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No Excuse for Capt Lord's Inaction

Discussion in 'Ships that may have stood still' started by Donald R. Schneider, Mar 10, 2010.

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  1. For years, I have read all the attempted exculpations proffered by "Lordites”￾ in defense of the Californian’s captain. We can argue how far his ship was from the Titanic, and we can argue what if anything he could have accomplished had he set sail for the stricken Titanic in a timely fashion. But one aspect of this incident that I hold cannot be debated, cannot be extenuated, is that Captain Lord failed to give the common sense, precautionary order that the wireless operator be woken when he received word of a rocket having been fired.

    There was not and never could be any justifiable reason for his failing to give that order. (He admitted to having had word of one rocket having been fired; others claim he had word of more.) It is utterly indefensible!

    This has bugged me for years.
     
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  2. >>There was not and never could be any justifiable reason for his failing to give that order.<<

    Considering that the use of wireless was not widespread or universal, I can think of at least one reason why he wouldn't: It never occured to him that he would even get an answer. Considering that ships which did have wireless seldom had more then one operator and couldn't keep a 24 hour watch, this is not as unreasonable as you might think.
     
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  3. Michael,

    If there was even a possibility that a ship might be in trouble (as suggested by the rocket(s)!), then one would assume that if that ship did have a wireless operator he would certainly be on duty in such an event, regardless of his normal hours. Such would seem an understatement! Come on! Weighing the possibility of Evans losing a few minutes sleep needlessly against the possibility of a ship in distress is a calculation that would not have given pause for thought to a twelve-year-old!

    In fact, I don’t excuse Stone as well. It would have been some terrible breach of protocol for him on his own volition to have sent Gibson to Evans’s cabin with a message along the lines of:

    “Mr. Stone sent me. We see a ship that seems to be acting queerly and firing rockets. We can’t raise her on the Morse lamp. Be a good bloke and man the wireless and listen for any unusual traffic or any sign of a ship in trouble.”￾?

    In any event, there was no excuse for Lord not having given the order.
     
  4. Donald, I think you're missing the point here. The point being that it would be seen by the people involved at the time that it would not be likely for a ship to have a wireless operator aboard at all!

    Remember that wireless telegraphy was very much in it's infancy and where it was present, it wasn't so much ship's equipment as it was a for-profit business enterprise which kept office hours. It's potential as a life saving tool was understood but it was a long way from being realized.

    Keep in mind I'm not making excuses for Captain Lord, however, I have to take a look at the situation as it would have been seen and understood by the players involved at the time. Forget what we think of as "obvious." That's simply anachronistic.

    In the absence of any information as to whether or not a strangly behaving ship had wireless, and not wanting to waste any time, the logical course of action would have been to get underway and make a course for the spot where the strangely behaving vessel was seen to be.
     
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  5. Jim Currie

    Jim Currie Member

    Michael is absolutely right Donald. Too many people judge the Californian affair based on very limited knowledge and on what they would have done had they been there and in possession of exactly the same facts.

    Today as it was then - it is not the possession of the facts that matter; rather it is an individuals's ability to assess the situation according to current practice and apply knowledge and skill to the facts to achieve the best possible outcome.
    Lots of people today regard the white rockets as a sure-fire indication that a vessel was in distress - rubbish! The regulations stated 'rockets of any colour' - white is not a colour - its a neutral and was regarded as such in 1912. That's why captain Lord was so anxious to know if there were 'any colours in the signals?' In plain fact - the officers of Californian had no idea what they were seeing and virtually admitted it in their evidence.
    Lord behaved perfectly normally - he was told about his officer's uncertainty - weighed the situation up according to what he was told - cautioned his men to continue trying to find out what was going on and ordered them to let him know if they found out any more. They did not increase their knowledge of the other vessel! Lord was only concerned when he learned later about Titanic.
    Consider this: If you were an officer on the bridge of a ship and saw those signals going up but did not know what they were - what would you do? - Exactly what Stone did! However, if you had any nagging doubts - what would you do if the source of those signals suddenly started moving off before you had convinced yourself something serious was wrong?
    This is the essence of what we are told. You either accept Stone's story or bight the bullet and say he lied and bullied the Apprentice into lying with him all to protect the captain. That sort of thing only happens in Hollywood!

