The Secretary for Justice.
In connection with the death of the 34 persons whose bodies were recovered from the sea subsequent to the sinking of the “S.S. Caribou”, the Magisterial Enquiry has been concluded, and appended herewith are the following;-
A MAGISTERIAL ENQUIRY INTO THE DEATH OF 34 PERSONS WHOSE BODIES WERE BROUGHT INTO PORT AUX BASQUES ON OCTOBER 14TH AND 15TH A.D. 1942 FOLLOWING THE SINKING BY ENEMY ACTION AT SEA OF THE S.S. CARIBOU.
The statement of Freeman Skeard of Channel in the District of Burgeo and Lapoile taken before me the undersigned Stipendiary Magistrate in Channel this 7th day of November A.D. 1942 who upon oath saith as follows:-
I am twenty seven years of age. I am married and I live at Channel. I was a fireman on the S.S. Caribou.
I remember Wednesday, October 14th 1942. We had left Sydney the evening previous at about 10 o’clock. At the time we left I was in my bunk. I was off duty and had to go on duty at 4 a.m. Wednesday.
I was called at 3:30 that morning. I got out of bunk and had a lunch and prepared to go below. I was sleeping in the forecastle. I picked up my gloves out of my box and put them in my pocket. I looked at my watch and I noticed that it was just ten minutes to four. I immediately opened the forecastle door to go out when I heard an explosion as if the ship were hit with a torpedo. The explosion shook the ship and the light in the forecastle went out. My life preserver was in my berth. I reached for it right away. There were five of us using this room with me at the time, and it seemed to me that they were on the move when I reached for my life preserver.
I put my life preserver on and went out on deck. I noticed the life raft in the starboard rigging. I cut that clear with my knife. I then went up on the forward part of the bridge and went back as far as the smokestack. I saw nothing but steam and smoke. I came back and went down on the lower deck again and when I reached No. 2 hatch the water was coming over the deck. I then jumped over the rails on the starboard side. The ship was then settling by the head, I swam straight away from the side of the ship and when I was twenty or thirty yards away I looked back and I saw that the smoke stack was then just about submerged.
There was a good deal of screaming at the time. I swam away still further until I reached a life boat. She was not full at the time with passengers. I was pulled aboard. I would estimate that I was in the water about half an hour. It was not daylight up to that time. There were about ten or fifteen people in the life boat when I boarded and we were picking up persons from the water for a little while until there were about 23 on board in all.
When daylight came we saw two or three aeroplanes overhead and I saw the mine sweeper about four or five miles off. She seemed to be stopped. It appeared to me too that she was picking up people from the water. The mine sweeper bore down on our life boat about ten o’clock. Our boat was the last to be attended to. We were carried to Sydney where we arrived about six hours later.
When I was in the water I heard explosions but I could not say what caused them. I also saw some flares overhead at the time. I saw no sign of a submarine at all. When I heard the first explosion as I was coming through the forecastle door it seemed to come from the starboard side of the ship. She listed a little port at first but seemed to right herself shortly afterwards.
Taken and sworn to before
The statement of Nelson Forward of Channel in the District of Burgeo and Lapoile taken before me the undersigned Stipendiary Magistrate at Channel this 5th day of November A.D. 1942 who upon oath saith as follows;-
I am Sergeant in charge of the Ranger Detachment at Port Aux Basques. On the morning of October 14th at about approximately eight o’clock Ranger Caines reported to me that he had just received information at the Newfoundland Railway wharf at Port Aux Basques to the effect that the S.S. Caribou which had been due to arrive at the port at 6 a.m. was disabled about twenty miles South West off Channel Head. I immediately proceeded to the Railway wharf where I received information confirming that already given me by the Ranger, and further that all available skiffs and boats from Port Aux Basques and vicinity had gone and were preparing to proceed to the scene, one skiff in the meantime being just ready to leave the wharf.
After giving to members of the Force at Port Aux Basques certain necessary instructions, I boarded the latter skiff and went to sea at about approximately nine a.m. or a little later. The skipper of this skiff was Capt. Henry Anderson, of Port Aux Basques. We steamed and sailed on a course set by the Captain which he thought would take him to the scene until approximately one o’clock when it was estimated we were twenty miles or a little more W.S.W. from Channel Head. We then turned around and steered a course approximately N.W. by West for one and a half hours but due to leaky gas tanks it was found necessary to give up the search and we returned to Port Aux Basques at about 5:30 p.m..
When about fifteen miles off Channel Head on the way out we sighted an empty oil drum and shortly afterwards what looked to be a life boat’s buoyant tank and some short time after this as well another empty oil drum. We tried to salvage this drum but failed. A very strong breeze of wind was blowing at the time from the N.W. approximately, and from the opinion of the Captain and crew I learnt that a very strong tide was running against the wind. Away to the West of our position I saw what appeared to be two corvettes. During the day I saw two planes overhead, one came from the East and passed close to us when we were a few miles off Channel Head going out while the other passed directly over our skiff at low altitude when we were about ten miles or more further out. On our way to the scene we could see other boats in the distance proceeding as it appeared on the same mission as ours. We were at no time close to these skiffs. While we tracked and steamed about we saw no sign of anything further which would suggest wreckage other than that referred to.
Immediately upon my return to Port Aux Basques, I contacted Mr. L. George, Railway Station Agent at Port Aux Basques, who informed me that the S.S. Caribou had been torpedoed and that survivors to the number of 65 had been landed at North Sydney. From my own observations around the Railway wharf at the time I noticed that preparations had been made to receive any survivors who might be landed at the port. In the meantime another skiff had returned to port bringing, so I was informed, an oil drum similar to that seen by us previously at sea.
At about 8 p.m. while I was at the Railway Station at Port Aux Basques, Mr. George informed me that a telephone call from Grand Bay, a settlement about two miles west of Port Aux Basques, informed him that two Grand Bay skiffs had just returned from the search and that I was required there at once. I immediately proceeded there at once by taxi accompanied by the Magistrate, the local Doctor and the C. of E. Clergyman as well as Mr. George himself.
