Nichols' six: WHO were they?


Arun Vajpey

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In discussing the opened (or not) gangway door and the fate of Alfred "Big Neck" Nichols, the legend is that around 01:05 hours on Monday 15th April 1912 Lightoller ordered the Boatswain to take 6 men and open a certain gangway door so that more lifeboat loading could take place from there. Most books suggest that no one saw Nichols afterwards but Brad Payne's well researched article suggests that a few surviving crew members did see (or claimed that they had seen) the boatswain afterwards.

What I want to know is, is there any information anywhere about the possible identities of any of the six sailors that Nichols took with him below decks? As far as I know, no surviving crew member came forward to claim that he was one of those six and so they must all have perished in the disaster one way or another. If that was indeed the case, it lends weight (but not proof) that Nichols and his men were caught out by the rising water levels while trying to open the gangway door. But looking at it another way, it might be the fact that none of those six sailors survived to tell the tale that prompted researching Titanic writers to assume that they had all died with Nichols during that ill-fated attempt to open a gangway door.
 

Harland Duzen

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...If that was indeed the case, it lends weight (but not proof) that Nichols and his men were caught out by the rising water levels while trying to open the gangway door...

Off topic, but why do we assume they were trapped below deck in the bowels of the ship? Isn't it more likely they tried to all open all doors but upon finding a flooded area they abandoned Lightoller's orders and went back to the Boat Deck where they tried to find him but could't find him and ended up helping the other Officers?

Just because their bodies were never found doesn't automatically mean they must have been trapped inside.

Back To Topic!
 
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Aaron_2016

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Lightoller later wrote -

"One can only suppose that they gave their lives endeavouring to carry out this order, probably they were trapped in the alley-way by a rush of water, but by this time the forecastle head was within about 10 feet of the water. Yet I still had hope that we should save her."

Did the doors open outwards or inwards? If the doors were submerged about 20+ feet below the surface then it would be extremely difficult to push open the doors, unless they exploded inwards?


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Lightoller later wrote -

"One can only suppose that they gave their lives endeavouring to carry out this order, probably they were trapped in the alley-way by a rush of water, but by this time the forecastle head was within about 10 feet of the water. Yet I still had hope that we should save her."

Did the doors open outwards or inwards? If the doors were submerged about 20+ feet below the surface then it would be extremely difficult to push open the doors, unless they exploded inwards?


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The gang ways opened out out ward. So like you said 'has it been under water or substantially submerged but not fully submerged. It would be extremely difficult to open the door. If it was opened it would of had to of been above. Or just above the surface.
I can't help but ask does anyone have reasonable guess as to what position Titanic would have been in as of 1:05
 

Arun Vajpey

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Just because their bodies were never found doesn't automatically mean they must have been trapped inside.
Not only that, how does anyone know if any of their bodies were found if no one knows who "they" were in the first place?
 
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Jim Currie

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Lightoller wrote the most amazing fairy tales. Here is what he told his UK Questioners about that very subject.

"13849. When you came out on deck, having been aroused, the ship was on an even keel?
- Yes.
I noticed she was down by the head, when I was by No. 6 boat. When I left No. 4 and went to No. 6 she was distinctly down by the head, and I think it was while working at that boat it was noticed that she had a pretty heavy list to port.
it would take us from 15 minutes to 20 minutes to uncover No. 4; then to coil the falls down, then to swing out and lower it down to A deck would take another six or seven minutes at least. Then I gave an order to go down to the lower deck which I countermanded; perhaps two or three minutes might have elapsed there. After I had swung out No. 4 boat I asked the Chief Officer should we put the women and children in, and he said "No." I left the men to go ahead with their work and found the Commander, or I met him and I asked him should we put the women and children in, and the Commander said "Yes, Then I went to No. 6 about that time.
" I had already sent the boatswain and 6 men or told the boatswain to go down below and take some men with him and open the gangway doors with the intention of sending the boats to the gangway doors to be filled up."

