The Titanic disaster
Camberwell survivor's letter
We have been favoured with the following poignant letter from a Camberwell lady who was a passenger on the lost Titanic.
Her experiences during the wreck and after her rescue form a heart-stirring narrative.
April 24, 1912.
Dear Jim, –
I know you are all anxious to hear directly from me. I wrote to Ma – hope she received my letter. I'm writing this on the train at Detroit.
Left New York last evening at six o'clock, now it is about seven the next day; and I'm landed here till 11 tonight, having missed the connexion at Niagara Falls this morning. So shall not reach Chicago till about seven tomorrow morning. Just fancy, two nights and one day on train! Well, dear brother, it is a miracle that I am here to tell the tale. The terrible night of peril through which we passed seems even now like a hideous nightmare, and to think such a handful was saved compared with the number on board – and I amongst them!
Never shall I forget that time of suspense, although through it all I did not have much fear; suppose I was too dazed to feel much. The papers give a very correct account of the disaster; perhaps you would like to hear of it from me. Also, you may make use of anything I might, for I see by the reports from London that the English are indignant at the attitude of this Government towards Ismay….
There was certainly carelessness when warning was sent to the Titanic about icebergs more than three hours before she struck. There are many reports as to what the captain was doing at the time. He has gone and cannot defend himself. Anyhow, 1,500 souls perished unnecessarily – had care been taken, and had there been sufficient lifeboats.
I had retired and I've just fallen asleep when I was allowed by a tremendous thud and grating sound as though the vessel had run aground. Feeling uneasy, I put on my great coat and shoes and went out to see what was the matter. No one seemed in anyway alarmed; Stewards said she had run down a fishing boat, and advised us to go to bed.
Many did so, but I still felt uneasy, so remained as I was, still a young man sleeping in the state to the next hour is advised us to dress list any damage was done. There were three girls in the state run with me, and we all took the young fellows advice. I dressed over nightgown, even to hat, and had a presence of mind to sling hand-bag round my neck in case of danger. When we reached top deck rockets were being fired and lifeboats filled with women and children. So we never returned to ship. I and the young girl with whom I had made acquaintance stuck together, and we were lowered in lifeboat number 14. All night we were without lights or anything to cover us – just waiting for the scarcely new fault. The ship sank about first. There was an explosion, and she went into, then sank like a log; from the time she struck to the time she finally disappeared being about two hours; and we were assured she was unsinkable, and that she would float for 20 hours. Hence the sacrifice of human life. Many women remained with their husbands in preference to separation. Children were torn from parents and thrown into the boats; husbands helped wives to safety only to remain behind to die. There are hundreds of widows today in consequence. Yet through all there was no panic. Orders were obeyed in a most orderly manner.
Never shall I forget the piteous cries for help from those drowning souls when the boat was going down – help which could not be rendered. Gradually they died until all was quiet.
About 6 o'clock the Carpathia hove in sight. Imagine our feelings when we discovered she had seen us and stopped, with flags at half mast, right over the spot where so short a time before the magnificent Titanic disappeared. There were no cries, no weeping to amount to anything, until we were taken on board. Then everyone gave away – even the men who helped rescue us were blinded with tears.
Everyone on the Carpathia behaved handsomely – nothing was spared. As we were taken over brandy was given in large quantities and rugs were wrapped around us. Ladies gave up their berths to mothers and babies.
So we settled down till Thursday night, when we put into dock about 10:30. Then we discovered what confusion had prevailed in the city. New York seemed to have turned out to greet and help us. Ladies of different societies – Salvation Army, Sisters of Charity, all were waiting to render assistance. No one was allowed to go away alone. The best hotels were thrown open for accommodation – caring little whether they were paid. I am an English woman, but I do not believe my country would have done what New York did.
I went home with the girl with whom I was chummy. Her sister and friend while waiting for her and could not hear of my leaving them.
Her sister's second cook to a lady of a mince means. They paid for the taxi; had supper waiting, and the butler spared nothing – we had all the champagne we needed. I can tell you, we survivors were heroes of the hour.
Well I slept there that night, and left next morning, thinking to get my insurance fixed up and continue my journey. Upon presenting the paper at the White star office they denied all knowledge of the company, and after calling up all the principal companies, referred me to a Mr Henry, one of the Relief Committee, and then was told I must stay in New York under their protection till everything was settled.
So I was sent to Saint Vincent's Hospital, one of the places of refuge, and taken care of for four days. It is a Catholic institution, but never shall I forget the kindness of all – sisters, ladies and gentlemen – he were working for us. They not only fed and lodged us in good style, but took all our business upon themselves. One lady sent me to her broker, who took up my case and will fight it out with the London people. They gave me clothes to the amount of, I am sure, nearly 50 dollars, an envelope containing 55 dollars, and even sent me to the station in charge of a young woman in a cab – all free. And not other peoples left-off clothing was given us. I ain't nurse took me out on Tuesday morning to the best store in New York, and had me fitted for a coat and skirt and blouse let alone cost 21 dollars, a pair of boots higher priced than ever I have paid for them – even kid gloves and a suitcase so that I should travel respectably. And my case was only one of hundreds. Surely I have found friends in a time of necessity
I'm sending some papers which will give account of wedding at St Vincent and have underlined names of those who personally were good to me. I cannot like so much over again, so will you give all the family this information?
Hope all are well. I know you all are in suspense, as merely seeing my name in the list of rescued was not very reassuring. Love to all. Hope Ma is better, write me as soon as possible.
Expect this will tire you, but there is so much to tell I could go on for hours. Have wired to Jim [presumably referring to her husband James Lemore in Chicago] and received one in return so he knows of my safety. I was fortunate enough to save the comb and belt Jim gave me. Apart from these and the two rings I was wearing, everything went down. I wish I had my jewellery in my cabin, then I could have picked up some. As it is, everything has gone. Well, it is no use grieving about those things – I must be thankful I was travelling alone and I'm saved uninjured. But I cannot help sometimes regretting the loss of presents.
Love to Alice and the children, not forgetting yourself.
From your thankful sister,
PS – I still feel so dazed can scarcely light.