The Maritime Museum Of BC Is Looking For Stories From World War II Convoys

By September 13, 2013Life

Submitted. One of the biggest maritime tragedies in World War II is the story of convoy PQ-17 which carried relief supplies to the Russians. In July 1942, this convoy travelling from Iceland to Russia was attacked by German forces. Upon receiving intelligence, the escorts were ordered to withdraw and 22 out of the 33 ships in the convoy were sunk. The merchant sailors didn’t have the capacity to defend themselves and 153 men were killed. Winston Churchill described the incident as “one of the most melancholy naval episodes in the whole of the war.”

Image of Escorts and merchant ships at Hvalfjord before the sailing of Convoy PQ 17, courtesy of Wiki

One survivor of that fateful convoy was Joseph Coleman, father of choreographer Bill Coleman. Joe’s story later became the base for the Requiem for Convoy PQ-17, as conceived by his son Bill together with Victoria composer Christopher Butterfield whose father was also a merchant marine veteran.

The exhibit, “PQ-17: Art of History,” opens at the Maritime Museum of BC on October 18 and will explore the artistic process behind the Requiem for Convoy PQ-17. It is presented as part of the Victoria and the Sea project in partnership with the Victoria Symphony.

In addition to telling the artistic story of the Requiem for Convoy PQ-17, the Maritime Museum of BC will honour merchant sailors who may have connections to PQ-17 as well as other sailors who served in convoys during World War II. The exhibit will give them or their families space to share their personal stories.

“We are hoping to engage with the local veteran community around this exhibit. Although this exhibit will focus on the story of how Bill Coleman and Christopher Butterfield worked together to create this Requiem as a memorial to Bill’s father, Joe, we also want to take this opportunity to honour other veterans who may have been involved with World War II convoys. We hope that merchant marine veterans (or their family members) will contact us with their stories,” said Anissa Paulsen, Director of Exhibits and Visitor Engagement at the Maritime Museum of BC.

If you would like to share your story or the story of someone in your family, please contact Anissa Paulsen, Director of Exhibits and Visitor Engagement at the Maritime Museum of BC by October 4, 2013 by email at

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