He sent the Boatswain with 6 men and some men, or told the Boatswain.really? How many more than the 6 ? The man was waffling.
In fact, if he had sent the men down to the gangway doors, he did so before No 4 was filled with people. Thta would be understandable since he did not notice the ship was by the head until he went to boat 6..
However, if Lightoller sent men below to open forward gangay doors in a ship that was sinking by the head, then he was a first class idiot. I don't think he was. I suspect that he was just a romantic adventurerer dazzled by his own importance.
 
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Harland Duzen

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Not only that, how does anyone know if any of their bodies were found if no one knows who "they" were in the first place?

Good point. I just saying in general that even though this website states:
_______ died in the sinking and his / her body, if recovered, was not identified.

It doesn't automatically mean they must have been trapped in Titanic's interior, it just means they weren't found or unfortunately weren't identified.

Also Sorry Arun Vajpey for drifting away from your initial question. Back To Topic!
 
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Aaron_2016

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Lightoller was asked at the Inquiry what on earth possessed him to open the 'forward' gangway doors. Have to wonder if he felt guilty for sending those men to their deaths.


Q - If the boat was down by the head, the opening of those doors on E deck in the forward part of the ship would open her very close to the water, would it not?
A - Yes.
Q - When you gave the order, had you got in mind that the ship was tending to go down by the head, or had not you yet noticed it?
A - I cannot say that I had noticed it particularly.
Q - Of course, you know now the water was rising up to E deck?
A - Yes, of course it was.
Q - Did the boatswain execute those orders?
A - That I could not say. He merely said “Aye, aye, sir,” and went off.
Q - .......As far as you know, were any of those gangway doors open at any time?
A - That I could not say. I do not think it likely, because it is most probable the boats lying off the ship would have noticed the gangway doors, had they succeeded in opening them.


Although I doubt they had perished on E-deck because Charles Joughin looked down the corridor towards the forward gangway doors around 1.30am and did not see any significant amount of water in the corridor. There are staircases near the forward gangway doors that led to the decks below. If the doors were open perhaps the water rushed the men off their feet and swept them down the staircases as the water rushed in and flooded the decks below?


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Arun Vajpey

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Lightoller wrote the most amazing fairy tales.
However, if Lightoller sent men below to open forward gangay doors in a ship that was sinking by the head, then he was a first class idiot. I don't think he was. I suspect that he was just a romantic adventurer dazzled by his own importance.
I have always believed that part (highlighted) ever since I read Walter Lord's A Night To Remember and saw the related film. Whatever else he was or wasn't, Lightoller came across as someone with a king's size sense of vainglory. But over time he managed to convey some of his "heroism" to many Titanic authors who elevated him to superman status. During the British Titanic Society meeting of 1998, a certain man who has published a well known book about the Titanic was loudly denouncing Cameron for not depicting Lightoller like James Bond. I first thought he was being sarcastic, but he wasn't.
 

Harland Duzen

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When you look at Lightoller's life story, it's certainly worth of a Oscar Winning film akin to "Unbroken" (2014) or "Chaplin" (1992). Just to name a few notable examples (in no particular order):
  • Titanic
  • Got shipwrecked on Ile Saint-Paul Island for over a week.
  • Dunkirk Evacuation (Cough Cough "Great Film" Cough Cough)
  • Ran away at sea aged 13
  • Pulled a prank at Fort Denison that went wrong (yet still wasn't caught).
  • Was involved in the Yukon Gold Rush and when that failed became a Cowboy, then Homeless and then back to sailing.
Not to mention him experiencing several near fatal diseases and other famous events over his career!
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
EDIT: I Forgot to mention the controversy events surrounding the sinking of the UB-100 which some believe to be a War-Crime (SM UB-110 - Wikipedia).

Overall, he's had quite a few varied experiences with praise and criticism.
 
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Jim Currie

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If Lightoller was the hero depicted by some people and displayed outstanding feats of seamanship during the disaster, why do any of you think he was never given a command in the Merchant Navy?

Here's a little aside for you:

Total emphasis has been put by historians and others on the evnts that took place at sea. Have any of you any idea what might have been going on in the navigation departments of the Superintendent's offices of The White Star Line at London, Southampton and at Liverpool immediaterly after the disaster?
 
