It Happened in October
The following narrative was written by a survivor of the Sydney to Port aux Basques passenger ferry SS Caribou, which sunk in the early hours of 14 October 1942 after being hit by a German torpedo. The text originally appeared in H. Thornhill’s It Happened in October: The Tragic Sinking of the SS Caribou.
THE TALE OF MR. WILLIAM STRICKLAND and the loss of his wife and two children, Hobby and Nora, who were drowned on the S.S. Caribou.
We sailed from North Sydney pier around 9 o’clock in the night. With me was my wife and two children. It was a very pleasant night at sea with a starlight sky. We occupied room No. 23 and soon after leaving my wife and children retired comfortably for the night and were soon fast asleep. I decided that I too would turn in.
I slept soundly until late in the morning which [sic] I awoke and got out of my berth. Realizing we were getting near Port Aux Basques, I was going to put on my shoes when I was shocked by a terrific explosion. I said to my wife, Gertie, “My God, we are torpedoed!” and then I told her to take the baby while I picked up Hobby, our eldest child. I also caught hold of my two life belts and opening the door, I made an effort to get on deck but the lights went out and everything was in pitch darkness except for a tiny dim light near the saloon.
We made our way for the starboard side and on arriving there we found a boat with about four men in it. Taking my child Hobby, I tossed her down aboard of the boat where my wife and baby were. As I began to get down myself, the life-boat capsized and I heard my wife cry out, “Hobby is gone.”
By that time, water was pouring over the deck of the ship and she was sinking fast. I cried out to someone to take my baby while I try and get up myself which they did and I finally managed to climb in myself. My wife, too managed to reach top deck and also another lady. There was nothing in sight available to get into. All I could hear was the cries and screams for help as the passengers seemed to be a terrible state of mind.
My wife screamed for her baby then grasped my hand and said, “Bill, we will go together.” By then, the water was to our knees and was still rising. A sea broke over us and we were separated from one another. From that moment, I never saw my wife again. The two lifebelts that I tried so hard to hold fast to were lost when I was trying to save my child.
As far as I can judge, I was caught in the suction of the ship and could not break clear. I went round and round with the current before I was able to break clear. I caught hold of a piece of debris about 4 feet long and had to let go of it again.
I went under water again and took in a considerable amount of water. It was a matter of life and death and a bitter struggle before I reached the surface again. When I did, I glanced ahead of me and I saw an object on the water and immediately began to swim toward it. It was a raft. I was the only one on it until about 15 minutes later when I caught sight of a woman swimming toward the same raft. I helped her on board and then she burst out in tears as she told me that her baby was lost. I tried to comfort her as I told her how I had lost my wife and two children.
After this five more survivors made their appearance, 4 men and a girl. We were on the lookout for the corvette and also tried to see if we could rescue any more people from the perils of the sea.
The girl we rescued was the first to see the rescue ship appearing in the distance. We were sitting with our feet in water for about 4 and one-half hours and were pretty cold when the rescue ship picked us up. We were brought to North Sydney.
Whoever may be privileged to read this tale can imagine what it means to be blasted from a cosy state room to a cold, icy water at 3 a.m. in the morning and lose all that memories hold dear.
Native of Rose Blanche,