Left to Die


Ben Lemmon

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Can you imagine being in the water? Can you imagine hearing all those voices screaming for help, especially those that might belong to little kids, knowing you can do nothing to help them? Can you imagine being Lowe, as he rows through countless bodies, seeing so many dead people, a result of insufficient lifeboats? Close your eyes and imagine. What do you think it would have been like?
 
Jun 12, 2004
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I try not to, Ben--the images, had I been there to see them in reality, would likely have had a profound impact on me. This is the kind of thing of which nightmares are made.

As for Lowe, maybe you can get some insight on that from Inger Sheil. Her new book on his life is coming out soon (if not already), and she'll likely have countless anecdotes from his life to share.

By the way, does the boy in your story die in this manner?
 
Mar 20, 2007
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Going it alone in the freezing water would have been nightmare enough in itself - what REALLY disturbs me is the thought of couples or families trying to keep together in such appalling circumstances. As we know, very few individuals were pulled out of the Atlantic alive so we can only speculate as to what went through the minds of the luckless 1,500 in the moments after the 'Titanic' sank. Archibald Gracie's description is, I think, the best - I suspect Jack Thayer left an excellent account too, although I've not so familiar with that one. On the other hand...was it Algernon Barkworth who remarked that, even in the most awful conditions, it is surprising how quickly one loses one's horror of the dead?

For REALLY chilling testimony from shipwreck survivors who had to swim for their lives, I'd heartily recommend Jim Kalafus's twin articles on the 'Lusitania', both of which are entitled 'Lest We Forget' and which can be found on this site. I do warn you - they are very upsetting, particularly the testimonies of those mothers who struggled with tiny children.
 
Dec 29, 2006
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Being left struggling in the water after the loss of a ship must be terrifying for anybody. Here in Witney, a popular pub landlord, who ran the Eagle Tavern for many years, had survived the sinking of a troop ship in World War II. I remember on one occasion, shortly after the release of Cameron’s Titanic, some of his customers (one of whom had been a senior PO on HMS Antrim during the Falklands War) were talking about the Titanic and other ship wrecks, and it became quite clear that, some four decades after the event, he was still unable to talk in any detail about his experiences. (He also had a particular aversion to any talk about torpedoes).
 

Jim Kalafus

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Have been immersing myself in hypothermia these last few days.

>As we know, very few individuals were pulled out of the Atlantic alive so we can only speculate as to what went through the minds of the luckless 1,500 in the moments after the 'Titanic' sank.

Very little. Watch, in real time, the video captures of the survivors of the 1982 Washington DC plane crash who were immersed in 40F water for a half hour as the cameras ran and then think of the same situation in water 30% colder.

If the Titanic's people were "average" then most of them did not live very long. I KNOW the accounts later made it seem like the screams emanating from the wrecksite went on for an eternity, but I attribute a lot of that to what I refer to as "The Trapped in Tenth Grade Geometry Class Time Expansion Theory." We've all experienced it- sitting in a lecture so interminable, so dull, so utterly without redeeming value that one feels catatonia setting in. One looks at the clock- it is ten after one. A half hour later when one looks at the clock again, it is a quarter past one. And that is because in horrible situations where one is devoid of ANY stimulous other than the atrocity upon which one must focus, time slows down- expands. For those sitting in the lifeboats, without any reference by which to establish time- unless a handful had those great radium tinted watches- and forced to listen to the tortuous death screams of friends and relatives at fairly close range, of COURSE it seemed like 45 minutes to an hour. But, probably it was more like ten or fifteen IF the later estimate of 28F water is accurate.

>For REALLY chilling testimony from shipwreck survivors who had to swim for their lives, I'd heartily recommend Jim Kalafus's twin articles on the 'Lusitania', both of which are entitled 'Lest We Forget' and which can be found on this site. I do warn you - they are very upsetting, particularly the testimonies of those mothers who struggled with tiny children.

Thanks. Those articles are soon to disappear, replaced by one mega-article which myself, Mike, Cliff Barry are assembling. All the material from parts 1 and 2, supplemented and in a few cases slightly corrected, plus a HUGE amount of never before seen information and over a hundred new photos. Here, as a promo, so to speak, is a small portion of the hypothermia segment:

______________________________________________

IN THE WATER: A Prolonged, Lethargic Drift Into Death

Passengers who sank with the Lusitania, who did not drown in the first few minutes, soon faced a subtle but efficient killer. The water temperature was later estimated as being in the low to mid 50s, and under a beautiful, blue, spring sky on a sunny afternoon, the Lusitania’s people began to succumb to hypothermia.

The human body can lose heat up to 25 times faster in cold water than in cold air. According to cold water survival charts, exhaustion and unconsciousness will set in one to two hours after immersion in water 50-60F, and the overall expected survival time is one to six hours. People with personal floatation devices, or something upon which to cling, survive longer. Swimmers whose entire bodies are submerged- such as those without lifejackets- fare the worst.

