October 14, 1942
In the early morning hours of October 14, 1942 a lone German torpedo from the German submarine U69 hit the SS Caribou, the Sydney to Port aux Basques ferry on route to Newfoundland, under Captain Benjamin Tavenor. World War II came home to Newfoundland.
Immediately following the hit chaos ensued as passengers, thrown from their bunks by the explosion rushed topside to the lifeboat stations.
Of the 237 people aboard the Caribou when she left North Sydney, 136 had perished. Fifty-seven were military personnel and 49 were civilians. Of the 46-man crew, mostly Newfoundlanders, only 15 remained. Five families suffered particularly heavy losses: the Tappers (5 dead), the Toppers (4), the Allens (3), the Tavernors (the captain and his two sons), and the Skinners (3). The local press reported:
“Many Families [were] Wiped Out.”
News of the sinking sparked much outrage as victims, friends and families, and the populace at large, condemned the Nazis for targeting a passenger ferry. An editorialist with The Royalist newspaper in St. John’s wrote that the sinking:
“was such a useless crime from the point of view of warfare. It will have no effect upon the course of the war except to steel our resolve that the Nazi blot on humanity must be eliminated from our world.”
The Channel/Port aux Basques area was the worst hit as many crew members of the Caribou were local men. A funeral on October 18 for six victims was attended by hundreds of mourners, and a procession that followed the bodies to the grave sites reportedly measured two kilometres long.
Recommended Archival Collection: Search the Rooms Archives on line: https://www.therooms.ca/collections-research/our-collections
At The Rooms Provincial Archives take some time to read VA 40- 16: A page from The Evening Telegram, St. John’s, NL. with several newspaper articles about the sinking of the SS Caribou, including names of those lost ; death of assistant matron, Agnes Wilkie, General Hospital.
Recommended Reading: Thornhill, H. It Happened in October : The Tragic Sinking of the S.S. Caribou. Newfoundland: H. Thornhill, 1945.
Recommended Song: The Caribou; Lyrics can be found at: http://www.mun.ca/folklore/leach/songs/NFLD1/17A-05.htm