Union Cemetery – Calgary: Part Two

With 50,000 people buried in Union Cemetery (not all in marked graves) there are literally thousands of stories to be told. Continuing on from my previous post on Monday, I’m going to look at a couple of memorials which are related to two famous nautical disasters.

STEENROBERT ALEXANDER STEEN.  Forty-seven years of age, a private in the Canadian Army Medical Corps, Steen was one of the 234 personnel murdered by the Germans on the Hospital Ship Llandovery Castle in World War One. The ship was returning to England from Halifax NS, carrying 164 men, 14 nurses, and 80 officers and men of the Canadian Army Medical Corps.

Under the Hague Convention, hospital ships are prohibited from carrying arms, must be clearly marked with the Red Cross, and sail with all lights burning. The enemy are allowed to stop and search the ships, but must not fire on them. However, on June 27th, 1918, a German submarine fired on the Llandovery Castle.

It sank within 10 minutes. Three lifeboats got away. The German captain – Patzig – interrogated those on the boats to find ‘proof’ of misuse of the ship (ie that it was carrying arms). Unable to find any, he then ordered his crew to prepare to dive. With only himself and a few other sailors on board, they attempted to hide their war crime by ramming and machine gunning the boats and survivors in the water. Twenty-four men in one of the lifeboats survived and were rescued 36 hours later. All 14 nurses were murdered. The sinking became a rallying cry for the Canadian forces in the last few months of the war. Captain Patzig was never found or prosecuted for war crimes.

Please click HERE to find a link to a brief report of the tragedy on the front page of The Calgary Daily Herald on July 2nd, 1918.

dickALBERT and VERA DICK were two of the 795 survivors of the sinking of the Titanic on April 10th, 1912 which killed more than 1,500 men, women and children.  Albert, who made his early fortune in Calgary’s land boom,  married his seventeen year-old wife Vera in the fall of 1911. They travelled to Italy, Palestine,  Egypt and France on an extended honeymoon, picking up the Titanic in Cherbourg. Their first-class tickets cost 57 GBP each. They both escaped in lifeboat #3.

In an era when the custom was, ‘Women and children first,’ Albert’s survival caused controversy. He claimed that, while trying to calm his hysterical wife who was clinging to him, he was pushed into the lifeboat. Some speculated that he dressed himself as a woman (not true) to escape. However, it must be remembered that men were needed to row the lifeboats far enough away from the ship to prevent them being drawn down into the vortex  as the ship went down. Whatever the reason, Albert’s survival meant that he carried a stigma for the rest of his life. In some places he was even considered not ‘socially respectable’ for having survived.