Bertha Ilett


John Pulos

I have received new information about second class passenger, Bertha Ilett. (I host a Titanic dinner at my restaurant each year -this was the 4th, on April 14, and a woman (Marilyn MacDonald) said that she was a friend of the Bertha Ilett family. Mrs. Ilett finally settled in Geneva, NY which is 37 miles north of our restaurant. Yesterday, Mrs. MacDonald brought me a 1975 interview from the Geneva Times newspaper with the 80 year old Bertha Ilett Christensen. The lengthy interview told her story of Titanic - her memories of the ship and of the sinking. In looking up her bio that Philip has, I found that her lifeboat was unknown. She said, "we were on the second lifeboat. I was surprised that we left with only part of the load we could have carried. There were about 28 to 30 of us and the lifeboat was supposed to have two or three times as many people." The article said that the lifeboat had a leak. Bertha said that "We found out later the boats hadn't been tested properly, but of course that didn't do us much good out there in the middle of the night." The article went on - without a direct quote - Along with the other passengers, Mrs. Christensen transferred to another lifeboat, abandoning their own to drift in the debris-covered water. She said that "We were in that boat until about 6 AM when the Carpathia arrived to pick up surviviors." She also said about Titanic "...the stern kept rising as water filled the ship and finally it appeared to almost rise vertically before it seemd to split in half least that's what I think happened, we were far away by that time."
Two comments: I do not remember that a lifeboat was sent adrift, but there may be enough info to pin point what boat she was on. What one do you think??? ... and Quite interesting that she (she was 17 at the time) thought that the ship did split in half when so many did not.
Apr 16, 2001
Hi John,

It is the general belief that Bertha Ilett left the Titanic in boat #14 (based on her accounts from the 1912 era). Unfortunately, later interviews, particularly those in her later years, were "twisted" with the passage of time. I believe that, like so many other survivors who spoke years afterward, their impressions of the sinking were heavily influenced by books and movies they might have read or seen. In some cases, their recollections spun completely out of control with their own imagination. I can't tell you how many survivors claimed that whales were swimming near the lifeboats as the Carpathia arrived in the pre-dawn hours.

I believe Bertha was mistaken when she described that her "boat was set adrift." She may have thought that but it actually was preparing to return to the scene of the wreck to rescue the struggling swimmers. It is also the general belief of a few researchers, myself included, that Bertha ended up in boat #12 following the transfer.

The 1912 interviews also describe Bertha's impressions of the ship breaking in two. Actually, there were hundreds of survivors in 1912 who claimed the ship split in two - it was just that the officials believed the testimonies of Lightoller, Gracie, and many other who claimed the opposite. I believe Lord Mersey and the British Inquiry had a tendency to lean toward the probability that the ship did break apart since many of the surviving crew said so.

I have three interviews with Bertha Ilett from 1912 and unfortunately, not one of them is similar to the next (with few exceptions). The most confusing description concerns her actions immediately following the collision. In one version, she claimed that a young steward who took a liking to her helped her to the boat deck. The second account describes that a fellow passenger, who was looking out for her, assisted her topside. Finally, in the third version, she claimed that nervous voices outside her cabin confirmed her fears and she raced to the boat deck alone. Who can say?

She did, however, claim that as her lifeboat departed the sinking Titanic, she plainly saw the ship break apart. This report appeared in all three accounts so at least there was consistency there.

Mrs. Christensen was described "as a warm and gentle lady" who always wondered why she, a young girl of seventeen, was fortunate to survive when so many others were not given the same opportunity. She was emphatic in her belief that the ship's band played "Nearer, My God, to Thee" before the end.

I hope this helps.

Mike Findlay

John Pulos

Thanks you for the update - the 1975 interview quoted her as saying "that a young man knocked at my door, perhaps a stewart (she was not sure), and told me to get a heavy coat and my life preserver and come quickly to the boat deck. I still had on my nightie, but I got a coat, my preserver and went with him."

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