How much do you trust the officers' testimony


Paul Lee

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Aug 11, 2003
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Whilst trawling through Lightoller's BoT testimony for the umpteenth time, I thought I would enquire with other similar minds and ask if you were as suspicious of the surviving officers testimonies as I was. After all, I feel that they were trying to protect the company and may have been liberal with the truth (e.g Lightoller and Smith discussing the ice situatuion before the latter turned in). I haven't had a chance to compare Lightoller's statement with those he made at the Ryan vs. OSNC company and in his autobiography, (might not make such difference as he could have referred to his BoT enquirty testimony)..... but has the thought occurred to anyone that the officers may have been less than truthful afterwards?

Cheers

Paul
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http://www.paullee.com
 

Inger Sheil

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Dec 3, 2000
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I think people have done more than think it, Paul - the accusation has been made outright. To listen to some writers on the subject, you'd think Lightoller was as crooked as a dog's hind leg, and incapable of telling the truth.

I think they may have utilised omissions more than outright fabrication. No doubt there was something of a siege mentality at work, but this was common to the general mindset of seamen facing an inquiry. Suspicion regarding the justice - or lack thereof - that they would receive at any inquiry made seaman traditionally guarded at these procedures. In the Titanic's case, they feared being made to bear the brunt of practices on the North Atlantic run that had sprung up over years as the result of the pressures of the trade. Lightoller had reason to grumble in his memoir about the great efforts to prove inadequacies in the life-saving procedures, when as far as he was concerned everyone had known for years of the possibility of a disaster occuring (he's right, too - Bullen's warnings in 1900 spring to mind).

Not every error in their testimony can be attributed to lying, however - eyewitness testimony varies greatly in reliability, even if the eyewitness has every intention of being honest and co-operative. Lightoller's insistance that the ship sank intact has sometimes been cited as evidence that he was lying - I was amazed to read in one source that he was the only witness who claimed it did so. I'm inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt on that point and believe he was telling the truth as he saw it - after all, Gracie, in a similar position as Lightoller, was equally emphatic she sank intact, and I can't imagine what motive we could attribute to him for lying.

I don't know if they were truthful in all instances - when testimony is demonstrably inaccurate or contradictory, it can be difficult to determine what is deliberate falsehood and what is genuine error. They were questioned in such detail and at such length, it isn't surprising that there were errors and ommisions...it would be more astonishing if there weren't, as anyone who has sat through or been subjected to lengthy cross examination would know. Lowe doesn't exactly strike one as being overly protective of the company, although I can think of at least one instance in his testimony where I wonder if he was pressured to change his evidence between the American and British inquiries. I could be quite wrong, however, and the amendment to his evidence could be the result of a vagueness in his memory on this particular point.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>I thought I would enquire with other similar minds and ask if you were as suspicious of the surviving officers testimonies as I was.<<

I suspect I am, but maybe not because I thought they were all trying to protect the company. In a day and age when blacklisting was a common practice, they had their own interests....read that to mean: Protecting their means of making a living...to look out for. Since they were part of the team that carried on with practices resulting in the loss of the vessel, they had every reason to be suspicious of the company they worked for and the people asking the questions, and no reason to trust any of them.

I don't think it's too much of a stretch to suggest that they were coached on how to testify at some point. Personally, I don't think it was so much a question of "lying" outright as it was a question of avoiding making any sort of response to a question not asked. Beyond that, I think they were for the most part, honest, even if they weren't always accurate. As an example of that, I would point out Lightoller's testimony that the ship sank intact even though we have very solid evidence by way of contradictory testimony as well as the condition of the wreck that she didn't.

He wasn't lying.

He was simply mistaken.

As it is, I'm of the same mind as some of my friends that the testimony in the inquires is the Gold Standard by which everything else must be compared. This doesn't mean that what was testified to was accurate or even truthful....some of it wasn't....but befor I dismiss it as such, I need some very solid evidence for doing so.

>>No doubt there was something of a siege mentality at work, but this was common to the general mindset of seamen facing an inquiry.<<

And it still is, too. Not always without reason either. Company's have vested interests to protect, inquisitors are often in the same bed with them to try and hide their own foul ups, and seamen know that they're obvious targets for scapegoating. If anyone wishes to read up on an example of that, get a copy of "Until The Sea Shall Free them" by Robert Frump. This one deals with the loss of the SS Marine Electric in a storm. Amazon.com offers a copy HERE.
 
