Al­most home

The Compass - - SPORTS - — Bur­ton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His col­umn ap­pears in The Com­pass ev­ery week. He can be reached at bur­tonj@nfld.net

Read­ing comic books was con­sid­ered a waste of time at best and an evil prac­tice at worst in my home when I was a boy. Be­cause of this, I didn’t get to ex­pe­ri­ence and ap­pre­ci­ate them for what they are un­til I left home at 16. From time to time, I en­joy the odd comic, dwelling on the jux­ta­posed se­quences of im­age pan­els, along with such tex­tual de­vices as speech bal­loons, cap­tions and sound ef­fects in­di­cat­ing di­a­logue, nar­ra­tion or other in­for­ma­tion.

To quote one com­men­ta­tor, “If a pic­ture is worth a thou­sand words, comic books pack a lot of bang for your buck.” Last week, I took it upon my­self to read a comic book. And, I’m glad I did.

“Al­most Home: The Sink­ing of the S.S. Cari­bou” is Jen­nifer Mor­gan’s at­tempt to por­tray in comic book form the story of the sink­ing of the pas­sen­ger ferry off the south­west coast of Port aux Basques on Oct. 14, 1942.

It was a night that con­tin­ues to live in in­famy. In the early morn­ing hours, un­der cloak of dark­ness, the Ger­man sub­ma­rine U-69 tor­pe­doed the ves­sel, send­ing 138 peo­ple to a wa­tery grave, in­clud­ing a Pen­te­costal pas­tor’s wife and her two young daugh­ters, a story in it­self.

Now, seven decades later, the writer and vis­ual artist from St. John’s recre­ates that event­ful night in stun­ning colour. Her vivid il­lus­tra­tions bring to life the his­tory and af­ter­math of the Cari­bou’s fi­nal voy­age.

Mor­gan has a per­sonal con­nec­tion to the ves­sel; the sec­ond engi­neer, Thomas Moyst, was her great-grand­fa­ther. Ac­tu­ally, it was his 66th birth­day and he was work­ing his fi­nal shift be­fore re­tir­ing when he was killed. Al­though they never met, she grew up hear­ing sto­ries from her grand­mother, Vi­o­let Moyst Mor­gan; her fa­ther, Ge­orge Mor­gan; and her aunts and un­cles.

Her comic book is as true as the ac­counts her fam­ily told about the night the Cari­bou dis­ap­peared be­neath the waves. In an in­ter­view with The Tele­gram, Mor­gan said her great-grand­fa­ther’s “birth­day cake was wait­ing for him, and he’d bought prizes and lit­tle presents for his guests.”

It was heartrend­ing when her un­cle “re­mem­bered show­ing up at his house to pick up his fa­ther’s body, and there was this cake and th­ese gifts. It made a his­tor­i­cal, fac­tual story into a story of fam­ily and loss. He’s not a statis­tic. He’s a real per­son.”

“Al­most Home” tells a story within a story. Mor­gan’s aunt, who was 11-years-old at the time of her grand­fa­ther’s death, woke up scream­ing the night the Cari­bou sank.

“There was a man sit­ting in my chair, look­ing at me,” she said. “and he had a salt and pep­per hat and a gold watch just like Grand- pa’s.” Her fa­ther coun­seled his daugh­ter, “Go back to sleep, Vi, you had a night­mare. We’ve all been wor­ried about Grandpa.”

But, Vi con­tin­ued, “it wasn’t a dream, daddy. There re­ally was a man sit­ting right there!” she ex­claimed.

The tale Mor­gan tells, though true in all re­spects, is made even more re­al­is­tic by the in­clu­sion of such things as photographs, a child’s ra­tion book is­sued by New­found­land’s Depart­ment of Sup­ply, New­found­land War Sav­ings stamps and a postal stamp fea­tur­ing the Cari­bou. One of the most sober­ing items is an ex­cerpt from the di­ary of the Ger­man sub­ma­rine, U-69: “One shadow in sight. Be­hind it a small one.... Freighter- pas­sen­ger ves­sel belch­ing heavy smoke.... Vis­i­bil­ity very good, weak aurora bo­re­alis.”

Another evoca­tive doc­u­ment is a cable­gram from Western Union, “Engi­neer Thomas Moyst con­firmed dead. His body re­cov­ered from Gulf.”

An ad­di­tional piece of me­mora­bilia is a list of the 17 things an air raid war­den should know, in­clud­ing the oc­cu­pants of his group of houses and whether they are aged or in­firm, how to reach the roofs and what lad­ders are avail­able, any places pro­vid­ing good shel­ter, any places of spe­cial dan­ger, the lo­ca­tion of near­est first aid post, the evac­u­a­tion point for his area, and how to ex­tin­guish fires. Mor­gan’s book may be writ­ten with young read­ers in mind, but her keen eye to de­tail makes it ap­peal­ing to all ages.

“Al­most Home: The Sink­ing of the S.S. Cari­bou” is pub­lished by Break­wa­ter Books of St. John’s.

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