Upon arrival there I was conducted to the wharf of the Kettle Brothers where I found two skiffs moored together. I was escorted on board each of these skiffs and on board of one I found the body of a woman and on board the other the body of a man. I learnt that these bodies had been picked up in the sea by these skiffs during the day and forthwith had the bodies removed to a nearby shed. Here the bodies were examined in the presence of the clergyman and Magistrate, the doctor meanwhile making the necessary examinations as to the cause of death. The Rev. Mr. Martin and Mr. George identified the body of the man as that of Llewelyn Carter of Port Aux Basques, a member of the crew of the S.S. Caribou. Up to this time the body of the female, the age of which appeared to be in the vicinity of thirty five or forty years, could not be identified. I took possession of all valuables found on each of the bodies and any clues which might assist in establishing identification later. The body identified as Llewelyn Carter was clad in summer underwear and a pair of blue dungarees, and there was a life preserver attached in its proper position. The body of the women was fully dressed except for shoes and to the body a life preserver was also attached. Upon making enquiries as to the finding of the bodies, I learnt that the body of Llewelyn Carter had been picked up by the skiff “Greta June”, captained by Ernest Kettle, and that the body of the woman had been picked up by the skiff “Sadie Maud”, captained by James Kettle.
Shortly before the examinations of these bodies had been finalized, a telephone call from Port Aux Basques advised that a skiff had just arrived there with two other bodies. I finished the examinations of the bodies at Grand Bay and placing a member of the Force on guard I proceeded to Port Aux Basques. In the Customs examining room there I found two bodies which, I learnt, were those referred to by phone, and which had just been removed from the skiff. One body, that of a woman, was positively identified as that of Miss Bride Fitzpatrick, stewardess on board the ill-fated ship. The other body, also that of a woman, was unidentified. This body was clad only in pajamas over which was a blue raglan. At my request the local doctor made examinations of both bodies, and I took possessions of all valuables found on them. Both bodies wore life preservers. The body of Miss Fitzpatrick was clad in night clothes over which was her uniform great coat. Upon completion of the necessary examinations of the bodies they were placed temporarily in the express room of the Newfoundland Railway. It was decided that the Railway would confirm the bodies the following day.
At about 7 a.m. on Thursday, October 15th had four bodies removed to the Orange Hall at Channel and guard maintained. Preparations for coffining the bodies were carried out that day and at 9:30 a.m. the two unidentified bodies were photographed by me for purposes of identification.
Throughout the day several skiff and boats of Port Aux Basques and vicinity put to sea in order to continue search. At about 5:30 p.m. I was notified by the Railway that one of the boats had just returned with a number of bodies on board and that other boats were on their way in. In company with the Magistrate I proceeded to the railway wharf and from then until about 8 p.m. the bodies of thirty persons were removed from five skiffs and placed in the premises of Bowater’s adjacent to the Railway premises.
The work of identification and the laying out of the bodies was then commenced, Dr. Parsons in the meantime making the necessary examinations. Due precautions for the safe custody of all valuables found upon each of the civilian bodies were carried out by me. Responsibility in this connection regarding the bodies of personal of the armed services was assumed by and passed to the Canadian Army and Navy representatives stationed at Port Aux Basques.
From time to time as particulars of the bodies were disclosed same was telegraphed by Mr. George, station Agent, to Railway Headquarters. Most of the bodies were fully clothed and wore life preservers. With regard to the clothing this had to be cut from the bodies in order to facilitate preparations for coffining. As clothing was removed, suitable identification marking were attached to each unidentified body. At about 10 a.m. on the following day I had all unidentified bodies up to that time photographed. A description and other particulars had in the meantime been recorded by me.
A guard was maintained over the bodies until the night of October 17th when Captain Dalton arrived and took charge of the bodies on behalf of the Railway. The following is a correct and true record maintained by me of all bodies, identified and unidentified, from the time of their being landed on the shore to midnight on October 17th, the time of Capt. Dalton’s arrival.
From the time various bodies were landed on shore from the skiffs, each unidentified body had attached to it by me a tag bearing a serial number beginning with the number “one”. Up to midnight on October 15th, of the bodies for which I had assumed responsibility, eleven had been tagged as unidentified. Of these eleven bodies, four had been identified up to the time the bodies were handed over to Captain Dalton.
These four bodies were as follows;-
Unidentified #2 Identified as Mr. A.W. Sime
Unidentified #3 Identified as Mrs. Kathleen Gardner
Unidentified #5 Identified as Mr. Hugh B. Gillis
Unidentified #8 Identified as Abigail Cluett (female child)
The remaining seven unidentified bodies were coffined at Port Aux Basques following the arrival of Captain Dalton who instructed that they be shipped to the morgue at St. John’s. I supervised the coffining of these bodies in order to ensure that no error be made in the identification numbers, addresses and death certificates placed upon each of the coffins.
My record of the remaining seven unidentified bodies is as follows;-
Unidentified #1. Body landed from skiff at Port Aux Basques on October 15th. Male. Height about 5 ft 9 in. Weight about 180 pounds. Hair dark, close cut, tinged with grey and receding temples. Released to Newfoundland Railway at Port Aux Basques, on October 18th for shipment to the morgue at St. John’s, under identification tag marked “Unidentified #1”.
Unidentified #4. Female. Body landed from skiff at Port Aux Basques on October 15th. Height about 5 feet. Weight approx. 190 pounds. Age approx. 45 years. Hair black. Gold tooth incisor upper right. Body released to Newfoundland Railway on October 18th for shipment to the Morgue at St. John’s, under identification tag marked “Unidentified #4”
Unidentified #6. Male Child. Body landed at Port Aux Basques from skiff on October 15th. Aged about 5 years. Hair light. Released to the Newfoundland Railway at Port Aux Basques on October 18th for shipment to the Morgue at St. John’s under identification tag marked “Unidentified #6”.
Unidentified #7. Female child. Body landed at Port Aux Basques from skiff on October 15th. Aged about 6 months. Hair Light. Eyes Blue. Released to the Newfoundland Railway on October 18th for shipment to the Morgue at St. John’s under identification tag marked “Unidentified #7”.
Unidentified #9. Female child. Body landed at Port Aux Basques from skiff on October 15th. Aged about one year. Hair light brown. Released to the Newfoundland Railway on October 18th for shipment to the Morgue at St. John’s under identification tag marked “Unidentified #9”.
