First to Die

The First Canadian Navy Casualties in the First World War

by Bryan Elson

The tragic story of four young Canadian seamen, and the early days of the Canadian Navy
This is a story drawn from the early days of the Canadian Navy, an account of four young Canadian seamen who were the Navy's first casualties at the beginning of the First World War. Ironically, many consider them victims of incompetent seamanship by a British naval officer.
The four were among the 21 young men who made up the first class of the Royal Navy College of Canada, set up in 1911 shortly after the Canadian Navy itself was established in 1910. All four sailors were from Canada's Maritime provinces. After their training at the College, they were posted to the British Navy for further experience at sea.
William Palmer, first in his graduating class, and Arthur Silver, senior Cadet Captain, both from Halifax, were personally chosen by Rear-Admiral Christopher Cradock to go to war on the large and powerful
British vessel Good Hope. Their comrades John Hatheway of Fredericton, and Malcolm Cann of Yarmouth, were also selected, to the disappointment of the remaining men. Within six weeks, these our much-envied comrades were dead as the Good Hope went down with no survivors, sunk by the German navy.
First to Die depicts the early history of Canada's navy and the reality of war at sea, experienced through the eyes of the four young midshipmen eager for adventure. The book is extensively illustrated with photographs drawn from key archival and private collections.

About the Author

BRYAN ELSON is also the author of Nelson's Yankee Captain. He is a former officer of the Royal Canadian Navy, and a current director of the Canadian Naval Memorial Trust in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He lives in Halifax.


"...includes a surprising wealth of information and is well illustrated...serves as an excellent primer for World War I naval warfare. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for accessible reading on Canadian naval history or WWI naval operations in general."
-- Duncan Rice served briefly as a reservist with the Royal Westminster Regiment. His primary interest is Canadian military history.
Duncan Rice,
"...the author does two things extremely well. He describes the political background in Canada and Britain which accompanied the founding of the Royal Naval College of Canada in 1910 ... The second of Mr. Elson's achievements is his detailed description of how World War One began, and especially the events leading up to and during the battle of Coronel in which the midshipmen died."
Alison Cran, The Guardian (PEI)
"First to Die is an evocative read. This is no dry analytical tome; it is a well-told story which prompts an appreciation of the contribution of the individual to the course of naval history."
David Morse, Canadian Naval Review, Spring 2011

Subjects (BISAC)


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