The Train Dispatcher Hero Who Died To Save Hundreds Of Strangers

Grace Higgins | November 7th, 2019

Vince Coleman is a true Canadian hero, a train dispatcher who in 1917, gave up his own life to save hundreds from the SS Mont-Blanc exploding in the Halifax harbor. It was a split-second decision and it was about the fate of the train passengers bound for Halifax. Dispatcher Vince Coleman, in the minutes before the explosion, chose to stay at his post even when he knew disaster was imminent.

What happened was the SS Mont-Blanc was a french munitions ship that collided with a Norwegian vessel the SS Imo, the problem was the Mont Blanc was carrying high explosives. The ship caught fire and the crew immediately abandoned the ship, but it drifted from being in the mid-channel towards the harbor and over to Pier 6 in Halifax. In fact, in a matter of minutes, it was beached itself along the city’s coast.

After he realized that the ammunition ship Month-Blanc was on fire and would cause a massive explosion, Coleman sent out frantic messages an oncoming train full of passengers that were heading towards the city. He wanted to save the passenger’s lives and ensure the train did not come into the station. The message was indeed received, and the train was saved, however, for Coleman this decision cost him his life. It was too late to escape the oncoming blast.

The telegraph he sent became world-famous, it read the following: Hold up the train. Ammunition ship afire in harbor making for Pier 6 and will explode. Guess this is my last message. Good-bye, boys.

The message he sent not only stopped the train but reached every station from Halifax to Truro, as a result, Coleman is credited with saving thousands of lives. This is because at the time information traveled much slower, and because of his telegraph, emergency services were able to make it quickly to Halifax. Had they not came immediately, the people who did survive would surely have died in the freezing temperatures.

When Mont Blanc did explode, Coleman was killed along with nearly 2,000 other people. Coleman was made a hero, as his actions directly saved more deaths from the disaster.

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