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Eleven children and only one survived

On Wednesday 14 October 1942, S.S. Caribou carried eleven children under the age of ten. Only one survived: Leonard Shiers, aged 15 months.

photo of nurse and baby boy

Leonard Shiers, youngest Caribou survivor

After the attack, Vivian Swinamer grabbed infant Leonard Shiers and sprinted up the companionway. Meanwhile, Gladys Shiers, the infant’s mother, found lifebelts in the pitch black. She retrieved her baby from her friend Vivian as the ship sank. Gladys held Leonard and swam to a life-raft. Leonard never cried once Zoe Fielding said, “At times [he] seemed to fall asleep, then a wave would crash over the raft and awaken him.”

When H.M.C.S. Grandmere arrived to rescue them, Steward Ralph Rogers carried Leonard up the scramble net, passed the baby over, and collapsed. Leonard’s mother didn’t remember being lifted unconscious onto the escort vessel.

A man holds a baby on the deck of a ship

Baby Leonard Shiers held by Ralph Rogers on H.M.C.S. “Grandmere” after their rescue.

Passengers tried in vain to save the other children. One mother gave Alf Fielding her baby and ran amidships. Alf passed the baby to someone on an overcrowded life-raft and swam away. He was never seen again.

Thomas Fleming saw a baby floating in its diapers. Ralph Rogers buoyed the baby on a bucket. Then on a life-raft, he gave the baby artificial respiration and tucked it inside his greatcoat.

Jack O’Brien and Harry Brown passed two babies from a life-raft that kept overturning to another, somewhat dryer, one.

Newfoundland fishermen recovered the bodies of two babies and two small children. Officials in Sydney buried a baby boy who had died on H.M.C.S. Grandmere.  The bodies of five babies were never found.

newspaper clipping

Unidentified baby boy buried in Sydney cemetery