An Encounter With A German U-Boat Off Our Shores
Henri A. Amirault, formerly of West Pubnico, son of Jacques Amirault, was involved for a time in the fish business at Abbott's Harbour. Around 1907, he sold his business to Raymond N. d'Entremont and to Frank E. d'Entremont, and moved to Yarmouth. He bought a house at the corner of Second and Alma Streets, now demolished. In Yarmouth, he opened a large fish plant at what became afterwards the property of Lawrence Sweeney. He owned simultaneously or separately at least eight vessels, ranging from 15 to 93 tons.
One of these vessels was the Nelson A, named for his oldest son, born in 1896. She was built in Shelburne. She was of 72 tons burden. She was destined to cod fishing, when "handlining" was the mode and fishing was carried on from dories.
We know of a number of her captains in her early days, mostly from West Pubnico. In the summer of 1918, her captain was John Simms. He had 17 men aboard with him, among whom were Célestin Muise, and his son Mandé and Denis Muise, all from Surette's Island; James Moody and Simon Muise, of Amirault's Hill; Joseph Watkins, Yarmouth Bar; Roy Simms, of Digby; John Bourque, cook, Robert Doucette [Wedgeport and Yarmouth, N. S.], Moses Doucette, Peter Fitzgerald, Edmond Harris, Vernon Killam, William Muise, La Caine Risser and Archie Surette. They are now all deceased, but surely many of those who will read this sketch will still remember one of them or more.
In that summer of 1918, they left Yarmouth around the 26 of July for one of the fishing banks of southwestern Nova Scotia. Those trips would last usually about 10 days. This trip was to be a fairly good one for the crew; they calculated that it should bring about $83,00 for each man, which then was considered a good trip.
In the forenoon of August 4, on their way to Yarmouth with all sails set, the crew was called to come down for dinner. At about the same time, they saw at a certain distance a post in the middle of the ocean that they had never seen before. It was not a post, but a pipe cutting the water as it advanced towards them. And the first thing they knew, a submarine emerged to the surface speeding still faster towards them. At the thought that it was at the time of war, the First World War, it did not take them long to realize that it was a German U-Boat and that their fate was at stake. At the speed that it was coming there was no use to try to outrun it. Hoisting the German flag, it took no time in fact, to reach the Nelson A.
When it got close enough, a young German officer shouted in English for them to take to the dories and come forward towards the submarine. With a gun from the sub being pointed towards them, the crew had no choice but to lower down the five dories that they had on board. They jumped into them, three or four in each, and rowed towards the submarine.
As they got close to it, a couple of men were summoned to come aboard the sub, as the captain wanted to see them. It happened that Célestin Muise and his son Mandé of Surette's Island were picked for the occasion. They thought that they were "goners" for sure and that they would never see again the rest of the crew, nor even their family. Their visit did not last long, and they were returned to their dory. In the mean time, an officer asked to be taken to the ship to get a good amount of fish that was in the hole.
On his return, the five dories were provided with food and water, then they were told to speed away towards land, as the vessel was about to be blown apart. They had rowed about 200 yards when a bomb, which had been placed under the vessel, ignited with a big bang! It made a large hole in the center of the ship. Immediately, her bow started to lift while her stern started to sink, and she went down to the bottom of the sea, stern first.
When the swell caused by the blast and the sinking of the vessel had subsided, the submarine started to move away and within a few minutes, it disappeared completely underwater. The five dories, a short distance away, which had been tossed heavily by that swell, started to tilt again right and left as the sea rushed to fill that hole or empty space that the sub was leaving on its way down. Finally everything was gone; there they were all by themselves. There was only one thing to do, start rowing. They did, in the direction of Lockeport some 50 to 60 miles away. They must have reached the port next day.
All their belongings had gone down with the Nelson A, except the clothing that they had on themselves. So, along with the owner of the vessel, they applied immediately to the Canadian government for compensation. The war was all over and nearly forgotten before their plea was heard; it took 10 years. Henri A. Amirault received $11,500.00 for the loss of the Nelson A, while each member of the crew received $1,293.00.
It seems that this ordeal did not deter the men from going back to sea. Some of them within the next week were back fishing on some other vessels.
Although the Nelson A and many other vessels had been fishing on those grounds ever since the war had started in 1914, this was the first and only time that a vessel had been attacked. In August of 1918, the war was getting close to its end. In three months, the 11th of November, the Germans surrendered.