The WWII Sailor Who Died In An Accidental Explosion and Fire

June 27, 2018.  In wartime, losing your life in battle is a terrible, but not unexpected event.  When someone loses their life in an accident, the tragedy is compounded.  The story of WWII sailor Elmer Allister MABEY, born June 2, 1918 in Tryon, son of Albert Mabey and Ellen McNeill, is about a promising young man who was very unfortunate.

Prior to enlistment, he worked with Wood and Co in Crapaud, R.T. Holman’s in Summerside, and lastly at Eastern Hay and Feed in Charlottetown.

Photo Elmer Allister Mabey Jun 2 1918 to Mar 12 1941

Elmer Allister Mabey. (Photo courtesy of Allister Mabey Family Collection.)

In September 1939 Mabey enlisted with the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve in Charlottetown and was soon transferred to Halifax to complete a wireless course at the HMCS Stadacona base.  In November 1939 he was assigned to the HMCS Otter.

Formerly a private yacht known as the Conseco, it was renamed the Otter and turned over to the Royal Canadian Navy for war service as a coastal patrol vessel.  A wooden boat, reinforced with a steel hull, it normally spent its days sailing back and forth across Halifax Harbour, watching for floating mines and German U-boats (submarines).

On the morning of March 26, 1941, as the Otter sailed only 24 nautical miles from Halifax, an explosion and a fire ripped through the vessel, in what was later determined to be an accident. In a newspaper account, a crew member on a merchant ship who witnessed the event said that “the Otter sank like a stone, stern first, just after her blazing bow reared high in the air”. Once the captain recognized that the fire was too much, he gave the order to abandon ship.

When the order was given to abandon ship, the Otter’s crew barely fit into the two lifeboats and one inflatable raft. Although a Polish freighter and a Royal Navy submarine were nearby, rescue proved to be very difficult due to heavy seas.

One of the lifeboats was flipped by an unusually large wave when the Polish freighter came alongside. Sailors on the lifeboat were flung into the icy water, with some never seen again. Many of those rescued didn’t survive the trip to Halifax, despite the efforts of the Polish merchantmen who took turns applying artificial respiration and trying to warm the men.

The British Submarine found the inflatable raft.  15 men were on it, but by the time they could be rescued only four were still alive.

22 men survived, but two officers and 17 enlisted men died, among them Mabey.  To make this tragedy even worse, Mabey’s body was never recovered. The Halifax Memorial in Point Pleasant Park in Halifax, which we visited, honours those who lost their lives at sea in wartime, including those aboard the Otter.

Halifax Memorial in Point Pleasant Park

Halifax Memorial at Point Pleasant Park in Halifax. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)


Mabey’s name listed on the Halifax Memorial at Point Pleasant Park in Halifax. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

A big thank you to Allister Mabey for sharing the photo of Mabey.  If you can add more to Mabeys story, email us at  Comments or stories?  You can share them by email or by commenting on this blog.

UPCOMING PRESENTATION: Pieter has been invited to speak about the Cenotaph Research Project at St John The Evangelist Anglican Church in Crapaud at 7 pm on Thursday, July 12, 2018.  Location: 391 Nelson St, Trans Canada Hwy Rte, Crapaud, PE C0A 1J0.  Photos and information about soldiers welcome.

© Daria Valkenburg

3 thoughts on “The WWII Sailor Who Died In An Accidental Explosion and Fire

  1. Pingback: Desecration of Halifax Memorial | Borden-Carleton Cenotaph Research Project

  2. Pingback: The Mariner Whose Ship Was Torpedoed In The English Channel | Borden-Carleton Cenotaph Research Project

  3. Pingback: On The War Memorial Trail….. Atlantic Canada Remembers – Part 10 | On The War Memorial Trail Research Project…….. with Pieter and Daria Valkenburg

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