Unidentified #10. Female. Body landed at Port Aux Basques on October 15th from skiff. Height approx. 5ft 7ins. Weight approx. 115 pounds. Hair Brown. Aged approx 20 to 25 years. Body released to Newfoundland Railway on October 18th for shipment to the Morgue at St. John’s, under identification tag marked “Unidentified #10”.
Unidentified #11. Female. Body landed from skiff at Grand Bay on October 14th. Aged approx. 35 to 40 years. Weight approx 140 pounds. Height about 5 feet 3 ins. Hair Black. Eyes Brown. Natural teeth, with gold tooth incisor upper right. Released to the Newfoundland Railway on October 18th for shipment to the Morgue at St. John’s under identification tag marked “Unidentified #11”.
In addition to the bodies already mentioned in the foregoing, ten other bodies, making a total of 34 in all, were landed at Grand Bay and Port Aux Basques on October 14th and 15th. To the best of my knowledge these were bodies of the fighting services personnel. As already stated responsibility for the care and disposal of these bodies was assumed by and passed to the Canadian Army and Navy representatives at Port Aux Basques from whom I learnt they were as follows;-
1. Edward Bartlett, R.N. Portugal Cove.
2. T.H. Cummings, Air Force.
3. C. Cochrane, C.D.N.B. 54765
4. H.H. Elkin Airman
5. P.H. Cawley Naval Stores Inspector, 1580 Amherst Ave. Montreal.
6. Corpl. E. Francis P.E.I. Highlanders, Gander.
7. James G. Abernathy U.S. Army
8. Nursing Sister A.W. Wilkie R.C.N.V.R.
9. Unidentified Airman
10. Unidentified Sailor
The body of Nursing Sister Wilkie was the body recovered with that of Miss Bride Fitzpatrick, stewardess, and landed at Port Aux Basques from a skiff on the night of October 14th. On the following day, October 15th, the body was identified by a representative of the Canadian Navy stationed here. As I had assumed all responsibility in connection with this body I had it released to the Canadian Navy representative upon identification.
Taken and sworn to before me
The statement of Mary Keeping of Channel in the District of Burgeo and Lapoile taken before me the undersigned Stipendiary Magistrate at Channel this 9th day of November, A.D. 1942 who upon oath saith as follows;-
I live at Channel. I am a widow, my husband having been deceased for nine years. I know Mr. William Strickland of Rose Blanche. His first wife was my sister. She has been dead about five years.
There were two children by his union, Vera and Josie. Later Mr. Strickland married again. Previous to his second marriage the children both died. Mr. Strickland’s second wife was a Mrs. Cluett previous to the marriage and she had a child named Abigail whom she took to live with her after she went into Mr. Strickland’s home. Mrs. Strickland gave birth to a baby girl about ten months ago. The baby was named Vera.
I knew Mrs. Strickland quite well. Some time about the middle of September of this year, Mrs. Strickland and the children, Vera and Abigail, stayed at my home in Channel for three days waiting to make connection to cross the Gulf. It was her intention to visit her husband in Sydney, spend a month there and return to this country. I did not know they were on the ill fated S.S. Caribou.
On October 16th I heard that Mr. Strickland was among the survivors landed in Sydney. It struck me that Mrs. Strickland and the two children might be on board the boat as well. I was taken to the Orange Hall by the Magistrate and saw the body of one woman. I could not recognize the body. On being taken to the Bowater’s premises at Port Aux Basques where several bodies were lying, I recognized the bodies of Vera Strickland and Abigail Cluett. I was positive of that because I knew them so well. Of the female bodies seen, none of them resembled that of Mrs. William Strickland.
sworn to before me
The statement of Philip Woodley, Sergeant Royal Canadian Army Service Corps at Port Aux Basques in the District of Burgeo and Lapoile taken before me the undersigned Stipendiary Magistrate at Channel this 12th day of November, A.D. 1942 who upon oath saith as follows;-
I am a Sergeant of the Royal Newfoundland Army Service Corps. For the past five months I have been stationed at Port Aux Basques.
I remember the morning of October 14th, A.D. 1942. at about 7:05 that morning I was informed by Mr. George, Station Agent, Port Aux Basques, that the S.S. Caribou was in trouble some distance from the port. I discussed our position with regard to the disposal of any bodies brought to port with the naval shore patrol. In the meantime I wired all details to the G.O.C. Canadians and stood by in the event of my services being required in connection with the landing of any bodies of the armed services personnel.
As far as can be ascertained the only bodies landed on October 14th belonging to the armed services was that of Nursing Sister A.W. Wilkie of Carberry, Manitoba.
On October 15th, of the thirty bodies landed, we took over ten.
These were as follows;-
All these bodies left Port Aux Basques on the morning of Sunday, October 18th under military escort. The Naval bodies were under escort of Pay Lieutenant Eric Wright, and the Army and Air Force personnel bodies were under escort of Military Police Train Patrol.
sworn to before me
The statement of David Brenton of Port Aux Basques in the District of Burgeo and Lapoile taken before me the undersigned Stipendiary Magistrate at Channel this 9th day of November A.D. 1942 who upon oath saith as follows;-
I am fifty six years of age. I reside at Port Aux Basques. I am Harbour Master and Pilot for the port of Port Aux Basques. I am also light keeper.
I remember the morning of Wednesday, October 14th 1942. at about 7:40 a.m. Mr. George Norman, Express agent, came to my home and informed me that the S.S. Caribou had been sunk. He also asked me to find what boats I could to go the scene of the disaster. He gave me the position as twenty one miles S.W. of Channel Head.
I immediately took steps to see what boats I could collect but in the meantime I noticed that several boats were on the move and going out of the harbour. All available boats seemed to be on the move. It was about nine o’clock that I left the harbour too in an open boat belonging to Mr. George Battiste who was also in the boat.
We went off about two or three miles but owing to engine trouble had to give up the idea of proceeding in that boat. Mr. Battiste and I then joined another boat owned by Henry Anderson. This boat was about twenty tons and already had about six or seven other men on board.