A common theme among accounts left by those rescued from the water, was of the fairly rapid onset of hypothermic symptoms. Limbs grew heavy. Grips relaxed. Thoughts became muddled as people sank into stupors. Men and women seemingly secure atop debris or rafts suddenly let go and drifted away, still alive but unable to maintain their grasps or, once back in the water, swim.

Many survivors and rescuers mentioned people pulled from the water apparently dead, who were revived upon being warmed. But, with sunset, time ran out for those unfortunates who drifted still alive, but inert with shock, in their lifebelts.

Survivor May Barrett recalled:

We had gone into the second saloon and were just finishing lunch. I heard something like the smashing of big dishes, and then there came a second and a louder crash. Miss MacDonald and I started to go upstairs, but we were thrown back by the crowd. Then the ship stopped and we managed to get up to the second deck where we found sailors trying to lower the boats. There was no panic, and the ship’s officers and crew went about their work quietly and steadily.

I went to get two lifebelts, but a gentleman standing by told us to remain where we were and he would fetch them for us. He brought us two life belts and we put them on.

By this time the ship was leaning right over to starboard, and we were both thrown down. We managed to scramble to the side of the liner. Near us I saw a rope attached to one of the lifeboats and I thought I could catch it. So, we murmured a few words of prayer and then jumped in to the water. I missed the rope, but floated about in the water for some time.

I did not lose consciousness at first, but the water got into my eyes and mouth and I began to lose hope of ever seeing my friends again. I could not see anybody near me, and then I must have lost consciousness for I remember nothing more until one of the Lusitania’s lifeboats came along. The crew were pulling on board a woman who was unconscious, and they shouted to me “You hold on a little longer!”￾ After a time, they lifted me out of the water and then I remember nothing more for a time that seemed to be an age.

In the mean time, our boat had picked up twenty others, and when I became conscious it was getting late in the evening. We were transferred to the trawler and taken to Queenstown.

Miss MacDonald told me how she floated nearly four hours in a dazed state. She had little remembrance of what passed until a boat saved her. She remembered someone saying “Oh, the poor girl is dead.”￾ She had just the strength to raise her hand and they returned and pulled her on board.
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Ben Lemmon

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Mark, the boy in my story does not die in this manner, but he has to face the rest of his life remembering the sound of the screams of countless people, knowing his uncle is probably one of them. It's kind of like what happened to Frankie Goldsmith. Here's a person who never took his kids to a baseball game because it reminded him of the screams he heard that night, reverberating through the area.

Martin, that's what really gets me when I watch any of the Titanic movies. The scene of the Irish mom lulling her children to sleep right before the ship takes its final plunge and the mother trying to comfort her 5-year old boy, saying "It'll all be over soon," are both in Cameron's movie. I think that's where it really hits home to me, not when Rose is letting a frozen Jack sink to the ocean floor. There is also an aspect in A Night to Remember that makes you a bit melancholy about the whole disaster. When the boy comes running out, looking for his mother that has already left, and then the old man looking after him until they both die when the Titanic sinks, that's where it really hits home in that movie. I was just wanting to imagine what it would have been like to see this with your own two eyes. Wouldn't it be horrible to know that your children are going to die? Or having left your child behind to die?

What I think is the worst, though, are those fathers who were waiting for their families to come across on the Titanic. Imagine their horror when they learn that their whole family just died on the Titanic because of an issue with too little lifeboats. What would you have done?
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>What do you think it would have been like?<<

It's something I'd rather not think about even if some of the discussions here and hard reality make it essential for me to do so. As misty eyed as one may get at a movie's take on the matter, it would never come close to giving one a sense of the true horror of it all. Given the nightmares the survivors had to deal with after this, you sometimes have to wonder if they didn't get the dirty end of the stick.
 

Inger Sheil

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As for Lowe, maybe you can get some insight on that from Inger Sheil. Her new book on his life is coming out soon (if not already), and she'll likely have countless anecdotes from his life to share.
But not many specifically relating to what he experienced when he went back, beyond what he related at the inquiries and in two official statements. It was a topic he specifically avoided. He did later express a wish that he could have saved more lives, and while he (officially) always held the position that he went back as soon as he could do so, his son told us that he believed his father wished he had returned sooner.

On the time disconnect...I'm a little reluctant to relate this anecdote, as I don't want to draw any direct connection between my recreational experiences and the horror experienced by accident survivors, but I was struck by a recent personal experience of how distored our time perceptions can be.

Bungy jumping a week or so ago, I was under the decided impression that I took a long time to shuffle out on the platform, pause, look up at the camera when told to do so, gazing in the direction I was instructed for several seconds at a time. I was so concerned I was taking up too much time that I asked "Now? Do I jump now?". Running up later, I asked my friend if I'd held things up by taking so long - she was puzzled, and told me I'd jumped almost immediately.

