HMCS Kootenay Disaster
Today in 1969, HMCS Kootenay was part of a task group that had just completed an exercise in the English Channel and had just started to head home to Canada.
Her crew had been ordered to carry out a standard full-power trial and as a result of a badly fitted casing, the gearbox failed. This resulted in an explosion and the ensuing fire and smoke killed nine members of the crew and injured a further fifty-three.
The HMCS Kootenay disaster was the worst peacetime tragedy of the Royal Canadian Navy. This led to many lessons learnt, many of which are heeded to this day.
At the time, the policy of the Candian military was such that any members of the armed forces who were killed while serving overseas were buried there. This was a legacy policy from WWI & WWII where the volume of dead was so high that it was just not viable to repatriate remains.
The families of the sailors killed on board HMCS Kootenay was forced to choose between interment in a cemetery in England or burial at sea. Four of the families chose internment and their loved ones were buried at Brookwood Military Cemetary in Woking. The Canadian government changed this policy shortly after so that all military personnel killed while serving overseas would be repatriated for burial at home.
In 1965, four years previous to the HMS Kootenay tragedy, a terrible fire onboard HMCS Nipigon killed three crew. Two of which were buried at Brookwood Cemetary. The six dead from both tragedies are laid to rest together in a very peaceful and beautiful corner of the Surrey military cemetery.
Residents Network founder Paul Deach was contacted by a Canadian forces veteran last week to ask if he would facilitate a live stream from Brookwood, which would be broadcast at a Ceremony in Canada. Paul visited the location on Wednesday but quickly determined that a live stream would not be possible due to poor LTE coverage. However, while he was there he shot the video below for the ceremony in Canada.
Paul said “incredibly, I have lived very close to Brookwood for 17 years and have never visited Brookwood Military Cemetery. It is the most incredible place. Such tranquil and a very poignant place but equally fascinating. The HMCS Kootenay and HMCS Nipigon crew are buried in a very remote corner of the cemetery that is immaculately kept. As it was Autumn, the colour of the trees made the scene especially dramatic for the video. Shooting the gravestones was an incredibly emotional and moving experience”.
Brookwood Military Cemetery is a must place to visit. Woking Borough Council says on its web site that “Brookwood Cemetery is one of the most significant heritage assets in our Borough and it is considered by Historic England as a site of national significance.”
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission conduct free walking tours at the cemetery. Details of which can be found here.