During the Second World War, HMCS Cornwallis (later renamed CFB Cornwallis) was the largest naval training base in the British Commonwealth. Built on the southern shore of the Annapolis Basin in Nova Scotia and commissioned in 1942, the military training base closed in 1994.
In the late 1980s, my husband and I enjoyed a three-year posting at CFB Cornwallis. During that time, we attended many functions inside the Officers' Mess. It was a beautiful building (pic on the left), rich in history, and haunted by the ghost of a young woman. I was fascinated by the sad story of that young woman who allegedly hanged herself in one of the upstairs bedrooms after her lover, a sailor in the British Navy during World War II, abandoned her to go back to his wife.
The legend of her ghost was very much alive. While I didn’t know of anyone who had ever seen her, there were reports of strange activities inside the Mess, but was her ghost really roaming the Officers' Mess and only showing herself to unfaithful married men?
Despite all the research I did, I couldn’t find any evidence that a woman ever killed herself inside the Mess, but the basement of the Base Commander’s Residence did shelter grave markers. The dead no longer rest in the basement, their remains were moved to a different burial site, but two of the markers still stand side by side, each engraved with the names of two young children. The four siblings—Edward (1 month), Amelia (1 yr & 6 months), Gilbert (3 yrs), and W.C. (3 yrs)—died between 1850 and 1858.
The legend of the ghost and the grave markers inspired me to write Misguided Honor, my latest novel which was released last week.
In Misguided Honor, Becca Shea sneaks into Cornwallis and travels back in time to 1941 where she meets the young heart-broken woman in the days leading up to her tragic death.
To bring the story of the ghost to life, I took some liberties with history. Among other things, I gave Cornwallis a fictional past as a private shipyard, moved the buildings around, changed their layouts, and delayed the closure of the base. I wish I had unearthed the origin of the legend, and though I didn't, I'm convinced something dreadful happened a long time ago in the Officers' Mess—or else the legend wouldn't have been born.