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Saturday, 18 July 2015

Uncle Fred Smith

In the Smith family, Bessie and Ern Smith, my husband's grandparents, had two boys and five girls. Rick's father was the second son, Melvin. The oldest child in the family was Fred, born in 1926.

                           Fred Smith

Fred worked as a cook but in his mid-teens he delivered telegrams around Corner Brook, Newfoundland. He did this job during the second world war, making his way through Corner Brook during black-outs. On one occasion, he brought a telegram to the armoury near Jubilee playing field.

When he went inside the armoury, Fred was shocked to see men, wet, covered in blankets, sat around the perimeter of the building. Military personnel guarded them. The person in charge said to Fred, "You didn't see anything here."

Later that night, Fred confided in his father because he knew he could trust Ern. His father told him, "Don't say a word about this anywhere, my son. You'll be in a lot of trouble if you do." 

Fred did not tell his mother either because Bessie would have it on jam crocks, as the old Newfoundland saying goes. She loved to have a story to tell that put her in the limelight. Years later, Ern told his youngest daughter, Marie, of Fred's experience at the armoury.

What became of those men Fred thought to be prisoners?

There is another part to Fred's story involving the war as well. In the early morning hours of October 14, 1942, a Newfoundland passenger ferry, the Caribou, was sunk by German submarine, U-69, as the ferry crossed the Gulf of St. Lawrence back to Port aux Basques.  One hundred and thirty-six people died, many of them women and children.

It took many hours for this news to reach ordinary Newfoundlanders. Later that day, young Fred Smith delivered telegrams around Corner Brook reporting the news of the sinking of the Caribou and the many deaths. Again, he told Ern when he arrived home that evening.

Ern commented, "I knew something was wrong when the train didn't come through as usual." Every morning, the train left Port aux Basques after the ferry docked to deliver the passengers to their various hometowns around the island. The morning of October 14, the train did not leave Port aux Basques.

The Caribou was one of many vessels sunk in Newfoundland waters and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence during the second world war. Fred's information about the "prisoners" highlights how dangerous it really was for Newfoundland during that period in history. Newfoundland would have been a foothold in North America for the Germans, a gateway to Canada and beyond if the fortunes of that war had not turned against them.

Fred was a witness to that history.


Jeff said...

Wonderful story Marie. I took that picture of Fred when we were in Edinburgh Scotland in the 80's. Great memories.

Marie Smith said...

Thanks for the picture which I received from your Mom, Jeff. Fred was one in a million. I have a few more stories to write about him as well.