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Lightoller was cut from the same cloth as Felix Von Luckner -- both men born in an era of sail, hemp, and Stockholm tar that was rapidly fading from the oceans. Hearts of oak and all that. You know, the heroes of pirate stories and Hornblower novels. Unfortunately, seafaring was undergoing the sort of change that overtook aviation after World War I. That's when fliers in silk scarves became pilots in uniforms. During the early 20th century there was increasingly less demand for romantic daredevils. Science was beginning to dominate over the backside of trousers. While Lightoller is the most engaging character of the Titanic misadventure, he was already out of step with those changing times. I've always suspected that his posting as First Officer in Titanic (later reduced by the arrival of Wilde) may well have been the zenith of his career. I've always thought that discussion about Lightoller after Titanic around the White Star offices was mostly confirmation about his being a fine man of resolute courage, but not quite good enough for command of his own ship.

So, Lightoller rebuilt Sundowner and made a bit of history on his own.

-- David G. Brown
 
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Aaron_2016

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Speaking of the 'Sundowner'. She made a wonderful showing in 2012 as she sailed with a huge flotilla of 1000 boats passed the Royal family. Would have made Lightoller proud to see his boat presented to the Queen. Here is footage I took.




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Arun Vajpey

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While Lightoller is the most engaging character of the Titanic misadventure
-- David G. Brown
That's a matter of opinion. I certainly have never found Lightoller's character "engaging" in the least. He was a "hero" of his own making. There have been thousands of other characters who did things like running away to sea as teenagers, be part of a gold rush or get shipwrecked but no one heard of most of them. The Dunkirk evacuation had thousands of heroes for various reasons.

If Lightoller had lived in modern times, he would have been a very successful "yes-man yuppie" of some big organisation.
 
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chrs burton

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Have any of you any idea what might have been going on in the navigation departments of the Superintendent's offices of The White Star Line at London, Southampton and at Liverpool immediaterly after the disaster?

Well I have no idea what goes in a Superintendent's office navigation department, before or after a disaster.

I can guess - soul-searching; blame game; excuse making; prevarication ;depression; cv updating etc . . .

. . . or are navigation departments just concerned with testing recruits and chronometers and buying/supplying charts and almacs ??

Why is it a navigation issue anyway ?? - surely avoiding floating objects is just basic ship-driving ??

Perhaps Jim would be kind enough to tell us ( in simple terms ) . . . . .
 

Jim Currie

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I can only guess, Chris. But from past encounters with Super's offices, I would be very surprised if, following the disaster, the four surviving Deck Officers were not asked to make detailed, individual reports in writing and sign them These reports would be much the same as the reports requested by Captain Lord of his 2nd & 3rd Officers and the Californian's Apprentice, James Gibson.

The Deck Superintendents would be interested in all the navigation data from Noon April, 14 until the moment of impact. They would be particularly interested in the nature of any advice and actual information they and others had given to Captain Smith.
From these, they would build a picture of Titanic's movements up until the moment of impact.
Unlike most of the members of this and other Titanic sites,the Deck Superintendents would all have been experienced mariners. As such, they could instantly conjure-up a mind's eye picture of what went on on the bridge of Titanic. Once they had done this, they would know if there had been anything unusual in the way Titanic had been 'driven'. More to the point, if the officer's reports reflected the evidence these men gave at the official imquiries, then the Suprintendents must have known without a doubt, that the distress position sent out was completely wrong.

In fact. a great deal of what was known at the time was buried. Not only by the Superintendents, but also on the other side of The Pond; in the halls and corridors of Washington DC.
 

Harland Duzen

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vonfrieddorf

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OK, well let's start by assuming the story of six sailors trapped below with Boatswain Nichols is accurate.

