Dis­as­ter af­ter­math

Loss of hus­band, fa­ther left fam­ily im­pov­er­ished

Advertiser (Grand Falls) - - Features - BY ROS­ALYN ROY PORT AUX BASQUES, NL

“I can re­mem­ber back at five years old any­way, we never had enough.”

— Bill Bryne

Wil­liam Bryne was 34 and car­ry­ing a belt full of money when he died.

The fish­er­man was anx­ious to re­turn home af­ter a sea­son’s work on a schooner based out of Lunen­burg. Un­like New­found­land boats, which paid pri­mar­ily in trade goods, the Nova Sco­tia ships paid cash.

In­stead of wait­ing for the schooner to sail him back to Ren­con­tre East, Wil­liam de­cided it would be faster to take the train to North Syd­ney and cross the Gulf Straits on the SS Cari­bou. Then he would take the coastal boat back to For­tune Bay.

It was a de­ci­sion that cost the young man his life and thrust his wife and five young chil­dren into poverty.

Joan Os­mond, his mid­dle daugh­ter, was only six but still re­mem­bers get­ting the news of her fa­ther’s death. Joan had been play­ing on the beach with a friend and her old­est sis­ter, Kath­leen (LeRiche), who was nine.

“It was on a Satur­day,” re­calls Joan, who first no­ticed the blinds to an up­stairs win­dow were closed, which was highly un­usual.

“When we went into house, the house was full.”

Joan saw her mother ly­ing on an old wooden couch, her seven-month-old brother Bill cra­dled in one arm, and three­year-old sis­ter Ruby nes­tled at her mother’s back.

“Kay (Kath­leen) said ‘what’s wrong,’ and they said, ‘your Dad has drowned.’” Joan taps her tem­ple, the mem­ory of that mo­ment still so strong.

“I re­mem­bers that. locked in there.”

For Bill the clear mem­o­ries are those of hard­ship and his mother’s cease­less tenac­ity. Like many in ru­ral New­found­land, 32-year-old Sarah Bryne had lit­tle ed­u­ca­tion and even less re­sources at a time when women were not ex­pected to be­come a fam­ily’s pri­mary bread­win­ner.

Sarah was thrust into ev­ery role, from chop­ping down trees and split­ting logs to fir­ing the stove to keep her chil­dren warm and to bake their bread. Her old­est son Har­vey, who was 12 when he lost his fa­ther, did his best to help out.

“I can re­mem­ber back at five years old any­way, we never had enough,” says Bill, who wit­nessed his mother’s ef­forts to care for her chil­dren. “Mom went around door-to-door clean­ing for peo­ple… what­ever she could get. How she done it I don’t know.”

At one point the New­found­land Rangers came to the door, of­fer­ing to take her chil­dren to the or­phan­age. Both re­mem­ber their mother’s em­phatic re­fusal.

“Mom said, ‘No, I’m not putting them in a home sup­pos­ing I got to go down to that cove there and pick up kelp and cook and give them to eat,’” re­calls Joan. “And she didn’t. She kept us home.”

By the time he was seven or eight, Bill would row a dory out to the coal boat in the har­bor, and when he re­turned to the cove his mother would come down into the icy wa­ter, her skirts float­ing around her.

“She would hop in the wa­ter with two buck­ets,” says Bill, who would fill the buck­ets and watch her carry them up to the house un­til all the coal was in. “She worked.

“She baked bread ev­ery day,” said Joan, and to this day Bill still loves his bread. “That’s the most thing we ate was bread. Bread and tea.”

Bill chuck­les as he re­calls how his mother used to fire up the wood­stove and shove in a loaf of bread to warm, then try to shoo her kids away so the house could warm up prop­erly.

“Poor old Mom used to say, ‘Get away from the stove and let the heat get out.’ I’d be stand­ing on the chair with me longjohns on and say, ‘Mom I don’t want the heat to get out. I want the heat to go in my body’.” Fight for com­pen­sa­tion When the War Claims depart­ment fi­nally of­fered com­pen­sa­tion, Sarah faced a bat­tle to get her fam­ily’s share.