I was staggered watching the video later - it took only moments. The long pauses I thought I'd had looking at the camera were mere shooting glances. My sense of time was completely, totally askew.

How much more might time slow down in truly traumatic circumstances?
 

Ben Lemmon

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How much more might time slow down in truly traumatic circumstances?
You can only imagine.

I know there were whole families that went with the Titanic, but how many of them do you think froze in the water? I think that the Goodwins, although their bodies, save one, were never found, they must have been in the water that night. Sidney Leslie's was found, so wouldn't that mean that the rest of the family was in the water. There are possible reasons for why Sidney's was found and theirs not, but I don't think they're very likely. Frankly, I'm glad that the whole family went down. Could you imagine watching your whole family freeze to death in front of your eyes, and then surviving yourself? That would be the most horrific devil to face. I get the chills just writing about it.

Inger, is your bio on 5th Officer Lowe coming out soon? I would like to read it. He's my favorite officer to read about, just because he at least tried to go back and save somebody.
 
Jun 12, 2004
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I think that the Goodwins, although their bodies, save one, were never found, they must have been in the water that night. Sidney Leslie's was found, so wouldn't that mean that the rest of the family was in the water.
Not unless the family somehow got split up during the chaos. I don't have any personal accounts at hand, but I can imagine that some family members or close friends were separated.

Example:

A husband and wife are standing on deck watching the life boats being lowered . . .

WIFE: "Oh my! Jessie is missing. Shant we go look for him?"

HUSBAND: (Warmly) "Yes! You wait here. I shall go below and see if he is in his cabin. I will return shortly."


Unfortunately, the ship sinks first, so that never happens. Alas, both husband and wife perish--she in the water, he somewhere inside. Jessie, on the other hand, just might have been rescued, unbeknownst to the couple. This example was made true by the Allisons, whose son Trevor had been taken into a life boat with Alice Cleaver, their hired nanny.

During the aftermath, the wife's body is recovered, but her husband's, obviously, isn't.

In any case, a divided family on board the Titanic would have been a very plausible scenario.
 
Jun 12, 2004
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Bungy jumping a week or so ago
Inger! You bungee jump? I would never have thought that. Yes, I knew you have engaged in water sports, but bungee jumping seems a bit . . . on the extreme wild side, lol.

That's one thing I have always wanted to try, but I've never had the opportunity--even sky diving naked. What a rush!

Well, here's hoping that cord doesn't snap on the way down, otherwise it would be a one-way trip for the poor soul at the end.

Cheers!
 

Inger Sheil

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I hope the bio is coming out soon, Ben - I need get myself organised with publication, hopefully this year. Unfortunately I have a tendency to get distracted, follow interesting sidepaths, then convince myself I need to do more research and rewrites. It's a project I've been close to for a long time, and there's a certain loss of perspective - people with more experience than me are adamant it's ready for publication.

At the risk of sounding like I've stepped out of a soft drink ad, Mark, I can recommend bungy jumping. It's an experience I intend to repeat.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>There are possible reasons for why Sidney's was found and theirs not, but I don't think they're very likely.<<

Actually, the reasons a lot of bodies weren't found aren't really all that complex or even hard to grasp if you have experience in searches at sea...and I do.

A human body is a mighty small object to try and spot in the ocean, and thanks to the elements, the probable search area encompassed hundreds of square miles which increased with each passing day. To me, the wonder of it isn't that they found so few. The wonder of it is that they found and recovered as many as they did!
 
Jun 12, 2004
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The wonder of it is that they found and recovered as many as they did!
Still, the proper authorities started their searches right away, which could account for the number found. Had they waited longer, that number (i.e. 328) without a doubt would have been reduced exponentially.
 
Jun 12, 2004
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At the risk of sounding like I've stepped out of a soft drink ad, Mark, I can recommend bungy jumping. It's an experience I intend to repeat.
You'll have to share it with me, Inger. I look forward to reading how it went.
 

David Paris

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"Could you imagine watching your whole family freeze to death in front of your eyes, and then surviving yourself? That would be the most horrific devil to face. I get the chills just writing about it." (forgive the newbie - not quite sure how to copy quotes properly yet!)

Well that's just what happened to Rosa Abbott who lost both her sons and survived on collapsible A. Which makes me recall a totally unrelated subject - after Mrs Abbott was aboard the Carpathia I remember reading accounts that passengers had a devil of a time combing cork out of her hair. Ships on the scene later also reported seeing large quantities of cork floating about. Where did all this random cork wreckage come from? I can't imagine there was all that much in the lifejacket Astor cut up to show Madeleine how they floated ;-p (This is a serious question by the way!)
 

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