We continued on a W.S.W. course allowing for wind and tide. This would have taken us to the scene of the disaster as given me by Mr. Norman. It was blowing quite a breeze at the time from the North West. We had to put a reef in the mainsail. I would estimate we were going about seven or eight miles per hour with sail and power. I joined Anderson’s boat at ten minutes past ten that morning about three miles off Channel Head.
We continued on this course until 1 p.m. but during that time when about 12 or 13 miles off we sighted a barrel which proved to be a crude oil barrel. The barrel was empty. About two miles beyond that we saw a copper tank. I recognized it as being a life boat tank. The tank was badly dented but empty.
At one o’clock we estimated we were about twenty four or twenty fives miles from Channel Head. We had facilities with which to ascertain our position exactly. We altered our course lay up on about a N.N.W. course thinking this was the scene of the disaster. Shortly after being on this course we sighted another drum which I recognized as being another oil tank. It was empty and badly dented with fresh cuts and scratches on it. In my opinion I would say these cuts and scratches were fresh and that they were made a few hours previous.
Because we thought these barrels might be coming from the scene of the disaster we tried to get to the westward. After continuing on that course for about one and a half hours our oil tanks went dry and in refilling them we broke the connection from our tanks to the engine which compelled us to give up the search. We could do nothing with sail alone.
It was decided to return to Port Aux Basques where we arrived at about 5 p.m. Three or four other boats came in with us and I understood from them that they saw no sign of wreckage at all.
It was about eight o’clock that evening when I learnt that our boat had been to far to the East. It appeared that the other boats were to far to the Eastward that day as well, with the exception of the boats from Grand Bay who were farther to the West than us and who found some wreck as well as bodies late in the day.
It was Mr. George Norman, Express Agent at Port Aux Basques, who gave me the position of the disaster that morning as being 21 miles S.W. of Channel Head.
During our search we were in sight of other boats within a mile or so of our position. There were nine boats which proceeded to the scene that morning with us. I saw two aeroplanes that morning. They were not together. One came quite close to us. I also saw two corvettes that morning. They came from the Eastward of our position about noon or one o’clock and proceeded westward. I would estimate they were on a N.W. course.
sworn to before me
The statement of Ernest Kettle of Grand Bay in the District of Burgeo and Lapoile taken before me the undersigned Stipendiary Magistrate at Channel this 7th day of November A.D. 1942 who upon oath saith as follows;-
I am fifty one years of age. I reside at Grand Bay. I am the skipper of the skiff “Greta June” of eight tons.
I remember the morning of Wednesday, October 14th 1942. at about 7:30 a.m. James Kettle came to my house and said that the Caribou was in trouble 21 miles S.W. from Channel Head, and he asked if I were going out. I replied “Yes”.
I came down aboard my skiff. Albert Osmond of Grand Bay also told me that the Caribou was in trouble 21 miles off Channel Head. I collected three men beside myself and by about ten minutes to eight we were off from the wharf. I notified the fishing boats outside the Island of the trouble as I was going out.
I shaped a course for the S.W. My boat could do about seven miles per hour that morning with engine going and the wind from the North West. I kept this course for three hours and a quarter and then saw two boats to the Southward of us stopped. We ran down towards them on a S.S.E course and seeing they were doing nothing we swung to the North again. When we were an hour and a half from Duck Island that morning we saw two corvettes away to the North of us. Duck Island is a mile from Grand Bay.
We kept going to the North and N.NWest for about three hours but did not see any sign of wreck whatever. We came in towards the land then about E. by North shortly afterwards we saw a lifeboat. The boat was empty. Then we turned to the North West and came upon some rafts. At five o’clock we came across the body of a man floating on the water. The body had a life preserver on and was partly clothed. I recognized this body as that of Llewelyn Carter of Port Aux Basques. We saw no more bodies that day. I arrived with the body at Grand Bay about eight o’clock.
The next morning I left Grand Bay with my three men again. I went out on a W.S.W. course and went to sea about fourteen miles. We then saw some bodies floating. We picked up three bodies in a group among which I recognized Arthur Thomas of Port Aux Basques. The time then was about ten a.m. From that time until 4 p.m. we picked up thirteen bodies in all. They were all within a radius of about two miles. Among the bodies I recognized Stanley Tavenor, Thomas Moyst, Harold Chislett, Jerome Gale. Our boat also picked up two female children, two female adults whom I did not recognize. We finished picking up the bodies about three o’clock. There were nine male bodies in all.
Every body which we picked up had on a life preserver with the exception of the two female children. All the bodies had a certain amount of clothing on them. We arrived at Port Aux Basques at about 5:30 p.m. and handed the bodies over to the Rangers.
I saw two planes overhead on the first morning out at about 9:15 a.m. I saw another plane in the late evening. On the second day there seemed to me several planes in the vicinity.
sworn to before me
The statement of George Kettle of Grand Bay in the District of Burgeo and Lapoile taken before me the undersigned Stipendiary Magistrate at Channel this 7th day of November A.D. 1942 who upon oath saith as follows;-
I am fifty six years of age. I reside at Grand Bay two miles West of Port Aux Basques. I am the skipper of the skiff “Shellac” a boat of about thirteen tons.
I remember Wednesday, October 14th. At about eight o’clock on that morning, Albert Osmond came from Port Aux Basques and told me that Mr. George, Station Agent, Port Aux Basques sent him along to ask any boats to put to sea to the assistance of the S.S. Caribou. I got my boat ready as quickly as possible and taking three men beside myself I put to sea. Osmond informed me that the scene of the trouble was twenty one miles S.W. of Channel Head.
My boat was ready by nine o’clock. The wind at the time was blowing a strong breeze from the N.West. my boat has an engine and going off that morning she was proceeding about seven knots per hour. I took a course S.Westerly for about ten miles. Then I swung S.W. by South for about fifteen miles or a bit less. We did not see any sign of wreckage up to this time. Then we hauled S.E. by E. and went seven miles, then we came back N.E. for about fifteen miles. We saw nothing whatever in the form of wreck. There was more than a score of boats about that vicinity that morning. We left and came in arriving at Grand Bay about five o’clock. Our skiff was the first boat in.
