Wilfred Grenfell at the North Sea

English Physician and Missionary Wilfred Thomason Grenfell experienced his ‘ice-pan’ adventure, on April 21, 1908. The story of this remarkable life commences on February 28, 1865 with Grefell’s birth at Parkgate near Chester, England.

At the age of 20 he attended a tent meeting run by Moody and Sankey, and Moody’s common-sense – when a platform guest was “coagulating a prayer” (Moody, by J. Pollock, page 275: “Let us sing a hymn while our brother finishes his prayer” said Moody!) – led to Grenfell’s conversion.

After graduating in medicine he joined the Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen – and for the rest of his life he worked among the North Sea fishermen of Labrador and Newfoundland, seeking to improve conditions for those who lived there.

The story of his meeting his wife-to-be on the deck of the “Mauretania“, as he was returning to his mission field from England, is worth telling.

“Within a few hours (of meeting her) he proposed. ‘But you don’t even know my name!’ she protested. ‘It doesn’t matter,’ he replied. ‘I know what it’s going to be’!” (Arrows of Desire, by Dr FW Boreham).

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It was that same year that the “ice-pan” adventure occurred – on Easter Day! The request had come from 100 kilometres southward for Grenfell to amputate a leg. He hitched his team of huskies to the sled – “Moody, Watch, Sly, Doc, Brin, Jerry, Sue and Jack … as beautiful beasts as ever hauled a komatik over our northern barriers,” he wrote.

But as they were crossing a huge ice-pan, it suddenly broke loose from the mainland. “The piece of frozen snow on which we lay was so small that it was evident we must all be drowned if we were forced to remain on it as it was driven sea-ward into open water.” He continued that darkness was falling and “there was not one chance in a thousand of my being seen …” The temperature was dropping rapidly.

Grenfell knew that if he could survive the night, a rescue party might find him next morning. But could he survive in that cold? “I saw that I must have the skins of some of my dogs if I were to live the night without freezing …” Three dogs were slain, and Grenfell huddled in their fur until next morning, when a rescue took place.

For days, he tells us, he had painful reminders “in my frozen hands and feet.” But he fully recovered and continued his medical missionary work.

“In our hallway stands a bronze tablet,” he writes, “to the memory of three noble dogs – Moody, Watch, Sly – whose lives were given for mine on the ice – 21 April, 1908. One cannot but think of Another – the Lamb of God – Whose “life was given for mine” … that first Easter Day.

Grenfell went on to achieve much for those he cared about. He raised funds through speaking tours and books. When the Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen withdrew its support, he founded the International Grenfell Association. During his forty years of ministry in Labrador and Newfoundland he helped establish six hospitals, four hospital ships, seven nursing stations, two orphanages, two large schools, fourteen industrial centres, libraries and a cooperative lumber mill in Labrador.

Grenfell died on October 9, 1940, in Charlotte, Vermont, USA.

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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com

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