Language selection


Burial at Sea

Heroes Remember

The butcher died and had to be buried the same day and what you do at sea, you sew them up in canvas. And we had onboard the ship an old fellow named Alec Cohagen and he had been a sail maker onboard sailing ships. Around the horn sailing ships and he went to the boss and he said, “Do we got anybody amongst your crew know how to sew canvas.” Anyhow, they asked me, I said, “Yes, I know how to sew canvas.” Go up and see the, go up and see Alec. So I went up and here was the old butcher straightened out and before he started, he use to stutter. He said, “Now,” he said, “we get five shillings and a bottle of rum.” He said, “I'll have the rum and you have the five shillings!” I said, “That's fine, suits me!” So we straightened out the poor old, the body on the, we had two fire bars there. These are the metal things come out of the engine room furnace and anyhow we put it down and we lashed them on, we lashed poor old butcher onto the fire bars and took the canvas, turned it over, turned it over and down at the bottom, old Alec I'd had never done it before, but Alec was showing me what to do. He drinking rum and on the bottom he said, “you turn it up this way and that way and that gives you kind of a “V', you see”. And he said, so I was sewing away and sewing and when he got up the head, did same thing, this “V, you turn it in so it becomes a “V. So I was going right to it and he said, “Don't forget, the last stitch.” “What?” “Through his nose!” “What?” “The last stitch has got to go through his nose.” I said, “Jeez, Alec.” I said, “I can't do that.” Jeez, he give me a push, that's why they sent me for the rum. He pushed me out of the way, he called me a damn fool or something or other and then, crunch. You built up, you took two or three life rafts and you built them up so that they'd be the level of the rail and you put the corpse on the hedge board on top, on top of the rafts. You put the hedge board and you covered, you covered it with a British flag, red anson. And I was there, and I was at one end of the hedge board and the Bolson was at the other end and the captain reads the committal service and he holds up his hand and the officer on he watch stops the engine, stops the propeller and when you tip him up and away goes the body. And the Bolson says, “And hold onto that bloody flag, don't let the flag go!!” So that was a burial at sea. We had a number of burials after that and it was the same, pretty well the same routine.

Mr. Goodyear gives a vivid description of having to sew a corpse into a canvas bag before a burial at sea, and not being able to do the final stitch.

Thomas Goodyear

Thomas Goodyear was born in St. John’s, Newfoundland on March 17, 1920. He was the eldest of four children. His father had served in the First World war, and later became operating engineer in the local butter company. Mr. Goodyear left school at age 13 to learn the dry fish business, and in 1936 ran away to work at sea with provisioning coastal communities in Newfoundland, Labrador and Quebec. The outbreak of the Second World saw Mr. Goodyear join the transatlantic merchant fleet as a quartermaster. In addition to the North Atlantic, he saw service in the Indian Ocean, where he survived the torpedoing of his ship. Mr. Goodyear offers some unique experiences from his perspective as a Merchant Mariner.

Meta Data
Veterans Affairs Canada
Person Interviewed:
Thomas Goodyear
War, Conflict or Mission:
Second World War
Merchant Navy

Copyright / Permission to Reproduce

Related Videos

Date modified: