The Norwegian Connection

Kjetil Saugestad, Joel Zemel & Per Hunstok

In August, 2017, I received a phone call from Norwegian journalist for NRK radio, Kjetil Saugestad. He told me he was in town to interview various authors whose works were associated with the 1917 Halifax Explosion. Travelling with him was a fellow Norwegian, Per Hunstok, whose grandfather, Sigurd Olsen, was a member of the crew of the Belgian Relief vessel, SS Imo. So, we met the next day at their hotel and spent the next few hours discussing various aspects of the explosion - concentrating mostly on the role of Imoin the collision with the French munitions ship, SS Mont-Blanc and the explosion's aftermath. Kjetil and I agreed to exchange some files. Apparently, we both had been trying to obtain various rare and quality images and files the other had in his possession. All in all, the trade turned out to be quite equitable and we still contact each other to discuss new information.

Per told me of his grandfather, who was either at the bow or stern of the ship (he is not certain which) just before the explosion. The blast launched Mr. Olsen through the air from one end of the ship to the other whereby he lost his left arm in the process. Imo was carried down the harbour to the Dartmouth shore, her upper works completely destroyed. The survivors of the ship were rescued and taken aboard the British cruiser, HMS Highflyer, later in the day. Per showed me a nice photographic print of Imo that had been given to him when he was a small boy by his grandfather. On the reverse side was a personal message to never forget 6 December 1917.

One of the stories that fascinated Kjetil was that of Ralph the dog who had belonged to Captain Haakon From, the master of Imo. There are two conflicting accounts regarding canine encounters aboard the ship the day of the disaster. He will be writing of this and other explosion related stories in December.

Kjetil forwarded scans of Captain Haakon From's obituary in a 1917 edition of the Sandefjord Blad as well as a photograph of three young From brothers. The obit image required some reconstruction and using the photograph of the younger captain I was able to do this. Read about the process in this PDF article.

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