The Robbins brothers of Hatchet Cove

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

Eliab and Benoni were both born into a sawmilling family. They worked at the mill at a very young age helping the older men with a variety of choirs. When the war was declared in 1914, they lay down the logs and enlisted with the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve to serve their King and Country.                                                      

Eliab and Ben Robbins (standing) and Walter Critch and Willie George Bishop (sitting). (Photo courtesy of June Whalen)

The surname Robbins of Hatchet Cove is synonymous with sawmilling. The family, along with the Blundons, established one of the first watermills in the area. Both families jointly operated the mill and supplied a variety of products to the market place.

Eleazer and Belinda’s two sons, Eliab and Benoni (Ben) followed in this family tradition. They began to help at the mill at a very young age removing and stacking slabs that came from the logs. They also cleared the sawdust and shaving that gathered around the mill floor. Their early years around sawmilling allowed them to acquire the trade of sawmilling similar to the way fishermen sons learned the fishing industry.

When the war was declared in 1914, Eliab was the first brother to volunteer.  Records show that Eliab travelled to St. John’s sometime around 1915 and began his training as a Naval Reservist with the HMS Calypso. With his training completed on April 24, he was deployed overseas to the HMS Vivid I where he completed several more weeks of training.

Royal Navy Q-ship, Amy B. Silver. Artist unknown

A newspaper clipping from the Evening Telegram on March 26, 1917 entitled “Naval Recruits” list both Benoni Robbins and William Bishop of Southwest Arm, Random as being new recruits during the month of March. Ben’s ship’s ledger and Willie George’s application confirms their date of enlistment on March 6, 1917.

Eliab completed his training at HMS Vivid III and was drafted on September 10, 1916 to the HMS Alsatian, an Armed Merchant Cruisers, used to patrol the North Atlantic for German ships. Onboard was a familiar face, George Critch of Northern Bight. They would serve for eight months on this ship and received orders on June 11, 1917 of their transfer home to the HMS Briton.

After they returned from leave, Eliab and George’s naval careers diverged. George received orders that he was assigned to a 98-ton, two mast schooner named Dorothy G. Snow, that was sailing as a decoy ship.  

Eliab boarded a vessel for overseas but was excited to learn that onboard was his friend, Willie George Bishop. Both reported to HMS Vivid III upon their arrival overseas.

Seaman Benoni Robbins Ship’ Ledger. Source TRPAD_ GN 182.7

Ben was drafted on July 17 to the schooner Amy B. Silver to perform decoy duties. He would spend four months sailing the Grand Banks disguised as fishermen searching for German U-boats hoping to attract the submarine to the surface.

After completing this assignment, he was transferred to the HMCS Niobe of the Royal Canadian Navy, Halifax. He served for the next nine months aboard the coastal drifter CD69.

On September 1, 1918 he was transferred to the shore-based station HMCS Seagull, Sydney and performed duties aboard the trawler TV34 patrolling waters around the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

He completed his naval career with the Royal Canadian Navy on December 26 and was sent home to HMS Briton. He received demobilization orders on April 2, 1919.

Seaman Eliab Robbins Ship’s Ledger. Source TRPAD_ GN 182.5

Eliab was assigned to depot ship HMS Implicable after he completed time at the HMS Vivid III. He likely served on smaller trawlers or patrol vessels during this time period. He was transferred back home to the HMS Briton on January 11, 1919 and demobilized the same day as his brother.

Both brothers returned to the family sawmill at Hatchet Cove.

Ben married Elizabeth, daughter of Eli John and Magdalene King of St. Jones Within, at a ceremony in St. John’s on December 18, 1924. Two years after Ben’s marriage, his brother, Eliab, died of hemorrhaging on March 28, 1926 at St. John’s.

Eliab Robbins headstone at Hatchet Cove

Ben continued working at the sawmill and supplemented his income doing carpentry work and to a lesser extent, the fishery.

When the WW2 was declared in 1939, he worked at the construction and built structures at the American base in Gander and St. John’s.

Ben passed away on June 6, 1990 and was buried at United Church Cemetery at Hatchet Cove. His wife died five years later and was buried next to him on October 29, 1995.