The killing of Constable Moss

Danette Dooley
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On a dark day 50 years ago, a 24-year-old man with a bright and happy future lost his life trying to keep the peace during a labour dispute that turned ugly

Many Newfoundlanders will remember Const. William Moss as the police officer killed in Badger during the International Woodworkers Association (IWA) strike.

Those closer to the young rookie remember him as a jovial fellow with a promising future.

Like Moss, Placentia Mayor Bill Hogan was a constabulary officer who was called to central Newfoundland during the strike to help keep the peace.

Top photo, this is one of the constabulary contingents that left St. John's in March 1959 to help keep peace during the International Woodworkers Association (IWA) strike in central Newfoundland. Bottom left, Const. William Moss. Bottom right, clippings s

Many Newfoundlanders will remember Const. William Moss as the police officer killed in Badger during the International Woodworkers Association (IWA) strike.

Those closer to the young rookie remember him as a jovial fellow with a promising future.

Like Moss, Placentia Mayor Bill Hogan was a constabulary officer who was called to central Newfoundland during the strike to help keep the peace.

Hogan worked in the constabulary's Criminal Investigation Division and remembers Moss as being a likable street-patrol officer.

"The day that we went to Badger (the morning of the riot) we were driven there in a truck. Moss was up in the front of the truck singing, 'Down on the Labrador, My Boys, Down on the Labrador.' Some fellows were saying, 'For Christ sake, Moss, shut up. You can't sing.' But he kept it up all the way up to Badger. Then, apart from seeing him bloody and battered, being put in the back of a car, I never saw him after," Hogan says.

A blow to the head with a piece of pulpwood took Moss's life 50 years ago today. It also led to the end of one of the province's most politically and emotionally charged labour disputes.

The loggers were fighting for more money and better working conditions in the camps. Hundreds of them had been off the job for about six weeks when the Badger riot broke out on March 10, 1959.

"When Moss got hit, if there was any violence in the air at all, it all stopped suddenly when he was knocked down," Hogan recalled.

Many of the RNC and RCMP officers called to help with the strike were housed in an armoury in Grand Falls, but because the facility was full when Hogan and his comrades arrived on March 8, 1959, many of them were billeted with local families.

Hogan had been working in Badger that day, but had returned to Grand Falls when he received word he was needed back in Badger.

He arrived just as the riot erupted. It was during that fight that Moss was injured.

"He was bleeding profusely from the head and face," Hogan said.

Moss was taken to hospital in Grand Falls and died from his injuries two days later.

A logger was arrested and charged with murder, but was eventually acquitted of the charges.

Hogan said while some people say there was a lot of animosity between the constabulary and the people of Badger, that wasn't the case.

"It wasn't long after Confederation, and the RCMP - wrongfully so - were seen as the Canadian policemen, and we were looked on as the local boys and were probably given a bigger welcome because of that."

People respected constabulary members and did what they could to make them feel welcome, Hogan said.

"There were a whole slew of us patrolling the roads that day. We were about 75 to 100 feet apart, two of us together. We passed people on the side of the roads who'd stop and talk. They'd come out of their house and ask you if you wanted a glass of milk or something to eat. And it was the same in Grand Falls."

Don O'Neill retired from the RNC with 28 years of service. Like Hogan, he was working in the force's Criminal Investigation Division when he was called upon to head to Grand Falls.

"It was a Sunday morning and we thought it was unusual for the chief of police (Edgar Pittman) to be in his office. Hogan and I were called in his office and he said, 'We're going to send you two fellows and more out to Badger because they're expecting some problems with the strike.' He said, 'Get home and get ready. You're going out on the train around suppertime,'" O'Neill recalled.

O'Neill was on duty in Badger the day of the riot.

"We figured something was going to happen, so we radioed in to Grand Falls for the rest of the boys to come out," he said.

He still remembers the moments leading up to Moss's injury.

"We marched through (the crowds of strikers) and when we turned around to come back to disperse them again, they came to us and up it went."

At that point, O'Neill said, the police officers formed a circle.

"We did the best we could to keep them back that way. There were about 300 of these men and there were only about 75 of us."

O'Neill figures he was 10 or 15 feet away from Moss when he was struck on the head. Twenty-four-year-old Moss had been with the constabulary only about two years. He'd lived on University Avenue in St. John's with his mother and stepfather, but was buried in Port Blandford.

"A hell of a fine fellow who was engaged to be married," O'Neill recalled.

This year marks the 29th anniversary of the weeklong Const. William Moss Memorial minor softball tournament for youth. And Moss's name is on the Newfoundland and Labrador Police and Peace Officers' Memorial on the grounds of the Confederation Building and on the Canadian Police and Peace Officers' Memorial in Ottawa.

It's important to remember those who lost their lives while serving others, said RNC Chief Joe Browne.

"Bill Moss was a very young man. Who knows what he would have been," Browne said. "He was Const. Moss back then. Perhaps he would have been Sgt. Moss, or Chief Moss. We'll never know."

The RNC will hold a wreath-laying ceremony to mark the anniversary of Moss's death today at 2 p.m. at police headquarters in St. John's. A private reception for invited guests will follow.

danette@nl.rogers.com

Organizations: International Woodworkers Association, Criminal Investigation Division, RCMP Newfoundland and Labrador Police Confederation Building Canadian Police

Geographic location: Badger, Grand Falls, Placentia Newfoundland St. John's Port Blandford Ottawa

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  • Anne
    July 02, 2010 - 13:24

    Bill Moss was a cousin of mine.I was only a child when he was killed,but remember the night my mom received the phone call telling us that Bill was killed.RIP Bill,you willl never be forgotten

  • Anne
    July 01, 2010 - 20:09

    Bill Moss was a cousin of mine.I was only a child when he was killed,but remember the night my mom received the phone call telling us that Bill was killed.RIP Bill,you willl never be forgotten