The History of Long and Brier Islands

Wreck of SS Aikaterini T. 26 lost

by | Oct 29, 2021 | Brier Island, Long Island, shipwrecks | 0 comments

Before we start the story about the sinking of the SS Aikaterini T. and the loss of twenty-six lives we will describe what we know about the Ship.

It was a Greek cargo steel ship that was carrying coal. The ship was built in 1917 at Alloa Greece, and was called the “SS Nantes” and in 1934 the name was changed to the SS Aikaterini T.. The length of the ship was 305.3 ft., width was 42.7 ft., 21.5 ft. deep. It was powered  by a 1×3 cyl.  triple  expansion steam engine, single shaft, with 226 N.H.P. with a speed of 9 knots.

In the very early hours of January 24, 1944 the SS Aikaterini T, a 1490 ton Greek merchant ship carrying a crew of 26 men and a shipment of coal to Saint John, was lost somewhere in the waters off Long Island. It is not known exactly why the ship went down, however, all hands perished and only 13 bodies were recovered.

At about the time that it was estimated that the Aitaterini T would be passing Long and Brier Islands, several members of the village of Freeport, Long Island, reported seeing three flashes of light and hearing what could have been explosives in the mouth of the Bay of Fundy. Given the limited wreckage and wartime circumstances, many speculated that the Aikaterini T. may have been torpedoed.

 This theory was just that, a theory. Officially the ship was thought to have struck one of the treacherous reefs off Long and Brier Islands and went down with all hands. The flashes of light and explosions it was variously suggested could have been thunder and lightning (unlikely due to the snowstorm at the time), and the explosions of the ship’s boilers or of the wet coal.

Little wreckage from this steamer ever came to shore, but bodies began to wash ashore on the Friday after the wreck.

Below are the articles from the Digby Courier that tells the story.

26 Lost in the Marine Disaster on the Coast

Digby Courier; Feb. 3rd 1944

One of the worst marine disasters in this vicinity in many years is thought to have occurred off the Islands at the tip of Digby Neck sometime late last week. It is believed a coal laden steamer struck on one of the treacherous ledges off Long or Brier Island, and went down with all hands. Up until Tuesday evening, the finding of six bodies have been reported, two at Freeport; one at Whale Cove; one at Church Point; one at Tiverton and one at Meteghan.

 A United Nations Merchant ship left Halifax with a cargo of coal for Saint John, and never arrived at the latter port. The bodies found on Digby County shores are those of the missing steamer. The nationality, size and name have not been officially revealed, but it is known the steamer carried a crew of twenty-six. Two Merchant Marine captains who came from Halifax to view the bodies found, have positively identified four of the victims, their names however cannot be revealed at the present time. The identified bodies are, one of those found in Freeport, and the bodies found it Whale Cove, Church Point and Meteghan. All were members of the crew of the missing coal steamer.

 Although few believe the loss of the ship was through enemy action, there are reports explosions were heard by Island residents at approximately the time the ship should be passing the Islands. Three reports were heard, they were thought to be thunder but that is considered unlikely as it was snowing at the time. Such explosions, it was said could be from a number of causes- the explosions of boilers or even of wet coal. General opinion is the boat struck on one of the treacherous ledges and sank quickly.

 The first bodies were recovered at Freeport on Friday. While walking along the shore at Beautiful Cove, Leslie Finnigan sighted the remains of a large man in the surf. He waded out and after an hour’s struggle succeeded in bringing the body ashore. The man was fully clothed and had a modern lifebelt, with a light attached, about his body.

 The second body was found the same day by Esrom Thurber while fishing off Dartmouth Point. This man wore a heavy pair of boots and socks, pajama pants, a shirt and heavy windbreaker, indicating he left his ship hurriedly. A short distance away from the body was a ordinary lifebelt. Other articles of clothing, said not to be a size to fit either of the men were found in the same vicinity.

 Another body was sighted in the Bay of Fundy off Boar’s Head Lighthouse, Tiverton early Sunday morning. It was impossible for a man to get to the body with a small boat. Direction of the wind and tide lead to the believe it would come ashore in the vicinity of Sandy Cove or Centerville, and fishermen of these villages were asked to be on the lookout. No doubt this is the body found by two children at Whale Cove, on the Bay of Fundy shore of Digby Neck, about halfway between Tiverton and Sandy Cove, Monday afternoon. This victim also wore a lifebelt.

 Charles Thibodeau, Church Point lobster fisherman, found another while attending his traps in the St. Mary’s Bay on Tuesday afternoon. This body and one found at Whale Cove were later brought to Digby and are resting at Ramsay’s Undertaking Parlors.

 Two more bodies were found Tuesday in Saint Mary’s Bay. One by Lorne Elliott, Junior, Tiverton fishermen, and of the other by a Meteghan fishermen. In the meantime fishermen along the Bay of Fundy and Saint Mary’s Bay shores of Digby Neck, and on Saint Mary’s Bay mainland are keeping constant vigil for other bodies, and a patrol of the shoreline is being maintained.

 One man is reported to have had $44 in United States and Canadian currency in his pocket. Jewelry, money and other articles were found on other bodies. The body found at Meteghan was identified by a ring.

 Two more bodies have been reported drifting in the Bay of Fundy but at the time it was impossible to get them.

 All bodies found to date have been in excellent state of preservation.

Other than a few items of clothing, no flotsam is reported to have come ashore, not even a lifeboat or a life raft, which seems to indicate the ship went down quickly, carrying lifeboats with her. Had any of the victims got away in the lifeboat, even if the boat capsized, it would have in all probability been carried ashore or picked up by fishermen by this time. An unconfirmed report says 1 life raft was seen drifting in the Bay of Fundy but the source of the report cannot be traced.

