post them because the project is already big enough. And as an ethnomusicologist, I’m interested in music. But of course many songs began as poems and were later set to music, and song lyrics often work well as poetry, so there is a close relationship between songs and poetry. Interesting to see the last three verses of the song Creighton collected in this poem!

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