Harold Cottam

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Harold Cottam

The Times

Wireless operator in rescue of Titanic survivors

page 18

Mr Harold Cottam, who died yesterday in Nottingham at the age of 93, was the wireless operator on he Carpathia on the night of April 12 (sic) 1912, when the Titanic struck an iceberg. It was he who alerted Captain Rostrom (sic), who turned round the ship and put on all possible speed, and the Carpathia was the first ship on the scene of the tragedy, succeeding in picking up 705
survivors.
According to the account he gave in later years, Cottam was off duty and about to go to bed when he heard a wireless call from Cape Cod telling the Titanic there was ice about. Knowing Phillips, the wireless operator of the Titanic, he radioed him and asked if they had hard the call from Cape Cod.
The answer came back "We have struck ice; come at once." Cottam asked whether he should have the Carpathia turned round, was told "Yes" and ran up on the bridge. But he could not get the officers to listen as wireless was a new thing, and he went down to wake up Rostron, who gave the necessary orders.
Cottam was born at Southwell, in Nottinghamshire, in 1891, and after education at Southwell Minster Grammar School attended a London Marconi College. He passed his wireless telegraphy course with flying colours and spent many years at sea as a wireless operator. In 1911 he was with the Carpathia at Istanbul during the Turko-Italian war.
On the night of the sinking of the Titanic, the Carpathia, a passenger liner, was en route from New York and Gibraltar and Genoa. Cottam had exchanged frequent messages with the Titanic and other ships and was about to turn in, leaving the wireless unmanned during the night, as was the practice at that time.
When the news was received of the disaster, the Carpathia was some 58 miles from the Titanic. As Rosrton put it to the London Inquiry: "Our ordinary speed is 14, but that night we made 17 and a half" - keeping a close watch out for icebergs themselves.
During that time Cottam remained in touch with the Titanic, and helped her communicate with other vessels, since the escape of steam was making it difficult for the operator to hear signals coming in.
By the time the Carpathia reached the scene, in about three hours, the Titanic had sunk with the loss of 1,500 lives. But the Carpathia picked up the survivors and took them to New York. Marconi radioed Cottam on the Carpathia and when they arrived Cottam visited him in his New York Hotel.
Cottam later continued his career as a wireless operator serving on one of the early ships to go through the Panama Canal and travelling round the world.
He retired to Lowdham, in Nottinghamshire, where he hung a framed certificate from the Liverpool Shipwrecked Mariners' Society (sic: actually Liverpool Shipwreck and Humane Society) - which also presented him with £10.
He remained a lively and active person until the end of his life.
He is survived by a son and two daughters, living respectively in the United States, Canada and Australia.

* Cottam left an estate valued at £56,633 net.

Related Biographies:
Harold Thomas Cottam

Relates to Ship:
Carpathia

Contributor
Senan Molony
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