Cross of Valour

PO2 Lewis John Stringer, CV, CD

On 23 October 1969, HMCS KOOTENAY was undergoing full power trials off Plymouth when her starboard gearbox exploded, killing nine and injuring fifty-one.  It remains the largest peacetime loss of life in the history of the RCN.  PO2 Lewis John Stringer, who was born in Hamilton in 1930 and enlisted at HMCS STAR in 1948, succumbed to smoke inhalation two days later onboard HMCS BONAVENTURE.  He is buried in Fairview Lawn Cemetery in Halifax.

When the new Canadian Honours system was introduced in 1972, six members of the ship’s company received decorations.  PO Stringer and CPO V.O. Partanan became the first recipients, both posthumous, of the Cross of Valour, at the time the highest award for bravery and equivalent to the George Cross.  PO Stringer’s citation reads:

“Sgt Lewis John Stringer of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, and Hamilton, Ontario, who died from the effects of smoke inhaled while he organized the evacuation of men from the ship’s cafeteria following an explosion aboard HMCS Kootenay. HMCS Kootenay, one of seven “Restigouche”-class destroyer-escorts in the Canadian navy was conducting full-power trials on October 23, 1969, in the western approaches to the English Channel with eight other Canadian ships. At 8:21 in the morning there was an explosion in the engine room. Intense heat, flame and smoke engulfed the engine room almost immediately and spread to adjacent passageways and to the boiler room. Sgt Stringer, a supply technician, was off-duty in the cafeteria. He understood the danger immediately and stepped into the exit to use his body to block the way to the smoke-filled passageway. He instructed others in the cafeteria to get down on the deck, breathe through their sleeves and crawl out by way of the galley. Sgt Stringer waited until the last man had made good his escape before attempting to leave himself. He collapsed in the galley and although rescued, he succumbed later.”