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I agree that they might have stretched the truth a bit too protect the name of the white star line, and their fellow officers, but i would belive what the said in the BoT inquiries, was true because all of the officers were good, honest men
 
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Alyson Jones

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Well for one thing i know of, The Titanic officer's lied about the Titanic bracking in two halfs in court.Maybe Isamy got in to there heads to protect H/W and himself Ismay not knowly every one is going to find out the real truth in 74 years!Personaly i think they are honest men but under pressure from there bosses.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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I doubt very much that any of these men needed "encouragement" from Ismay to spinmiester the facts. As I indicated earlier, they had their own interests to look out for (and they were well aware of it) and shipmates who were no longer able to defend themselves.
 
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Alyson Jones

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Micheal, what interest are you talking about?
The ship breaking in half, how is that the crews fault? Did the crew really think it was there fault that the Titanic broke in half?
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>Micheal, what interest are you talking about?<<

Their vested interest in staying employed. When the lawyers are asking the questions, making the judgements, and the boss is listening in, you have quite the incentive to be very careful about what you say.

>>The ship breaking in half, how is that the crews fault? Did the crew really think it was there fault that the Titanic broke in half?<<

The break up was known but disputed and most of the witnesses who testified to it were officially disbelieved. Unofficially is another matter. My own opinion was that the powers-that-be were fully well aware of it, but for political reasons were not about to admit it.

In any event, this isn't something the crew would be blamed for. That close encounter with the ice, that was something they knew they could take a fall for.
 
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>>How about pride!Was it about pride aswell?<<

I think that's reading waaaaaayyyyyy too much into the matter. I could make a case for some hubris but mostly...in my opinion...it was a level of complacancy in assuming that business as usual in terms of contemporary navigation practice would always keep them out of trouble.
 
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Alyson Jones

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How about this Micheal,the Titanic's sinking cause the surviving officer's hard to get re-hired.
Well it think so,i only heard a little bit about this.
I think one of the officer's after the sinking was place ont the olylimpic then was taken off.
I don't know if it was during the cunard take over of the w/s/l or straight after the sinking, can't remeber
 
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>>How about this Micheal,the Titanic's sinking cause the surviving officer's hard to get re-hired.<<

Actually, it didn't. They had no signifigent trouble finding work. It is a fact that none of them rose to a captaincy in the merchant service but that may not be as meaningful as some might think. Officers were always reletively plentiful and captaincies were reletively scarce.

>>I don't know if it was during the cunard take over of the w/s/l or straight after the sinking, can't remeber<<

Cunard didn't merge with White Star until 1934 and that was a consequence of The Great Depression. By this time, the Titanic's loss had been more or less forgotton.
 
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Alyson Jones

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Micheal-What cause Titanic to be so famous now then before!
I mean she Titanic sunk 96 years ago and she famous but Titanic only became famous recently.
I don't understand.
 
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>>What cause Titanic to be so famous now then before!<<

A book written by a young lawyer named Walter Lord which was later made into a movie. You've no doubt heard the title: "A Night To Remember" Once it caught on, things took off from there.
 

Luke Owens

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Exactly. The subject of the Titanic was always there in the public mind, since every time a survivor died, it was mentioned in their obituary, but by and large there just wasn't the following that developed from Walter Lord's book. This in spite of several motion pictures on the subject, although the German film of the 1930s wouldn't have shown many places in the UK or US.

Luke
 
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quote:

This in spite of several motion pictures on the subject, although the German film of the 1930s wouldn't have shown many places in the UK or US.
There are a couple of silents films and early talkies about the Titanic or featuring her although in most of them they called the Titanic by another name. Here's a list of early films to deal with Titanic. The titanic may have been gone but not forgotten. I might be forgetting a few but here they are.

Saved From The Titanic (1912)-
Starred Titanic Passenger Dorothy Gibson.

En Nacht Und Eis (In Night And Ice) (1912)-
The German film that most people on this board know about. You can watch it on Youtube.

Atlantis (1913)-
This one is often over looked and wasn't base on Titanic but was the same story and folks remember the Titanic when watching it. Good plot.

Atlantic (1929)-
Based on a popular play of the day.

Cavalcade (1933)-
Based on Noel Coward's Cavalcade! Story of a Family from 1899 to 1932 that feature's Titanic.​
 
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Alyson Jones

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I knew about those movies but i did not realize you can watch them.I will differently check those out.
Titanic would of been that famous until after 1935 otherwise Oylimpic would of been spared the scrapping yard,What a shame that Titanic was not famous before 1935.Shame.
 
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>>I knew about those movies but i did not realize you can watch them.<<

Some of them you can't. Dorothy Gibson...a bona fide Titanic survivor was "Saved From The Titanic" but unfortunately, the film itself no longer exists. Those old nitrate based films had a very poor shelf life and have long ago gone to dust.
 
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Alyson Jones

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Have you seen the 1912 move before micheal?If you have,what's it like?
 

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