Thousands of Casualties in Halifax
Halifax Explosion Casualties Added to the Military Casualties Overwhelm the City
The Halifax Explosion injuries included many patients with large splinters of wood, metal, or glass in their bodies, hundreds with eye injuries from flying glass, and crushing injuries caused when buildings collapsed.
Civilian. Hospitals, clinics, and private doctor’s offices were immediately overwhelmed as family members and rescuers began to bring in the injured. Because many Canadian physicians were already in the military, the whole region already had a shortage, and some doctors were killed or badly injured in the explosion.
All medical professionals—doctors, nurses, pharmacists, technicians—and anyone with first-aid or medical training immediately began to work nonstop on the casualties, often with severe shortages of even the most basic supplies. For the first hours they worked in freezing cold buildings because the windows had been blown out. Debris was everywhere. Patients were put all over, often on floors; surgery was performed on tables and desks. In the first few hours, one hospital had no physicians and only five nurses for hundreds of patients.
Unidentified babies were taken to hospitals. Many were eventually claimed by family members, but a few were never identified and were eventually placed in orphanages.
Military. Halifax was the major port for receiving wounded Canadian soldiers brought back from the World War I in France, where the fighting was in its fourth year. The three military receiving hospitals normally processed thousands of wounded. One was destroyed and another heavily damaged in the explosion.
Lt. Col. Frederick McKelvey Bell, assistant director of medical services for the Canadian armed forces, was responsible for the military hospitals in the Halifax area. He had already been the head of Canada’s first battlefield hospital in France from 1914 to 1916. He said that he had “never seen anything on the battlefront equal to the scenes of destruction … in Halifax.”
Injured civilians poured into the military hospitals. Many recuperating soldiers, some barely ambulatory, immediately began to help with civilian casualties and some joined search and rescue parties. A departing U.S. Navy ship returned after the explosion was heard. Its medical personnel helped on a temporary hospital ship, and the crew helped the Canadians retrieve medical supplies from damaged hospitals and ships.
Lt. Col. F. McKelvey Bell also faced a special deadline: a ship was approaching Halifax with 1,000 more wounded Canadian soldiers who would need to be moved into the military hospitals.
Total Casualties. Overall, 1611 people were identified as killed by the explosion and its aftermath.
|bodies known to be missing||410||25%|
|Note: all percentages are of the total 1611 dead. Based on Laura M. MacDonald, Curse of the Narrows (New York: Walker & Company, 2005), Appendix D.|
- Dealing with mass death after a community catastrophe: handling bodies after the Halifax explosion an article by Joseph Scanlon
- Digital Archives of the CBC: Search Halifax Explosion