Because two bodies had been brought into Grand Bay late that evening by James Kettle and Ernest Kettle who found them to the West of Channel Head, I left the next morning with my three men and shaped a course W.S.W. from Grand Bay. We kept on this course for about two hours and we saw a boat heave up to the leeward. My boat then ran down alongside. This boat was owned by Ernest Kettle, and called “Greta June”. He informed me that he had picked up three bodies. About ten minutes afterwards we picked up the body of a man. The time then was about ten thirty. We circled back and forth and at half past three we picked up the body of Capt. Tavenor. I recognized the body. Then we circled about for another half an hour before leaving the spot and coming to Port Aux Basques. Between half past ten and half past three we picked up five other bodies, all males, (adults). We arrived at Port Aux Basques with these bodies at about six o’clock and handed them over to the Ranger. I could not identify them.
I did not see any sign of wreck the first day out. The wind blew strong from the N.W. all day. On the second day the wind still blew strong from the N.W. in my opinion we picked up the seven bodies on that day about fourteen miles or so W.S.W. of Grand Bay. They were somewhat scattered about and each body had a life preserver attached. The bodies were discovered within a radius of two miles. I saw only two planes the first morning and there were well to the North. There were several planes around on the next day.
sworn to before me
The statement of John Wells of Grand Bay in the District of Burgeo and Lapoile taken before me the undersigned Stipendiary Magistrate at Channel this 7th day of November, A.D. 1942 who upon oath saith as follows;-
I am fifty six years of age. I reside at Grand Bay. I was a member of the crew of the skiff “Sadie Maud” which left Grand Bay on the morning of October 14th and brought in the body of a woman found floating on the water about 15 miles West of Grand Bay.
Because the skipper of the skiff could not go out the next morning, I assumed charge of the boat. We left Grand Bay at 8 a.m. and steered off West by South for a distance of about 14 miles. At the end of that course we saw nothing. Ernest Kettle in his skiff steered off another course W.S.W. and we saw him heave up. He was about four miles from us then. It seemed to me that he was picking up something.
We bore our skiff down to where he was and ran about three miles and on the way we saw a lot of wreckage but it was mostly matchwood. We spoke to Ernest Kettle and he said he had eleven bodies on board then. We cruised about the place until about one o’clock and we picked up one body, that of a man. I recognized him as Harold Tavenor, the third officer on the S.S. Caribou. The body was fully dressed and wore a life preserver. We placed the body in the hold of the skiff.
We continued to cruise about. By that time there was a lot of boats there. We stayed in the vicinity until about half past four and finding no more bodies we bore up for Channel Head.
I would estimate that the body of the third officer was located about 15 miles West of Channel Head. We arrived at Port Aux Basques with the body about six o’clock, and handed the body over to the Rangers there.
During the first day of our search we saw one plane overhead when we were going out. That would be about six miles off. I saw her fly on a South West course. I did not see another until about five o’clock when one flew in from sea. On the second day it appeared that there were four or five planes in the vicinity all day.
sworn to before me
The statement of James Kettle of Grand Bay in the District of Burgeo and Lapoile taken before me the undersigned Stipendiary Magistrate at Channel this 7th day of November, A.D. 1942 who upon oath saith as follows;-
I am forty nine years of age. I live at Grand Bay two miles West of Port Aux Basques. I am the Captain of the boat “Saide Maud” of 12 tons.
I remember the morning of Wednesday, October 14th 1942. At about 7:30 a.m. that morning I was informed by Mr. Fred Kettle that the Caribou had met with trouble twenty miles S.W. of Channel Head. He told me that he had information from the Railway that they wanted all boats available to go to her assistance.
We got our boat under way as quickly as possible. I took five men with me and we put to sea. There is an engine in the boat and she can steam about six and a half miles per hour with the engine running. I ran for three hours and a half with the engine running and the sails set and judging by the wind at the time I would estimate that during that time we went about 25 miles on a S.W. course. We did not see anything then and then I ran three miles to the S.East and still did not see any wreckage. Then we tracked and came up into the Gulf on a North and N. by W. course. We continued this for two hours. At the end of that time the first thing I saw was a pillow floating in the water. I also saw a fishing schooner about three or four miles from us to the North West.
We went on up to that schooner and found that she had been in among some wreckage. We searched around among the wreckage and after a little searching we found a body of a woman floating. The time then was about five o’clock. We took the body on board. The body was fully dressed and had a life preserver on.
We still continued to search until about 5:30 and seeing nothing further of any bodies we bore up for Grand Bay where we arrived at about eight o’clock. We turned the body over to the Ranger.
During the finding of the wreckage we saw five rafts in good shape, and several broken ones. We also saw two life boats full of water. There was a lot of matchwood floating about.
When we left Grand Bay that morning the wind was blowing a strong breeze from the W.N.W. It increased during the day but started to decrease about a quarter to six in the afternoon. We were on our way in then. The morning was clear and visibility was good all that day. I did not go out to the scene the next day at all. I was certain that my own daughter was on board the ill fate ship. She was coming home at the time. When we left the scene we steered East for Grand Bay, a distance of about 15 miles.
Taken and sworn to before me
The Statement of A. Reginald Parsons of Port Aux Basques in the District of Burgeo and Lapoile taken before me the undersigned Stipendiary Magistrate at Channel this 12th day of November, A.D. 1942 who upon oath saith as follows;-
I am a duly qualified registered Medical Practitioner residing at Port Aux Basques.
I remember the morning of October 14th, 1942. At about 8 a.m. I received a telephone call at my house from the Railway Station to the effect that the S.S. Caribou had met with trouble about 20 mile off Channel Head and that I would be furnished with further particulars later. A little later in the morning I was notified by the Railway that the ship had been torpedoed and was further asked to do all possible in having everything available for any emergency hospital treatment and care in the event of any survivors being landed at this port.
I immediately set to work and by about 1 p.m. of that day had the Custom’s Office converted into a first aid station. Clothing and other necessaries were also provided and placed in the Customs Examining Room in the event of emergency. A number of local ladies with nursing experience were called in and instructed to stand by in case their services might be required. During the afternoon three doctors and two nurses arrived at Port Aux Basques from Stephenville. Everything was then in readiness and it was a matter of waiting for further developments. Sometime between four and five p.m. I was informed by the Station Agent that a number of Survivors had been landed at Sydney from the naval escort vessel accompanying apparently the S.S. Caribou on her trip across the Gulf that morning. There was little else which could be done at that time and so the doctors and nurses from Stephenville left Port Aux Basques by train about 8 p.m.
