HMCS Kootenay survivor receives Wound Stripe 49 years after engine room explosion
By Ryan Melanson,
Nearly 50 years after being badly injured at sea as a result of the 1969 HMCS Kootenay explosion, a member of that ship’s company has been recognized for his sacrifice in service to his country.
AB (Ret’d) Allan “Dinger” Bell was awarded the Wound Stripe by VAdm Ron Lloyd, Commander RCN, during a ceremony at Juno Tower on February 8, with his family and a number of former Kootenay shipmates in attendance.
AB (Ret’d) Bell was working inside Kootenay’s engine room on October 23, 1969, when a gearbox explosion occurred during full power trials off the coast of England. He was one of only three sailors inside the engine room who survived the blast; nine men were killed in total, and more than 50 suffered burns or other injuries, as the explosion sent fire, smoke, hot oil and other dangerous substances throughout the ship. AB (Ret’d) Bell himself had burns on more than half of his body, and required three surgeries through a difficult recovery process. The Kootenay explosion is now regarded as the RCN’s worst peacetime disaster.
In thanking him for his sacrifice and awarding him the Wound Stripe, VAdm Lloyd did not shy away from the fact the recognition has been long overdue, and he described the presentation as ‘righting a wrong.’
“The good thing is that, as an organization, we’ve been able to make great progress since the tragedy that took place in Kootenay,” VAdm Floyd said, referencing the many changes to safety designs and protocols that came in the wake of the tragedy.
“But that doesn’t make up for the fact that it took nearly 50 years of bureaucracy and challenges and obstacles to be able to recognize the service and sacrifice of one of our own in this way.”
While the day was focused on remembering his own sacrifice, AB (Ret’d) Bell spoke mainly about his shipmates and their families after receiving his award. He recalled his nine colleagues who died due to the explosion 1969, along with the eight wives who lost husbands, and the 18 children who lost fathers on that day. Many of those who survived have struggled with PTSD for years because of what they witnessed and went through in the ship.
Those survivors, he added, are also worthy of recognition for their heroic actions in saving the ship and preventing an even greater tragedy from occurring. As the 50th anniversary of the Kootenay tragedy approaches, AB (Ret’d) Bell said it’s his hope for the former crew to receive the Unit Commendation for their actions.
“Hopefully that will happen, because it’s not just about me, it’s about everybody. I would love to see the entire crew recognized officially for what they did.”
AB (Ret’d) Bell is the first Kootenay crew member to receive the Wound Stripe. His shipmate Al Kennedy, who was also in the engine room when the blast took place, is set to receive the same award in the near future once paperwork and other requirements are complete. A third shipmate who escaped the engine room alive, John MacKinnon, died in 2008, and the Wound Stripe unfortunately can’t be awarded posthumously.
A ceremony marking 50 years since the Kootenay explosion is being planned to take place at the Bonaventure Anchor Memorial in Point Pleasant Park on October 23 of this year.