Eleven Bodies Recovered to Date

Digby Courier; Feb. 10th 1944

 To date eleven bodies of the 26-man crew of the Greek merchantman, Aikaterini T., presumably lost somewhere off the Digby County coast, have been recovered. The coal laden steamer, bound from Halifax to Saint John, in all probability met disaster somewhere off Long and Brier Islands, carrying all of its crew to their death. With the exception of two naval gunners, Matthew Spencer, of Newfoundland, and Alfred Sharp, of England, all were of the Greek nationality.

 Funeral services for the two gunners were conducted at Digby on Saturday afternoon. Their bodies were found on Thursday. The men were buried in full naval honors, Chaplain Ott, Anglican padre at H.M.C.S. Cornwallis conducted the services. He was assisted at the graveside by Rev. F. B. Gaskill, rector of Trinity Church, Digby. Interment was in Forest Hill (Church of England) cemetery, Digby.

During the past few days some wreckage has come ashore on the Yarmouth County coast, principally at Kelly’s Cove and Sanford. The steamer’s nameplate was found at the latter place.

Four Bodies Buried in Digby

Digby Courier; Feb. 17th 1944

 Funeral service for four members of the crew of the Greek steamer, Aikaterini T., were conducted at Digby at two o’clock Thursday afternoon. Rev. F. B. Gaskill rector of Trinity Church officiating. Interment was in Forest Hill (Anglican) Cemetery.

 Captain Dourgoutis and Captain Vailiancs, of the Greek Consulate, of Halifax, were in attendance for the service.

 Identified members of the crew buried here were the Third Officer George Kypiotis, whose body was found at Tiverton: Firemen Michael Bagiatis, found at Little River, Digby Neck: and Seamen Constantinos Gerosideris, who was found at Chebogue Point Yarmouth County.

 The other, found at Meteghan, had not been identified.

 To date twelve bodies from the 26 man crew have been found.

Freeport News

Digby Courier; Feb. 17th 1944

 The funeral of the two unknown seamen who were picked up on the shore recently, was held from the church on Thursday afternoon. The service was conducted by Rev. Mr. Rick Ricker, of Westport.

Another Body Found

Digby Courier; March 2nd 1944

 The body of George Delfes, wireless operator on the Greek steamer Aikaterini T., lost with 26 members of it’s crew off Digby County coast sometime during the latter part of January, was found on the Bay of Fundy shore of Long Island, near Central Grove, by Stewart Small, of that village, on Sunday. The remains were identified by a wedding ring.

 Delfes has a wife and small child living in Halifax. The steamer was bound from Halifax to Saint John with a cargo of coal, and failed to arrive at the latter port. The body of Delfes is the thirteenth to be found since the wreck.

The village of Freeport did for the men what they would want for their sons lost in a foreign land. After the investigation by the R.C.M.P., the local undertaker, Alton MacNeil, procured caskets for them and village residences donated suitable burial clothing. A service was held in the church, local people attended and they were buried in a lot within Valley Cemetery. Two of the three man buried in Freeport were identified as Odysseus Manolatos and Nicholas Koutsouradis,-one remains unknown.

Names of crew of the SS Aikaterini T. that were found:

1: George Delfes………Wireless Operator,buried at Halifax

2: Matthew Spencer…Naval Gunners, buried at Digby

3: Alfred Sharp……..Naval Gunner, buried at Digby

4: George Kypiotis….Third Officer, buried at Digby

5: Michael Bagiatis……Fireman,  buried at Digby

6: Constantinos Gerosideris…..Seaman,buried at Digby

7: Unidentified……………………….buried at Digby

8: Odusseus Manolatos…..?,buried at Freeport

9: Nichilas Koutsouradis…?, buried at Freeport

10: Unidentified…………………buried at Freeport

11: Unidentified……………………………….?

12: Unidentified……………………………….?

13: Unidentified……………………………….?

There was thirteen not found of the crew of the SS Aikaterini.

         The graves remained unmarked for 61 years. Several years later, Raymond Thurber contacted the Federal Government about the graves and eventually, after much persuasion and work, his efforts were rewarded. Previous to a ceremony being held in September 2005, the Commonwealth Graves Commission erected three granite stones, engraved for the sailor’s names, death dates, and the Greek Monarchy’s insignia.

         At the same time Peter Delfes of Halifax, son of Aikaterini T’s.,  wireless operator, was beginning to investigate this ships demise more fully. He traveled to Freeport and met with people who had memories of the event as well as conducting research in Halifax. When the gravestones were in position, Mr. Defiles and Father Peter Meryl Marapoulos,  of Halifax Greek Orthodox Church, travel to Freeport on September 21, 2005, to lead a memorial ceremony for the Merchant Mariners. Masons and Legion members met at the gravesite to participate in the service, conducted in both Greek and English by Father Peter. After the Freeport service, they traveled onto Digby to say prayers at other crewmembers’ graves in Digby.

Valley Cemetery Freeport

Photo of Digby Grave Site to Follow

         Both Mr. Delfes and Father Peter would like to express their thanks to all who attended and shared memories with them in the sinking. One shared story gave Peter Delfes a sense of how small the world is. He learned that his grade four teacher, and later his fellow staff member, Jean Haines, had played for the funeral of his father’s shipmates, the very men he helped honor.

About ten years ago a friend of Peter Delfes, came to our home to inquire if I had any information on the sinking of the Aikaterini T.. He had heard I was researching local shipwrecks at that time. I had not researched about this ship at that time, but we printed the clippings from the Digby Courier that told most of the story about the wreck. I also told him that when I was a young boy, I had heard the story about how Steward Small who had lived next door to us had found a body on the shore behind our house on the North Shore of Long Island.

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