At about 8:30 p.m. I was called to the Customs Examining Room where I found two female bodies lying on the tables provided. I learnt that these bodies had been rescued from the sea that day and had just previously had been landed at the Railway wharf. I recognized one of these bodies as that of Bride Fitzpatrick, the stewardess of the S.S. Caribou. I could not recognize the body of the other female but was informed later that it was the body of a Canadian nursing sister named Wilkie. Both bodies were partly clothed. Upon examination I found that both bodies were somewhat cyanosed and that there were areas of ecchymosis particularly on the lower limbs. In my opinion death in each case was due to asphyxiation by drowning.
I was then called to Grand Bay, about three miles distant, where, upon entering the store of the Kettle Brothers there I found two bodies lying on a long table. One of these bodies was a male, the other a female. The body of the male appeared to be partly clothed, while the body of the female was fully dressed. Upon examination I identified the male body as that of Llewelyn Carter of Port Aux Basques, steward of the S.S. Caribou. The female body, that of a person of the approximate age of thirty years, could not be identified up to that time. In each case there were areas of ecchymosis about the lower limbs and in my opinion death was due to asphyxiation by drowning. The four bodies referred to were the only bodies I saw examined that day.
On the next day, October 15th I was aware that several boats had put to sea in order to continue the search for any other bodies from the ill fated ship. At about 8 p.m. I was called to the Railway wharf and informed that more bodies had been brought to port. I proceeded to the conveyor shed of the Bowater’s premises and found thirty bodies all lying in order along the floor. This number was made up as follows;-
22 adult male bodies,
4 adult female bodies,
4 bodies of children.
Among the adult male bodies I recognized Captain Benjamin Tavenor of the S.S. Caribou, and the following members of his crew;-
Stanley Tavenor, 1st Officer
Harold Tavenor, 3rd Officer
Jerome Gale, Steward
Maxwell French, Steward
Thomas Moyst, 2nd Engineer
Arthur Thomas, Fireman
As far as could be determined at that time, the remaining 19 bodies were comprised of civilians and the armed services personnel. I could not identify any of the female bodies.
With regard to the children’s bodies, one was a male child of approximately five years of age, the remaining three were females averaging the ages of six months, one year, and six years respectively. These were not identified at the time of my examination.
Practically all of the bodies were very much cyanosed, and I found that the majority or nearly all of them had areas of ecchymosis on the lower limbs.
In my opinion death of all of the above was due to asphyxiation by drowning with the exception of a male body bearing the following injuries;
A lacerated scalp wound over right temple, a lacerated wound around the arm above the elbow, a fractured dislocation of the right knee, lacerations of thighs and scrotum.
I am therefore of the opinion that this person died from injuries received. I also learnt later that this body was that of a member of the armed services, C. Cochrane by mane. It is quite probable that this solider was killed before he fell into the sea.
Taken and sworn to before me
The statement of William Strickland of Rose Blanche in the district of Burgeo and Lapoile taken before me the undersigned Stipendiary Magistrate at Rose Blanche this 25th day of November, A.D. 1942 who upon oath saith as follows;-
I am fifty years of age. I reside at Rose Blanche. I remember October 14th of this year.
On the evening of October 13th I boarded the S.S. “CARIBOU” at North Sydney, with my wife and two children Vera and Abigail. Abigail was my wife’s daughter by her first husband, a Mr. Cluett of Belloram.
We occupied a stateroom all by ourselves. At about 11 p.m. I retired for the night. We were than a little time out of Sydney. My wife and children were asleep in their berths. A few hours later I got up with the idea of going outside to see what sort of morning it was and just as I was tying my shoe laces an explosion rocked the boat. I shouted to my wife and children “We are torpedoed, get out quick”. I grabbed my nine month old child Vera and my wife took Abigail by the arm and we rushed from the stateroom. I heard water gushing into the ship. We managed to make our way up the stairs and out to the deck which seemed to be then awash. Standing on the rail I passed the children up to someone on the upper deck and my wife and I also managed to climb up to that deck as well.
My wife found Vera again and held her in her arms. I also found Abigail and held her. There was a good deal of confusion. I could see little and would have tried to get the family into a lifeboat but it seemed to be filled. My wife said to me “Let’s all go together” we stayed on deck until it became awash and we all went into the water together. I had no lifebelt on. My wife and children disappeared but I managed to swim to a raft from which I was picked up about four hours afterwards by a corvette and taken to Sydney.
I learnt here that my wife and children were not among the survivors. On Sunday morning, November 18th I arrived with other survivors at Port Aux Basques and found that the body of my daughter Abigail had been recovered and sent to Rose Blanche. Some bodies had been placed that morning on the train for St. John’s some of which were not identified and I heard that one of these bodies might be that of my daughter, Vera. I did not go on board the train to make any further enquiries.
On November 13th I received a message from Port Aux Basques to say that the body of my daughter Vera would be landed there from Halifax on November 15th. I met the body upon its arrival. It was in a sealed casket. This casket was opened and it revealed the remains of an infant about the age of my daughter Vera. The face was dark and almost unrecognizable. However in my opinion it was Vera’s body. I took delivery and brought it to Rose Blanche where I had it buried.
Vera was nine months old. I was shown a picture of her by the Sergeant of the Ranger Force at Port Aux Basques. This picture was taken after her body had been landed on October 15th. The picture shown me was that of my daughter Vera.
Taken and sworn to before me
The Statement of George Carter of Francois in the District of Burgeo and Lapoile taken before me the undersigned Stipendiary Magistrate at Channel this 7th day of November A.D. 1942 who upon oath saith as follows;-
I am twenty eight years of age. My home is at Francois. I am the Captain of the motor schooner “Elmer E. Gray” of one hundred and twenty one tons. Our vessel is engaged in freighting for the Newfoundland Railway.
