Pre­mo­ni­tion

Capt. Tav­erner fore­told dis­as­ter.

The Gulf News (Port aux Basques) - - FRONT PAGE - BY ROS­ALYN ROY Ros­alyn.roy@gulfnews.ca Twit­ter: @tyger­lylly

It can be ar­gued that Paul Tav­erner owes his very ex­is­tence to sea­sick­ness.

It was pre­cisely be­cause of that un­con­quer­able sea­sick­ness that Paul’s fa­ther, Colin Bruce Tav­erner, went into me­chan­ics in­stead of fol­low­ing his fa­ther to work at sea.

Paul’s grand­fa­ther, Cap­tain Ben­jamin Tav­erner, from Port Rex­ton, Trin­ity Bay, was very much a sea­far­ing man.

The cap­tain served on the SS Kyle on the Labrador run be­fore tak­ing com­mand of the SS Cari­bou, where he would even­tu­ally per­ish with two of his other sons, Stan­ley and Harold, when the pas­sen­ger ferry was tor­pe­doed by a Ger­man U-boat in Oc­to­ber of 1942.

Paul never met his grand­fa­ther, though he’s heard plenty grow­ing up and has read even more. He has a few fa­vorite sto­ries to re­mem­ber the grand­fa­ther he never got the chance to meet.

One story that in­trigues him is that Cap­tain Ben was a good friend of Sir Wil­fred Gren­fell, and Paul can eas­ily imag­ine how the two might have met.

“He was stop­ping in all the small ports,” says Paul about the cap­tain’s ten­ure along the Labrador coast­line. “Prob­a­bly Gren­fell was on the boat some­times, be­cause he was a doc­tor.”

One of the fam­ily’s tales main­tains the cap­tain knew all about the subs be­fore the SS Cari­bou ever went down and didn’t want to sail that fate­ful night.

“When he was cross­ing the gulf, he knew the subs were there. He’d seen them be­fore on dif­fer­ent trips and he wanted to do the day cross­ings in­stead of the night, be­cause he would have a bet­ter, clearer vi­sion,” says Paul.

“With the tor­pedo you’d have a bet­ter chance of see­ing it in the day­time than you would in the night.”

But there was lit­tle the cap­tain could do. Canada and New­found­land were at war, and the mil­i­tary was call­ing the shots. Paul says his grand­fa­ther made the re­quest to change the sched­ule, and it was sub­se­quently de­nied.

“That sub­ma­rine prob­a­bly wouldn’t have come up in the mid­dle of the day,” spec­u­lates Paul, who be­lieves the dis­as­ter was avoid­able. He also doesn’t un­der­stand the mil­i­tary’s pol­icy of the day to have the minesweeper es­cort fol­low the SS Cari­bou in­stead of lead­ing the way.

“I’d re­ally like to know the an­swers. Why?”

Shortly be­fore sail­ing that night, Paul claims his grand­fa­ther fore­told the tragedy to a crewmem­ber. The cap­tain’s pen­chant for pre­mo­ni­tions was well known to his fam­ily and friends.

“This is the night we are go­ing to get it,” quotes Paul from his pile of per­sonal notes.

The cap­tain’s dire pre­dic­tion was un­for­tu­nately cor­rect. The SS Cari­bou was tor­pe­doed that very night, and Ben­jamin and two of his sons went down with her. The tim­ing was tragic in more ways than one.

“That same year he (Ben­jamin) was sup­posed to re­tire and my un­cle Stan was to take over as cap­tain of the ship,” said Paul.

An­other story told to Paul by his fa­ther in­volved seals and some un­happy pas­sen­gers. The ice was thick and plenty of seals were rest­ing on the floes, so the cap­tain or­dered a pair brought on board to be killed and eaten. Be­cause this took place on a Sun­day it up­set the pas­sen­gers, but as it turns out, Cap­tain Ben was re­ally a softie at heart.

They brought them on board alive and, in def­er­ence to the day be­ing Sun­day, planned to wait un­til the next day to have their feed of seal.

“Cap­tain Ben had changed his mind and kept them for pets,” re­counts Paul with a laugh. “He didn’t have the heart to kill them.”

The cap­tain didn’t have the seals for very long. He brought them home at first but, even though the seals were still ado­les­cents, they proved too big for the tub and he soon re­leased them back into the ocean.

Then there’s the story about the time Cap­tain Ben went look­ing for Old Glory. The sin­gle-en­gine air­plane and her three crew­men went down near Cape Race back in 1927 as they at­tempted to make the first ever 4,000-km non-stop flight to Rome, Italy from Old Or­chard Beach, Maine.

“There was dozens and dozens of ships out look­ing around. They of­fered a re­ward of $25,000 to the skip­per and the crew that found the Old Glory.”

De­clared Paul, “He found it, but he never did get the re­ward.”

Paul re­grets he didn’t ask ques­tions when he was a child, and now it’s too late as fam­ily mem­bers who would know more about his grand­fa­ther’s ad­ven­tures and his un­cles have passed on. But in ad­di­tion to the sto­ries came mem­o­ries of a tragic, un­bear­able loss.

“My grand­mother lived un­til 1953 I think,” says Paul of his grand­mother, Amelia. “Af­ter that hap­pened she was never the same. She was re­ally bro­ken hearted.”

Like his fa­ther, Paul es­chewed life at sea in favour of dry land, work­ing as a welder with the rail­way to re­pair train cars. He worked in Port aux Basques, then Monc­ton for 17 years be­fore re­tir­ing back home.

As for his two un­cles, Paul ad­mits he doesn’t have a lot of in­for­ma­tion about them, but he does have a the­ory about their ac­tions that fate­ful night as well. He be­lieves the two men de­lib­er­ately chose to stand by their fa­ther to the very end.

“They were ab­so­lutely per­fect swim­mers,” said Paul. “And there were peo­ple that night who got res­cued who didn’t know how to swim.”

Of the SS Cari­bou’s 46-man crew, only 15 sur­vived the sink­ing.

PHO­TOS COUR­TESY OF PAUL TAV­ERNER

Cap­tain Ben­jamin Tav­erner stands on the deck of the ill-fated S. S. Cari­bou in this un­dated photo.

Cap­tain Ben­jamin Tav­erner (left) with an uniden­ti­fied ship­mate.

Amelia Tav­erner was dev­as­tated by the loss of her hus­band and two sons, and was never truly the same af­ter­wards, ac­cord­ing to her grand­son, Paul.

Cap­tain Ben­jamin Tav­erner

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