It was a horrific sight, one that John Edward Harding never forgot — the deadly aftermath of the German torpedoing of the British ocean liner RMS Lusitania.
“I remember his telling me of his experiences at sea, and especially how his ship in May of 1915 he passed by where the Lusitania was sunk,” says Harding’s grandson, Mitch Bubulj. “(He was) searching for survivors and seeing bodies and lots of debris floating about on the surface.”
Harding was a British sailor who in September 1916 abandoned the British Navy to join the Canadian Army. He had signed on with the navy two years earlier at the age of 16, but quickly grew tired of life aboard ship. Harding jumped ship at Sheet Harbour, Nova Scotia, while his vessel, HMS Suffolk, was receiving repairs. (He later told his grandson that he hid his naval uniform under a rock in the harbour).
Enlisting on September 20, 1916, under the alias John Jones (his mother’s maiden name), Harding was assigned to the 239th Battalion, Railway Construction Corps, and later served in France and Belgium, including at Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele. After the war, he settled in Toronto, where he worked as a janitor, a cook, and later, a civil servant at Queen’s Park. He died in April 1978.
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