I remember Wednesday, October 14th 1942. We were on our way from Sydney with a load of coal and when we were about two miles off Channel Head we met the Custom’s boat with Jack Lawrence on board. Lawrence told me that the S.S. Caribou had been sunk that morning about 21 miles S.S.W. of Channel Head. We turned around immediately and proceeded off in that direction. I had the log put over and by about eleven o’clock we had the distance run down.
On the way we saw no sign of any wreck whatever. The wind was W.N.W. and blowing a strong breeze. We circled to the Eastward and returned to Port Aux Basques. It was so rough that we lost about four tons of coal off decks. We got into port shortly after 1:30 p.m. We got orders from Mr. George to the effect that we might go 21 miles to the S.W. of Channel Head as he said this was where the boat had been sunk. We left the port at 2:20 p.m. and headed on this course for 21 miles by log.
About eleven miles out we saw a tank floating but no other sign of wreckage. From this until we ran out the 21 miles we still saw no wreck. Then we ran ten miles to the South East. It was then after five o’clock. Then we retraced our course back and reached Port Aux Basques about 10:30 that night.
We left port the next morning at 8:30 and went out on a course West from Channel Head for sixteen miles. One of the Rangers gave me this course since some of the bodies had been found in that vicinity the day before. After running for sixteen miles we came across a body floating on the water. The body was that of a man. We saw several pieces of life boats and life rafts and picked up the ship’s binnacle. We also picked up a box of drugs but saw no sign of any other bodies. The wind freshened about 10 o’clock. We stayed out until 5 p.m. before returning to Port Aux Basques. Upon arrival there we handed the body over to the Rangers.
On the first day out we saw two planes. They were not nearer to us than a mile and a half. They were to the north of us. On the second day we also saw two planes. They circled around us a number of times.
Taken and sworn to before me
The statement of John Dominie of Channel in the District of Burgeo and Lapoile taken before me the undersigned Stipendiary Magistrate at Channel this 12th day of November, A.D. 1942 who upon oath saith as follows;-
I am thirty five years of age. I live at Channel. I joined the S.S. Caribou in July of this year.
I remember the morning of Wednesday, October 14th. The ship left Sydney the previous night at about 9:45 for Port Aux Basques. I was a sailor and used to take my turn at the wheel during my watch.
I went on duty that night at 12 o’clock. From that time until two a.m. I was on the look out at the starboard side of the bridge. Then I was called to the wheel. I was steering in the wheel house. I heard the 3:45 a.m. bell and about five minutes afterwards I heard an explosion. It seemed to me that the explosion came from the starboard side of the ship because I saw a flash coming from that direction. James Prosper, second mate, was in the wheel house at the time, and James Spencer as well.
We rushed from the wheel house together, and I went to the boat deck and called for an axe which someone was holding in his hand. I took it from him and chopped the lashings of the boat. This boat was No. 4 on the port side. By this time the boat was crowded. I got in the boat and cut the after fall because the boat was just about then in the water. The sea was striking her bottom. Because the forward fall had been lowered the boat a little by the head, the steamer not being then stopped, the stern of the life boat was elevated. The boat filled with water first and capsized shortly afterwards. I would estimate that there were about forty or forty five passengers in the boat. I can only recollect seeing one woman.
Everyone was thrown clear. I managed to get back to the boat which was then bottom up. She capsized three times after that but each time I managed to hold on to her. A number of passengers tried to do the same and as the time went by the numbers got less. When it came daylight there were nine of us left in the boat, all men. Four of them died shortly afterwards.
It was about 8 a.m. that we were picked up by the escorting mine sweeper. I went below and got into a berth where I stayed until we were about ten miles from Sydney where I arrived about 3:30 p.m.
When I took the wheel at 2 a.m. on Wednesday morning we were steering north 40 East. Immediately afterwards the course was altered to East by North. The ship was on this course when the explosion took place. I saw the light on Cape Ray about fifteen minutes previously. Visibility was fairly good that morning.
The Captain was on the bridge practically all the time from midnight until 2:00 a.m. I did not see him after that. My brother, Ernest Dominey, had the wheel from 10 until midnight, and he was relieved by James Spencer from Midnight until two o’clock.
According to the reckoning based on the course my brother tells me he steered, and the course Spencer would ordinarily steer, our position would be about 20 miles West by South of Channel Head when the explosion took place.
I saw no sign of a submarine that night. I heard no explosions while I was in the water. I saw four or five flares in the air that morning at different intervals. I cannot remember when I sighted the first one.
I did not see the mine sweeper until just as it was coming daylight. It would be difficult to see her in the darkness of that morning in any case.
The last time I saw the S.S. Caribou that morning, I was about eighty yards or so astern of her. Her boat deck was awash and it seemed to me that she had a list to port.
At about the time the S.S. Caribou foundered, the wind was blowing fresh from the West, and there was a short lop running. Up to the time I was picked up the wind gradually increased.
Taken and sworn to before me
The statement of Lewis George of Port Aux Basques in the District of Burgeo and Lapoile taken before me the undersigned Stipendiary Magistrate at Channel this 10th day of November, A.D. 1942 who upon oath saith as follows;-
I am the Station Agent at Port Aux Basques. I have been in charge of the station here for the past nineteen years.
I remember the morning of Wednesday, October 14th 1942. The night operator, Ab Currie came and called me at 6:30 that morning. He said that there was trouble outside and I left the house immediately. He said that the trouble was in connection with the S.S. Caribou and that all boats necessary to assist were required to proceed to the scene. He gave me the position of the trouble as 20 miles S.W. of Channel Head.
I went down to the wharf and made agreements to have boats proceed to the scene. The first man I saw was one Priddle from Francois. He was the skipper of a skiff tied to the wharf and was baiting his trawl. He volunteered to go out. In the meantime I sent Albert Osmond, one of our wharf men to Grand Bay in order to get all skiffs possible there. I also sent out an Isle Aux Morte boat as well. I then sent the stevodore, James Carter through Channel, and Llewelyn Allan as well to get all boats possible. By this time everyone was doing all possible.
We arranged to have the trains ready in the event of any survivors being landed at the port. I notified the Doctor as well as the clergyman of the place, e.g., Revs. Martin and Baggs.
It was probably about half an hour after I came down to the wharf that I contacted St. John’s by wire for confirmation of the trouble in connection with the steamer. I was informed that the position was 21 miles S.W. of Channel Head.
