Mr Thomas Arthur Whiteley
Thomas Arthur Whiteley was born in Withington, Manchester on 3rd April 1894 the son of Arthur Whiteley and Elizabeth Ross1.
He gave his address in 1912 as 29 St. John's Park, Highgate, London. Prior to joining the Titanic he had previously served on her sister ship the Olympic.
Whiteley worked as a steward in the First Class dining saloon. In an uncorroborated account he recalled a dinner party attended by Captain Smith, Dr O'Loughlin and J. Bruce Ismay amongst others: at one point ‘Dr. O’Loughlin rose and lifting his glass, exclaimed: ‘let us drink to the mighty Titanic.’ With cries of approval everybody stood up and drank the toast.’
On the night of April 14th 1912 Whiteley was left on board after the last lifeboats had been launched but as the ship went down he claimed that he jumped into the water and injured his leg on wreckage floating in the water.
After five hours of swimming he got aboard a lifeboat. This was probably the upturned Collapsible B which wallowed with the weight of thirty men precariously balanced on it. He later told how someone on board hit him with an oar as he tried to get near but eventually he was able to haul himself aboard.
Whiteley's own experience was a hard one.
In a 1914 newspaper report it is recorded that he had swallowed so much water that his stomach had to be removed and replaced.
After the Carpathia docked in New York, Whiteley was taken to St. Vincent's Hospital to recover from injuries he sustained in the sinking, including bruises and a fractured leg.
Whiteley at St. Vincent’s Hospital
Left (Courtesy of Senan Molony, Ireland)
Right with behind, left to right John William Thompson, William McIntyre, Emilio Pallas y Castillo (Courtesy of Gunter Babler, Switzerland)
It was while convalescing in New York that Whiteley gave an interview, widely syndicated, in which he alleged that the Titanic's officers had ignored numerous ice warnings. He suggested that while on the lifeboat he had helped Phillips the radio operator to keep warm, and that Phillips had told him of the repeated ice warnings. Despite these claims Whiteley was not called as a witness at either the American or British enquiries.
After recovering sufficiently to leave hospital Thomas Whiteley remained in the United States having made contact with his uncle and namesake Thomas Whiteley who had moved to Providence, Rhode Island in 1910 where he ran a Turkish Baths establishment. Then, for the week commencing 27th May 1912, he was appearing at the Merrimack Theatre in Lowell Massachusetts giving his account of the sinking.
... although inexperienced in presenting such a talk before the public, Whiteley recites his story in a decidedly interesting manner. To repeat it at this time would tend to make the story less entertaining to those who intend visiting the theatre during the remaining performances. Be it said, however, that his story is first hand and contains many features not touched on by the press either at the time of the terrible catastrophe or since then.
Sometime after this he returned to England for in 1914 he filed a law suit against the White Star Line in which he claimed negligent steering and that Titanic had been unseaworthy. The case was scheduled for March 1914 but it appears never to have come to court. It is possible that the line settled out of court prior to the hearing. It was recorded at the time that he was working as a music hall artist.
What happened to Whiteley after this date remains a mystery but there are tantalizing glimpses of an adventurous and creative life.
There is a suggeston that he may served in some capacity in the Royal Flying Corps during world war one and possibly been injured in the face or throat around this time.
The next reference is to a steward “Thos Whitely” on the Celtic in 1924. On the voyage, from Liverpool to New York, the steward deserted and therefore received no pay. Could Thomas Whiteley have been working a free passage to America to start a new life?
Again the trail goes cold but around this time the name “Tom Whitely” and other variations begin to appear in press publicity and playbills for some notable stage shows including Sky High (1925), The Merry World (1926) and The Nightingale (1927).
The Messrs. Shubert, in association with Eugene Howard, will present Willie Howard in a new musical production entitled "Sky High" at Poli's theater this evening for an engagement of one week preparatory to its subsequent metropolitan premiere in New York... in the cast are Ruth Welch, Vannessi Florenz Ames, James Liddy, Ann Milburn, Shadow & McNeil, Violet Englefield, Edward Douglass, Marcella Swanson, Emily Miles, Thomas Whitely, Stella Shiel and a large and talented chorus of more than 50 girls.