So then we need to consult the Deck Crew list for the names of lost seamen, who are as follows:

BRADLEY, Mr Thomas Henry 29

CLENCH, Mr George James [bcolor=rgb(252, 252, 255)]31[/bcolor]

COUCH, Mr Frank 28 [253]

DAVIS, Mr Stephen James 39

HOLMAN, Mr Harry [bcolor=rgb(252, 252, 255)]29[/bcolor]

MATHERSON, Mr David [bcolor=rgb(252, 252, 255)]30[/bcolor] [bcolor=rgb(252, 252, 255)][192][/bcolor]

SMITH, Mr William [bcolor=rgb(252, 252, 255)]26[/bcolor]

TAYLOR, Mr Charles William Frederick [bcolor=rgb(252, 252, 255)]40[/bcolor]

TERRELL, Mr Bertram 19

Note the bracketed numbers for Seamen Couch and Matherson, indicating their bodies were recovered - highly unlikely if they were trapped below. In addition, Fireman Frederick Doel later claimed that he was ordered in to Boat C by Seaman Matherson, who was a close acquaintance of his, indicating that Matherson was above decks late in the sinking.

So that leaves us the following candidates to accompany Boatswain Nichols
:
BRADLEY, Mr Thomas Henry 29
CLENCH, Mr George James [bcolor=rgb(252, 252, 255)]31[/bcolor]
DAVIS, Mr Stephen James [bcolor=rgb(252, 252, 255)]39[/bcolor]
HOLMAN, Mr Harry [bcolor=rgb(252, 252, 255)]29[/bcolor]
SMITH, Mr William [bcolor=rgb(252, 252, 255)]26[/bcolor]
TAYLOR, Mr Charles William Frederick [bcolor=rgb(252, 252, 255)]40[/bcolor]
TERRELL, Mr Bertram [bcolor=rgb(252, 252, 255)]19[/bcolor]

If Nichols chose the most experienced hands, likely Terrell, being the youngest, and an ordinary seaman, would not have been chosen. But it's not as if they were all standing there in alphabetical order, as I have them above, like some sort of seagoing smorgasbord of personnel. Like everyone else that night, Nichols would have used whoever was on hand.

So, if the story is true, I would suggest the most likely sailors involved to have been Thomas Bradley, George Clench, Stephen Davis, Harry Holman, William Smith, and Charles Taylor. Sad they were all lost in a futile attempt to save more lives.
 
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Arun Vajpey

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Good conjecture above but I find it hard to believe that an experienced boatswain like Nichols would have allowed himself or his men to be trapped that way. I do not necessarily disbelieve that Lightoller gave such an order to Nichols - in fact, I think he might have done. But IMO Nichols would have checked to see from the outside where the water level was and decided that either he could not have carried out that order or opened a higher deck gangway door. Nichols might well have taken 6 men below decks to explore the possibility and those seamen might even have come from your list of possibilties. But I think they returned to the deck unable to carry out Lightoller's order but by then the Second Officer had gone below one deck to try his window opening shenanigans for Lifeboat #4. In his absence Nichols likely reported to Wilde who then could have told the boatswain to either forget the whole thing or open the higher D-deck gangway door instead. Either way, Nichols and his men dispersed to other tasks soon afterwards and none survived.

I know it is conjecture, but it would explain several things:
  • The reason why no one on Lifeboat #6 saw an open gangway door. Nichols did not open the one on E-deck and even if he did open the D-deck door some 10 minutes later (following a possible order from Wilde), #6 had long gone past by then.
  • The reason why a few others - Johnstone on #2 said that Nichols asked him to "watch the star" and later Barrett reportedly saw Nichols near #13 and was told to "take an oar" - reported seeing Nichols quite some time after the Lightoller order.
  • The reason why Lightoller himself never saw Nichols again after 01:05. By the time Nichols returned to the boat deck to report that they had not opened the door on E-deck, Lightoller had gone down to A-deck to attend to #4 where he remained for some time. That would be the time #2 had started loading and tallies with Johnstone's statement; it is likely that Nichols left that spot before Boxhall finished launching his rocket and arrived to take charge of #2. From Barrett's report we can assume that Nichols then went to the aft starboard side to help and remained there or thereabouts till the end. In doing so he would have surely interacted with Murdoch and Moody but neither of those two gentlemen nor Wilde survived. Lightoller did but he would not have known about Nichols presence on the aft starboard side.
 
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