WATCH: Last year, the Harper government announced the forthcoming Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships would be named after those who served with the highest distinction in the countries Navy. Three of the ships, HMCS Harry DeWolfe, HMCS Margaret Brooke and HMCS Max Bernays, have already been named. Today, a forth iconic Canadian was honoured. Global’s Natasha Pace reports.
HALIFAX – One of six forthcoming Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships will be named in honour of Petty Officer William Hall. He was the first black person and first Nova Scotian to be presented with the Victoria Cross.
“Petty Officer Hall is well-deserving of this honour. He is a tremendous example of the courage with which our men and women in uniform serve this country. It is with pride that our Government recognizes the service of William Hall and the service of all Canadian Armed Forces personnel,” says Julian Fantino, Associate Minister of National Defence.
Hall was born Avonport, Nova Scotia in April of 1829. His father was one of the black refugees brought to the province during the War of 1812. Hall joined the Royal Navy as an able seaman in February of 1852. Four years later, he was assigned to HMS Shannon.
The ship was sent to Calcutta, British India, when the Rebellion broke out in 1857. Mariners, sailors and gunners from HMS Shannon formed the Shannon Brigade and took part in the Relief of Lucknow. In November of that year, naval guns were close to the mutineers’ fortification and crews were trying to breach the walls, when a hail of musket balls and grenades led to mass casualties.
Able Seaman William Hall and Lieutenant Thomas James Young were the only survivors of the Shannon Brigade. Together, they loaded and served the last gun, which was fired at less than 20 yards from the fortification’s wall, until it was breached. Their gallantry contributed to a nomination for the Victoria Cross. Hall was presented with the award on October 28, 1859. He was the first black, the first Nova Scotia and the first Canadian Sailor to be presented with the decoration.
“Petty Officer William Hall is the embodiment of courage and perseverance. His actions during the hard fought battle at the Relief of Lucknow have been, and will continue to be, an inspiration for generations of Canadian Naval personnel to come. As a Canadian naval hero, it is fitting that an Arctic/Offshore Patrol Ship will carry his name,” says Vice Admiral Mark Norman, Commander of the Royal Canadian Navy.
Descendants of Petty Officer William Hall say the honour will bring his incredible story to light.
“I’m just thankful that he will not go and disappear in history….because every time someone steps on that ship they’re going to ask what his story is,” says Sharon Rivest, the great, great niece of William Hall, who travelled from Quebec to be at the naming ceremony in Halifax.
Sgt. Phillip Safire, the great, great, great nephew of Hall says the honour means Canada is “living up to its full potential” and being inclusive of everyone.
“Canadian history is made up of a lot of different groups contributing to one goal and Canada military history, likewise. So recognizing a part of that history that is not well known is a great day,” Sgt. Safire tells Global News.
In September of 2014, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that all six of the Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS) will be named to honour Canadians who served with the highest distinction in the Navy. The lead ship was named HMCS Harry DeWolf and the class is known as the Harry DeWolf Class. HMCS Margaret Brooke, HMCS Max Bernays and, now, HMCS William Hall have been designated.
The build contract with Irving Shipbuilding for the construction of six ships is valued at $2.3 billion dollars and was officially awarded in January. Construction of the first Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship is set to begin in the fall of 2015.