The Pollux tragedy, the heroic acts involved and the story of Henry Strauss remembered on new storyboards
It was a cold February morning in 1942. Henry Strauss was a reservist on board the USS Pollux.
© — Archives and Special Collections, Queen Elizabeth II Library, Memorial University, 16.06.092. Cassie Brown Collection (Ena Farrell Edwards photo)
“Lifelines, attached to the Pollux rail, still trailed over the ship’s side into the oil and wreckage when Ena Farrell took photos of the wreck on Saturday,
February 21 (1942).”
Strauss had known some of the crew since he was in school. He would be one of the last people many of them would ever see.
The ship, along with the USS Truxton, ran ashore on the coast of Newfoundland’s Burin Peninsula. Two local boys, Adolph Jarvis and Kenneth Roul, spotted the ship. They went to raise the alarm and soon eight locals were on their way to rescue the crew at Lawn Point.
Meanwhile, aboard the ship, the scene looked bleak. Strauss knew his time might soon be up, so he went to his locker and took a photo of his wife to put in his life jacket. If he was to be swept into the ocean, he wanted his wife to know he was thinking of her in his final moments.
The crew needed someone to climb across the rocks to secure a large line on the shore for the crew to set up a system to get across. Strauss volunteered. He had a rope tied around his waist and a life jacket securely fastened when he began to climb across a rope that had been thrown and hooked onto the shore. As he reached the other side, however, a large wave crashed over him and dragged him into the water.
Strauss struggled against the waves, but he could not swim. Although he had been a college diving and swimming champion, the frigid waters froze him to the point where the only thing that brought him to the surface was his life jacket.
He recalled the experience in a series of YouTube videos.
“These bastards are letting me drown,” he thought.
It seemed like nobody on board was pulling him back up to the ship.
But the crew was trying to save him. The rope tied to Strauss was covered in oil, and nobody could get a good grip. Finally, one crew member turned himself into a human winch which the others turned, gradually pulling Strauss up.
“Pull me up! Pull me up!” Strauss shouted to the crew as he began to lose consciousness.
When he awoke, he was back aboard the ship, but they were no closer to being rescued. By this point, many of the crew had abandoned the Pollux and been lost in the water.
Finally, the ship was close enough to the shore that about 50 men could climb over to an ice-capped rocky outcrop. The crew huddled together as the waves swept them off one or two at a time. Finally, they heard a voice shout from above.
“Is anybody down there?” shouted someone from the blackness.
“You bet your life!” one of the crew shouted back.
The rescuers spent the whole night pulling men to safety.
A few weeks ago, they were commemorated on three storyboards in Webbers Point, a community in Lawn Harbour that was resettled decades ago.
Unveiled Oct. 12, the panels also tell the survival story of Henry Strauss.
Darryl Rogers was a driving force behind the storyboards, which were paid for out of funds raised by area cabin owners. He says it is important to remember these men for their heroic acts.
“It’s been a story in Lawn forever,” Rogers said. “With all the heroes gone, we thought it was important to get these storyboards up.”
Strauss sent a message to be read at the ceremony. He died six days later, a few months shy of his 99th birthday.
In his note, he thanked the people of Lawn for giving him the chance to live to the age of 98.
“Because of all of you I've had a wonderful, productive life, a family that I love, and the opportunity to tell this story. I hope I have returned, in my life, some of what your brave and wonderful people gave to me that night.”