Caribou sinking was a blow to Taverner family
Grandson says his grandmother never got over the loss of her husband and sons
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.
Captain Benjamin Taverner stands on the deck of the ill-fated S. S. Caribou in this undated photo.
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.