The schooner “Elmer Grey” returned to port about 2:30 p.m. and reported seeing no sign of wreckage at all. She returned to sea again shortly afterwards. In the late afternoon I received word that 65 survivors had been landed in Sydney after having been picked up by escort vessel. In the meantime the boats who had left port in the morning to carry on the search had begun to return to port. They all reported seeing nothing apart from small bits of wreckage.
Some time after eight o’clock I received a telephone call from Grand Bay saying that the Sergeant of the Ranger Force was required there. I went up there as well and found that two bodies had been brought in. I recognized one as Llewelyn Carter, Asst. steward on the S.S. Caribou. The other body was a female. I could not identify her.
When I came back to the station shortly afterwards, I found that two other bodies had been landed and placed in the Customs Examining Room. Both were females. I identified one as the stewardess of the S.S. Caribou, Miss Bride Fitzpatrick. I could not identify the other. There were no more bodies brought in that evening.
I arranged that three boats proceed to the scene the next day from Grand Bay. On the 15th I arranged that boats from Port Aux Basques go out again as well. It was about 5 p.m. on that day that the first boats started to come in.
I learnt that several bodies were on some of the skiffs, and I made arrangements that the boats pull into the Bowater’s premises and land the bodies.
From the six vessels, thirty bodies were landed in all, among which were seven of the crew of the S.S. Caribou. I identified each of these. The remaining 23 were made up of adults, both male and female, as well as four children. In all thirty four bodies were landed. I took greatest care that all the necessary attention might be given. I arranged with the Railway for the coffining of 24 bodies. Of the remaining ten bodies, two, e.g. Major Abernathy and civilian John Sheppard were taken in charge by the American Army doctor, the remaining eight were taken over by the Canadian Army authorities.
Captain Dalton, Marine Superintendent, arrived about 2 a.m. on Sunday morning, October 18th with certain instructions. I saw that these were carried out.
The following bodies were shipped on the express on the morning of Sunday, October 18th;-
1. Thomas Moyst, 2nd Engineer. Destination St. John’s
2. A.W. Sime, Traveling representative, Imperial Oil. St. John’s
3. Mrs. Kathleen Gardner, St. John’s
4. Mrs. J.A. Beswick, St. John’s. Body later embalmed at St. John’s and sent to her home in Quebec.
5. Harold M. Chislett, St. John’s
6. Unidentified male body No. 1
7. Unidentified female body #4
8. Unidentified male child #6
9. Unidentified female child #7
10. Unidentified female child #9
11. Unidentified female body #10
12. Unidentified female body #11
13. Miss Bride Fitzpatrick, Destination Bay Roberts.
14. Maxwell French. Destination Bay Roberts.
15. William Robert Butler. Destination Port Rexton.
16. James G. Abernathy, U.S. Army, Major. Destination Stephenville.
17. John Sheppard, American citizen, Auburn, N.Y. Destination Stephenville.
18. E. Cochrane, Canadian Army, Destination Bishop’s Falls.
19. Corpl. E.S. Francis, P.E.I. Highlanders, Destination Grand Falls.
20. T.H. Cummings, R.C.A.F. Destination Gander.
21. Herbert Harold Elkin, R.C.A.F. Destination Gander.
22. Unidentified Airman, R.C.A.F. Destination Gander. No. 165602
23. Unidentified Sailor. Destination St. John’s for Shipment to Heart’s Delight. Identified later as Seaman Bishop.
24. P.H. Cawley, Naval Stores Inspector, Montreal. Destination St. John’s
25. Nursing Sister A.W. Wilkie. Destination St. John’s
26. Edward Bartlett, R.N. Portugal Cove
The body of Hugh B. Gillis of Sydney was embalmed, coffined and sent to Sydney on October 19th. The body of Abigail Cluett of Rose Blanche was delivered to Bert Strickland on Saturday, October 17th.
The body of the unidentified female child # 9 referred to above had been positively identified by Mrs. Mary Keeping as Vera Strickland of Rose Blanche. This child with its mother had stayed at Mrs. Keeping’s home in Channel for a few days only recently.
However the uncle of the child from Rose Blanche could not confirm Mrs. Keeping’s opinion, hence the sending forward of the body as being unidentified and marked “unidentified #9’. This body was sent to the morgue at St. John’s for identification. Later it seems to have been identified in St. John’s as Nancy Skinner of Halifax. The body was forthwith sent to Halifax on October 27th. Apparently the parents of the supposed child at Halifax could not identify the child as being theirs and at Mr. Strickland’s request the body was returned to this country on November 8th. The father, Mr. William Strickland of Rose Blanche took delivery of the body on November 9th at 9 a.m.
The unidentified body of #10 was shipped from Port Aux Basques, first with the intention of having it sent to the Morgue. After the body was placed on the train and the train had been out of Port Aux Basques for about two hours, Mr. Clifford Read of this town received a message to the effect that the body was probably that of Mrs. Helen Wightman since she corresponded to a description sent to Kentville. I made arrangements with the Superintendent of the Railway to have the body delivered to Corner Brook. This was done. The body was embalmed there and returned here on Monday, October 19th where it was forwarded to North Sydney. Valuables found on her person when she was taken from the water were also deposited in the coffin with her.
The members of the crew identified by me were as follows;-
1. Benjamin Tavenor, Captain
2. Stanley Tavenor, 1st Officer
3. Harold Tavenor, 3rd Officer
4. Thomas Moyst, 2nd Engineer
5. Jerome Gale, Assistant Steward
6. Llewelyn Carter, Assistant Steward
7. Arthur Thomas, Fireman
When Abe Currie called me on the morning of October 14th he gave me the position of the trouble in connection with the S.S. Caribou as 20 miles S.W. of Channel Head. In confirmation of this position St. John’s advised me later that the position of the ship at the time of the disaster was 21 miles S.W. of Channel.
The body of the female child sent to St. John’s under identification tag marked “Unidentified # 7” was returned here to Port Aux Basques for transmission to Sydney. However, having been identified as baby Bernard, the father came to Port Aux Basques and took delivery of the child, taking it to Rose Blanche.
Source: "Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador."
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