One of the com­pli­ca­tions was that Wil­liam’s name had been spelled wrong when he reg­is­tered as a pas­sen­ger on the ferry, so Sarah had to prove it was her hus­band who had died on the S.S. Cari­bou.

“If you only know what my mother went through for the sake of my fa­ther be­ing drowned on that Cari­bou,” says Bill. “I can re­mem­ber when the in­ves­ti­ga­tors came.”

The com­pen­sated pack­age val­ued Wil­liam’s life at $5,000 (roughly $75,000 today). Even­tu­ally they set­tled on $6,000, but the New­found­land gov­ern­ment im­me­di­ately seized the money be­cause Sarah had been draw­ing wel­fare for years.

“She never got noth­ing,” re­mem­bers Bill. “The New­found­land gov­ern­ment took back ev­ery cent they gave her from 1942 up to 1954.”

But all of Sarah’s hard work was not in vain. Her chil­dren feel for­tu­nate they grew up to find their own paths to suc­cess, which some­how led all five to set­tle in Port aux Basques.

At 14, Kay left home to work in Port aux Basques and even­tu­ally all of her sib­lings joined her on the south­west coast.

Joan came when she was 16, mar­ried at 19, and had three small chil­dren with hus­band Edgar (who likes to be called Eg) when Kay called ask­ing if Bill could join them.

Joan and Eg boarded the 13-year-old in the pantry of their un­fin­ished house un­til they could build a bed­room on the back.

Eg, who grew up in Cape Ray, re­mem­bers when his fa­ther, Wal­ter, used to walk to Port aux Basques for sup­plies, al­ways stay­ing overnight and re­turn­ing the fol­low­ing morn­ing. He also has a clear, in­deli­ble mem­ory of one par­tic­u­lar morn­ing his fa­ther re­turned.

“When he come back he told us that the Cari­bou was sunk.”

Some­times Sarah’s chil­dren would ask Har­vey – the old­est and the one who knew their fa­ther best – for a story or two.

Af­ter some gen­tle prod­ding from Joan he of­fered one pre­cious mem­ory, about how their fa­ther would raise a sin­gle fin­ger to one of his dis­obe­di­ent chil­dren, and that would suf­fice to cor­rect un­ruly be­hav­ior.

“He wouldn’t touch you,” Joan re­calls her brother say­ing. “That’s all he had to do.”

And from her mother she heard about how much Wil­liam loved to dance.

“If there was a dance up in the hall he would go,” says Joan.

Sarah would stay home and take care of the chil­dren, but Wil­liam never missed a dance.

“She said he al­ways dressed up in his brown suit of clothes. He loved brown… and he’d go to the dances. He loved to dance.”

Sarah told Joan she didn’t want to re­marry af­ter Wil­liam’s death.

“I couldn’t imag­ine me, in her place, with five kids,” says Bill with a soft rev­er­ence. “I don’t know how she done it.”

“She dragged us all up some­how,” says Joan, who shares her brother’s ad­mi­ra­tion. “It wasn’t all fun try­ing to raise up a crowd of young­sters.”

Af­ter her chil­dren all grew up and moved away, Sarah even­tu­ally re­turned to Grand le Pierre where she was born. She died at 86, hav­ing out­lived Wil­liam by 54 years.


Sarah Bryne pe­ti­tioned the War Claims Com­mis­sion to get com­pen­sa­tion for her hus­band’s death.


From left: Bill Bryne, Joan (Bryne) Os­mond and Edgar (Eg) Os­mond.


Wil­liam Bryne was 34 years old when he died on the SS Cari­bou.


Af­ter the SS Cari­bou sank, Sarah Bryne (shown here in her late 60s) was sud­denly a 32-year-old wi­dow with five chil­dren to feed.

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