Brid­get Fitz­patrick a story of hero­ism

Mer­chant Mariner from Bay Roberts saved oth­ers on ill-fated ship

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY NI­CHOLAS MERCER

Brid­get Fitz­patrick’s grave­stone doesn’t at­tract your at­ten­tion right away.

A lay­ered white mar­ble con­struct, its just another head­stone in the Ro­man Catholic grave­yard in Bay Roberts at first glance.

En­closed by a cast iron fence, Fitz­patrick’s grave is one of three on the fam­ily plot — her mother and fa­ther are buried next to her — and it looks sim­ple and or­di­nary.

It has the look of an un­kempt plot as bunches of bram­bles have grown has high as the head­stone it­self. Even the grass in front of the fence shows signs of ne­glect.

There’s no ev­i­dence it’s been touched for some time, save for the small cross and Cana­dian flag stuck in the ground at the front of the stone. Royal Cana­dian Le­gion mem­ber Eric Mercer lays it there each year around Re­mem­brance Day.

There’s noth­ing to in­di­cate how Fitz­patrick lost her life un­til you take a close look at the in­scrip­tion. It’s faded with time, but it’s still clear to rec­og­nize what she did to earn such a head­stone.

It tells of a 61-year-old woman who paid the supreme sac­ri­fice to save the lives of oth­ers

Dig­ging a lit­tle deeper into the woman com­monly re­ferred to as Bride re­veals an as­ton­ish­ing act of hero­ism.

Fitz­patrick was the chief stew­ardess aboard the ill-fated S.S. Cari­bou, a New­found­land rail­way ferry ves­sel sunk by en­emy ac­tion in the Gulf of St. Lawrence on Oct. 14, 1942.

In Doul­gas How’s “Night of the Cari­bou,” he de­scribed this trip from North Syd­ney as an un­easy one for Fitz­patrick.

“She doubts that she will get much sleep at all, she says, be­cause there are a lot of small chil­dren aboard, and she ex­pects to be needed,” How wrote.

The Ger­man U-boat U69 tor­pe­doed the Cari­bou some 40 miles to the south­west of Port aux Basques on the prov­ince’s west coast.

Fitz­patrick was the only fe­male in the 46-mem­ber crew. Also on board were 73 civil­ians and 118 mil­i­tary per­son­nel.

Many of the lifeboats were dam­aged in the at­tack and it took five min­utes for the Cana­dian ves­sel to sink. The ca­su­al­ties — many of which were from this prov­ince — climbed to 137 lost.

This is where Fitz­patrick’s story of sac­ri­fice starts. While there are dif­fer­ing re­ports on the cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing the peo­ple she helped, what isn’t in doubt is that she gave up her seat on a lifeboat so some pas­sen­gers could have a bet­ter chance at sur­vival.

Re­port­edly, Gla­dys Shiers and her 15-month-old son Leonard were the ones who took her place.

Of 14 chil­dren aboard the Cari­bou that night, he was the only sur­vivor.

Much of the dif­fer­ence cen­tres on the 20-year-old Gla­dys, a Hal­i­fax na­tive, en route to New­found­land to be with her hus­band Elmer, who was ei­ther a Naval Petty Of­fi­cer or a Cana­dian Navy Ship­wright de­pend­ing on what you read.

Another report in­di­cates Gla­dys was three months preg­nant at the time, while oth­ers say her, baby Leonard and a Vivian Swinam­mer be­ing swept over­board as the Cari­bou sank.

They man­aged to reach a lifeboat, while a Ralph Rogers placed the young­ster in a life raft.

In a 1999 Com­pass ar­ti­cle, Wil­son Strick­land out of Port aux Basques con­firmed the truth of Fitz­patrick’s story. He’s since died.

Richard Finn, a man­ager of the West Cor­ner Brook Town Coun­cil, said Fitz­patrick “died as she would have wished to die, at her post of duty and in the ser­vice of her coun­try.”

She was the first New­found­land and Labrador mer­chant mariner to die at her post.

Fitz­patrick is amongst the dead hon­oured at the Women Mariners Me­mo­rial at Vet­eran’s Park in Lang­ford, B.C.

NI­CHOLAS MERCER/TC ME­DIA

Bay Roberts’ Brid­get Fitz­patrick’s rests in the Ro­man Catholic ceme­tery in Bay Roberts.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

Brid­get Fitz­patrick.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

Brid­get Fitzg­patrick was a mem­ber of the S.S. Cari­bou when it was tor­pe­doed off the south­west coast of New­found­land in 1942.

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