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Mac Piercey -- 1918 -2001, Page 1

Mac Piercey
Mac joined the Royal Navy in 1939, one of five brothers to serve "For King and Country."

Accustomed to the friendly pace of a small Newfoundland outport, the crowded cities of England were a cultural and social shock for Mac - different lifestyles, strange customs, rationed food - but like all Newfoundland sailors, he adapted quickly. Alcohol flowed like water - thus at 21 years old, Mac had his first drink. Up to the time he enlisted in the Navy - Mac still attended Sunday School.

After basic training at Portsmouth, England, Mac was assigned to "HMS Wolfe" with a crew of 380, In September the Wolfe became disabled by German bombers off Africa, near the Cape Verde Islands. Mac was reassigned to another vessel, but as his new ship wasn't ready for combat, he obtained leave to go home.

On the evening of October 13th 1942, he joined the gulf ferry 'Caribou' in route to Newfoundland. After three years in the navy, he was looking forward to relaxation and time to be with his Family.

In North Sydney, Nova Scotia, just before the ferry slipped her mooring, for what would be her final run. Mac was assigned cabin # 17 on "C" deck, three levels down.

He was surprised that no one instructed the Caribou's Passengers of emergency procedures and drills. Mac speculated that the ship's crew did not think it was necessary. The reason being that the Caribou, (as an extra precaution against enemy attack,) was escorted along the 96-mile voyage by an armed minesweeper, ''HMSC Grandmere."

As he made his way below to his room, Mac noted (with an instinct that came from his years in the navy) where all the exits and potential obstacles were located.

The Caribou, like all allied vessels, travelled under the rigidly enforced "lights out" war regulations, and had her windows painted black. Passenger accommodations and corridors were dimly lit.

A few hours after the Caribou left port, a German U-boat torpedo slammed into the ferry destroyed her and sending 137 of her crew, civilians, and servicemen to the bottom. She was almost home - - ?

When the ferry shuttered and ripped apart under the impact of the explosives, Mac leaped from his bunk, only to find his cabin door struck.

By the time he forced the door open, water was knee high. Clad only in shorts, (because of the stifling heat below) Mac decided to walk back against the surge of water, rushing down the corridor.

When he reached the main staircase, already approaching a horizontal tilt, Sea water was about two feet from the ceiling wires and pipes - he gripped these to keep from being swept back.

The water pouring in had to be coming from outside. Cold sea water continued to pour in like a miniature Niagara Falls down over the staircase, it was here the strength and agility, acquired during basic navel training, literally pulled Mac through. With the last ounce of remaining strength he skimmed hand over hand along the over pipes, using the handrail as purchase for his feet.

Having gained the deck, he hesitated for a moment to get his bearings. He climbed to outside of the rail and waited. Within a few seconds the water came level with the tilted deck - he pushed off - swimming as well as he could from the threatening vortex of the doomed vessel. The caribou went down in minutes.

Mac Piercey
In the water - in the darkness - he felt a piece of drifting debris, (a section of a hatch cover) He clung to the debris for some six hours. It was barely above freezing.

As he kicked away, two images - itched themselves into long term memory - they were of - flames licking up at the ship's flag as the caribou's spinning propeller and ruder lifted out of the water; but more tragic, two lifeboats partly filled with people, still strapped to jammed davits when the ship took her final plunge.

Mac spotted a lifeboat, occupied by a few men, pushing his support ahead of him, he reached the side and swung in over, The several men aboard, rescued another thirty-four exhausted and bewildered souls.

Dawn came a little after 7:00 AM. At 9:30 A.M., HMSC Grandmere, the Caribou's escort vessel, picked up Mac and the other life boat occupants. But for 237 on board the gulf ferry, it was too late, they had disappeared only 40 miles from Port aux Basques and home.

On his arrival home, Mac said "I didn't have any idea the war was on over here - I've been overseas for almost three years. I soon realized what was going on, and my head was right on the chopping block." It was Mac's closest brush with death. He said other attacks in the Mediterranean were "close encounters, but not too destructive."

Mac Piercey survived Atlantic Warfare and the sinking of the Caribou, without physical scars, but could he survive the battle that lay ahead of him - Alcohol.

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