Centenary of sailor accidentally shot dead
One hundred years ago, almost to the day, a sailor was shot dead in an accident on board the US Army Tug Fred E Richards as she was berthed in St George’s Harbour on her way to serve in the First World War.
But Thomas Crealy’s sad death on New Year’s Day 1918 was the inspiration for the Guild of Holy Compassion that has tended the graves of merchant seamen who died in Bermuda for the past century.
Mr Crealy’s funeral on January 2, 1918, was attended by a 16-year-old boy called Leonard Tucker, whose father, the Reverend Arthur Tucker, conducted the service.
As he stood by the grave, one of Mr Crealy’s shipmates asked the teenager to tend his friend’s tombstone.
And it was a request that would lead him to found the Guild as well as the Bermuda Sailor’s Home. Mr Tucker died in December 1988 at his Paget home, but his legacy and that of the Guild remains strong today.
The Guild is still responsible for the upkeep of about 25 sailors’ graves at St Peter’s Church in St George’s, including Mr Crealy’s.
It conducts an annual wreath- laying ceremony to commemorate sailors who have died in Bermuda.
The Guild’s chairman, Henry Hayward, told The Royal Gazette: “We’re still around today and doing what Dickie Tucker first set out to achieve 100 years ago.
“The annual wreath laying normally takes place in the summer and we normally go out on one of the container ships or a cruise liner and conduct the ceremony off Five Fathom Hole.
“These days, sailors who die in Bermuda tend to be shipped home, so there are not many new graves to take care of.
“But we have around 25 graves, including Mr Crealy’s, that we pay a maintenance fee for to keep Mr Tucker’s vision alive.”
Mr Crealy’s tombstone at St Peter’s Church reads: “In memory of Thomas A. Crealy, Seaman of USACT Fred E Richards. Died at Bermuda, January 1st, 1918, aged 33. Erected by the Officers and crews of USACT Fred E Richards & Kingfisher.”
Historian Dr Edward Harris said Bermuda’s Guild of Holy Compassion could be a one-of-a-kind organisation.
He said: “According to local lore, several Russians of Red and White persuasions were on board and it was they who had a fight on board on January 1, 1918, a battle perhaps between King and Commies that they resolved to settle in gunfire.
“One hapless seaman stuck his head out of a porthole and received the bullet intended for one side of the Russian roulette and thus met his maker and obtained permanent residency in the heights overlooking Murray’s Anchorage.
“In the audience at the graveside service on January 2 was 16-year-old Leonard Tucker, later universally known as Dickie.
“One of the seaman turned to Master Tucker and asked that he care for his departed shipmate’s tomb, to which request Dickie agreed, starting his own-termed Guild of Holy Compassion, apparently found nowhere but Bermuda, to care for the dead at sea who are found in graves in Bermuda.”
Dr Harris added: “Other seamen have since died at sea and the Guild of Holy Compassion exists to honour those individuals and care for their graves.”
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