George’s Cove reservist spends 15 years on the high seas

Reprinted from The Packet, May 4, 2018
by Lester Green

Pathway looking down to the shoreline at George’s Cove.

George’s Cove is now an abandon community located between Gooseberry Cove and Butter Cove. The community was likely settled by a family of George’s that were living on nearby Long Island sometime around the 1840s. It appeared on the voter’s list in 1873 when Moses Manuel was listed as the only person living there. By 1884, two families of Balsom’s, John and William, appear on the list. The community is recorded in the 1921 census with a population of 8 individuals and they remained there until it was abandon in the early 1930s

William Balsom’s family contributed to the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve early in its formation. The first of 2 brothers to enlist was Herbert in 1902. The descendants of his brother, Robert Balsom, have in their possession a postcard/photo that was given to Hebert by Commodore Montgomiere and his wife during a paddle boat race held in Bermuda among the various naval fleets that were in port during this time period. Herbert was part of a cutter’s rowing crew from the HMS Charybdis that won the event on April  6, 1902. Robert’s descendants are not exactly sure what happened to Herbert but naval records indicate his death on April 9, 1913.

Robert Balsom (1882-1959). (Photo courtesy of his grandson, Robert Balsom)

Robert enlisted in 1904 and was the only person from George’s Cove to serve during the Great War. Llewelynn Balsom, a first cousin to Robert and Herbert,  also served with the Royal Naval Reserve for a short period of time during 1907.

Robert was the son of William Henry and Elizabeth Jane(Seward) Balsom born at George’s Cove situated between Butter Cove and Gooseberry Cove on  December 15, 1882.

Naval records show that he initially enlisted in 1904 with further proof of his enlistment being provided by an article published by the Evening Telegram on November 22, 1904. The article entitled  Royal Naval Reserve provides a  list of reservists that were chosen from 200 men who came forward to join. The journey was described as a trip to the Caribbean aboard the HMS Charybdis. Among the sailors selected from the Southwest Arm area were Robert Balsom, William Peddle and Eli Seward.

Message to Herbert Balsom, member of RNR cutter’s crew. (Photo courtesy Robert Balsom)

Over the next ten years, Robert would complete 224 days of naval training at the HMS Calypso, making him one of the most highly trained sailors in Random before the outbreak of the Great War. His ship’s ledger indicates that he enrolled with the Royal Naval Reserve on February 1, 1904; re-enrolled on February 18, 1909 and enrolled for the third time on August 4, 1914.

Church records indicate that Robert was married on December 22, 1908 to May, daughter of George and Annie (Langer) of Heart’s Content. He had two children, William Henry and Alice Myrtle,  before traveling overseas to England to serve in the Great War onboard the HMS Franconia on November 06, 1914.

When he arrived he was assigned to HMS Vivid I, Devonport, a shore-based facility that provided accommodations for newly arrived sailors. He spent 23 days at this facility before being drafted to HMS Columbella, an Armoured Merchant Cruiser, where he served for the next 2 years. The ship came under attack on July 22, 1915 from the German submarine U36, which had just sunk 2 trawlers but the HMS Columbella managed to escape. The German submarine U36 was sunk 2 days later by the HMS Prince Charles.

HMS Columbella in dazzle as an armed merchant cruiser in the First World War (Robertson, Gourock).

He was transferred from the HMS Columbella on November 27, 1916 and reported to HMS Pembroke I Naval Base where he spent the 6 months on their books. He was likely assigned to smaller patrol vessels or minesweepers during this time period. The Evening Telegram records his name on January 6, 1917 in a story entitled Naval Heroes Return Home. The article describes how 108 sailors were due to arrive at Port aux Basques and would be granted 1 month leave within the following week.

His Ship’s Ledger shows that he reported back to the HMS Briton by May 25, 1917 and within weeks, he was transferred to the HMS Caesar, a guard ship and gunnery located at Bermuda. During that time period there were 6 other sailors from the Southwest Arm region that were attached to the HMS Caesar. Seaman Balsom spent 5 months in Bermuda patrolling the waters of the Caribbean before being transferred back to the HMS Pembroke, along with Seaman James Cramm of Queen’s Cove.

Between November 30, 1917 and January 28, 1919 he served at the HMS Pembroke I and HMS Pembroke III likely serving on various patrol vessels and minesweepers. He was assigned to HMS Vivid III on January 29 and remained there until he received orders that he was being sent home to the HMS Briton. He received his demobilization orders on May 1, 1919 and returned to his family at George’s Cove, which now had grown by one son, Herbert. In June 1922, they had another son born at George’s Cove that they named George.

Robert and his wife up-rooted their family and moved back to May’s hometown of Heart’s Content where they are listed in the 1935 census. They remained at Heart’s Content until Robert passed away in March of 1959. May died 5 years later in June 1964. Both are buried next to each other at Heart’s Content.