Fire and Flame is the fourth track on the 2020 album Cures What Ails Ya, it was written by Dave Robinson, and as such is a Longest Johns Original.
This song memorializes the 1917 Halifax Explosion, one of the most tragic disasters in Canadian history.
On the morning of December 6th 1917, the French cargo ship Mont-Blanc bound from New York to Bordeaux. The Cargo manifest and ships logs for the Mont-Blanc indicate it was carrying 2,925 tons of explosives in its hold, and as they couldn't fit any more below deck. Barrels of Benzol and Picric Acid that also had to make the trip were stored on deck instead of below deck as usual.
Due to frequent assaults by German U-boats, restrictions on allowing ships with dangerous cargo into safe harbour were lifted during World War I, as the straits leading into many Canadian harbours had been selected during the Napoleonic Wars specifically for the ease at which they could be defended. Halifax Harbour being no exception, as it requires the careful navigation of the narrows between the land to reach the port at Bedford Strait.
The collision between the Imo and the Mont-Blanc culminated from a vast array of follies, not the least of which were the excessive speed of the Imo nor the lack of special protections that the Mont-Blanc had requested.
At 8:45 the two ships collided and the barrels on Mont-Blanc's deck breached, and, while trying to disengage from the Imo, the Benzol ignited. The captain gave an immediate order to abandon ship, expecting it would explode immediately...but for the better part of twenty minutes the ship sat burning in the harbour while valiant efforts were made to douse the flames by three ships. Nothing could stop the flames.
During this time, Patrick Vincent Coleman, a train dispatcher for the Canadian Government Railways was informed of the situation. Rather than trying to evacuate, Coleman remained at the telegraph office and managed to dispatch numerous warning messages to all train stops bound into Halifax. His message is credited as having saved more than three hundred lives.
It read simply:
Hold up the train. Ammunition ship afire in harbour making for Pier 6 and will explode. Guess this will be my last message. Good-bye boys.
At 9:04am the Mont-Blanc's detonated with such force that the ship disintegrated entirely. Its half-ton anchor was found 3.2 kilometers away from the point where the explosion had occurred, and to this day is a memorial cenotaph. The blast was reportedly heard over 200 kilometres away. The resulting blast killed nearly 2000 people, injuring 9,000 more, and the resulting Tsunami obliterated the native community of Mi'kmaq at Tufts Cove.
It is believed to have been one of the single worst disasters in Canadian history.
More info can be found here: ☀https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Mont-Blanc
Let me sing you a song boys of fire and flame,
of a French ammo ship, the Mont-Blanc was her name
How the brave Nova Scotia was never the same
On the morning when Halifax burned
'Twas in early December nineteen seventeen,
She was packed to the gills with Grade A T-N-T
They were bound for the fighting in High Germany
When towards them the other ship turned
The Norwegian ship Imo, some fault in her gears
She struck Mont-Blanc's side like the mightiest of spears
And the benzol ignited; the captain's worst fears
as the fire consumed bow to stern
The people gazed on from their safe distant roofs,
Watched the soot and the smoke fill the sky with their plumes
But within the ships cargo would spell all their dooms
How were they to know to be concerned?
The crew rowed for shore lest they burn or they drown
They cried 'SAVE YOUR SOULS!' as they ran through the town
But their warnings were nothing but strange foreign sounds
for the townsfolk: no French had they learned
One man, Patrick Coleman, in the railway's employ
sent word: 'Stop the trains or they'll all be destroyed
This will be my last message, farewell to you, boys.'
For a true hero's death he had earned
An explosion - colossal - when the munitions blew
Devastation and debris for miles fired through
The Mont-Blanc was gone and the town with it, too
and the waters raged up in return
There were heroes and angels all fated to die
Over two thousand souls laid to rest by-and-by
We will always remember and lift a glass high
To the morning when Halifax burned