1930 publicity for the film Journey’s End described how one of the players, “Tom Whitely” had served in the British air force during World War One and had been the "last survivor" to leave the Titanic.
SUNNY CALIFORNIA UNKIND TO ARMY
Journey’s End was directed by James Whale who went on to direct Frankenstein with Boris Karloff. The translation to the screen of the play by RC Sherriff was extremely well received at the time although like many early talkies seems has dated considerably.
Left: New York Times - 13th April 1930; right: Kinematograph Weekly - 10th April 1930
In the picture Whiteley plays the Company Sergeant Major. How Whiteley got the part or came to be in Hollywood is unknown. He does not appear in the cast of stage versions of the play Journey’s End some of which were also directed by Whale.
According to the 1930 census, in April 1930, he was living at 66 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, his occupation being Moving Picture Actor.
He seems also to have appeared in the short film Ship Mates (1929) with Lupino Lane, and, his last role, as the "Second Drayman" in the Janet Gaynor vehicle Merely Mary Ann (1931). He is also credited as having written scenarios for Won by a Neck (1930), directed by Fatty Arbuckle (as Will B. Goodrich) and Pleasure (1931).
ON THE CINEMA HORIZON
Tom Whiteley, supporting Jane Gaynor and Charles Farrell in "Merely Mary Ann" was the last man rescued from the Titanic when it sank after hitting an iceberg 19 years ago. He later had hair-raising experience in the British air forces during the war.
In 1932, Thomas Whiteley returned to England. About two years later he married Isabel Florence Agnes Green. At this time, Thomas Whiteley, former steward, actor and writer was working as a "speciality salesman" with a trading stamp company, the couple went on to have two daughters and lived in Streatham, South London.
In December 1936 Thomas Whiteley, “Film Director” travelled San Juan, Puerto Rico. The purpose of the trip is not clear but a clue emerges in newspaper reports from March 1937 in which he is again mentioned in connection with a notable shipwreck; however this time it is not the Titanic but the Lusitania!
In 1935, an expedition had located the wreck of the Lusitania off the coast of Ireland. Now the celebrated film producer and adventurer John D. Craig (1903-1997) and his deep-diving colleague Gene Nohl, planned to film the wreck and salvage bullion they supposed lay within the wreck. For the filming effort Craig would employ “co-director and film technician” Thomas Whiteley.
It is hard to know what “co-director and film technician.” really meant in practice because the expedition to the Lusitania never took place.
The Munich Conference in 1938, forerunner of World War II, put a final halt to the Lusitania salvage operation.
The technical limitations of the diving suit Craig and Nohl had developed was another of the stated reasons. Strangely, in view of the previous publicity, Craig seems never to have mentioned Whiteley in any other context so the extent and nature of their relationship is a cause for some speculation. What is known is that in 1938 Craig was filming Spanish treasure wrecks off Puerto Rico and it is possible that the 1937 trip was some form of reconnaissance.
What Thomas Whiteley did after this date is unknown but a record from later in 1937 gives his occupation as “Cast Director” in a film studio. Which studio and what films remain to be discovered.
On 3rd September 1943 the Allies invaded the Italian mainland. With them was Royal Air Force Warrant Officer 23247 Thomas Arthur Whiteley. As the allies progressed up the Adriatic coast in August and September 1944 Whiteley went with them but on 11th October 1944, in circumstances that remain a mystery, Thomas Whiteley died, en route for a hospital; apparently as the result of cardiac problems. He was only 50 years old. Today Thomas Arthur Whiteley's simple headstone stands amongst 1,000 other allied graves at the Ancona War Cemetery, Tavernelle, Italy.
Courtesy of the War Graves Photographic Project.
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References and Sources
1901 England Census
Philip Hind (Editor)
Gunter Babler, Switzerland
Related Articles and Documents
Titanic Passenger and Crew Summary
Name: Mr Thomas Arthur Whiteley
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