    Jim.
     
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  6. Michael,

    Because the medium of the wireless was in its infancy, Capt. Lord and his officers didn’t fully realize its utility in emergency situations when outside assistance might be needed or offered? Instead, they merely thought of it as a device to convey social messages for passengers (which, as I’m sure you know, the Californian wasn’t carrying on the voyage in question)? Is that what you are trying to argue?

    The year is 1930. Although, like many people of their time, the Smith family cannot yet afford an automobile, they are most proud to be the first family in their working-class neighborhood to have a telephone. It was installed just last week. Thus far, they have only used it to gab with friends and relatives also fortunate enough to have one in their houses. Mr. Smith collapses one night, perhaps from a heart attack or a stroke. Mrs. Smith instructs junior to run with all haste the mile to the home of the nearest doctor, which is what people pretty much did in the absence of cars and phones.

    Upon arriving back with the physician, he says to Mrs. Smith: “I understand you have a telephone now. Why didn’t you call for an ambulance to take your husband to the hospital?”

    Mrs. Smith looks puzzled and replies, “You mean you can do that with a telephone, doctor? We thought it was just for social calls.”

    I’m sorry, Michael, but apparently we disagree. Expecting common sense of people from any time period can never be considered anachronistic!

    As far as Capt. Lord ordering he ship to immediately move towards the sighted ship in question, I can understand his reluctance to risk his vessel through ice fields perhaps needlessly. Thus, employing the far easier (and not all that time consuming) expedient of waking the wireless operator for at least possible verification of such a need for the risk readily comes to mind. By the time they could have actually been underway, he would have had (as we now know) his answer.
     
  7. Jim,

    After Captain Lord learned that the Titanic had sunk during the early morning in question, his entire behavior was indicative of a very worried man frantically attempting to cover-up his now realized negligence. I’m sure all of the points that I am alluding to here have been spelled out on this site previously many times. Trying to exculpate Capt. Lord based solely on the color of the rockets is a slender reed of hope to grasp.

    As to how far his ship had been from the Titanic, the next morning it took him less than an hour to reach the same latitude as the Titanic's lifeboats and in sight of them and the rescue ship. Regardless of what his exact distance had been, his ship had been far closer than the gallant Captain Rostron’s Carpathia. None of the bizarre revisionist theories postulating “mystery ships”￾ can change that fact. A ship on the Californian’s horizon was seen to enter and then stop dead just at the time the Titanic had hit the iceberg. That same ship fired rockets and that same ship disappeared just at the time that the Titanic sunk. Now what ship could it have been?
     
  8. Jim Currie

    Jim Currie Member

    Donald you wrote:

    "Trying to exculpate Capt. Lord based solely on the color of the rockets is a slender reed of hope to grasp."

    That's not what I'm trying to do!

    Unlike many others - I do not exclude most evidence in favour of a narrow selection. Let me give you a small example:

    You also wrote:

    "
    the next morning it took him less than an hour to reach the same latitude as the Titanic's lifeboats and in sight of them and the rescue ship"

    That's not true!

    From the evidence of others - Californian was very close to Mount Temple at 7-10am that morning. The MT's wireless operator confirmed it.
    The Captain of Mount Temple claims he saw Californian at least 7 miles to the north of him. Now the time was either 6-30am or 7 am depending on whose clock you use.

    Californian passed MT at 7-30am and arrived at Carpathia at 8-30am.

    If we accept what you write then Californian had to be at the same position as Mount Temple when he started because after passing MT she went south for about 8 miles before turning ENE directly toward Carpathia.
    Because of the ice barrier between the two ships, Californian would not be able to keep up her maximum speed of 13 knots during that last hour so she would have averaged closer to 11.5 knots. Simply put - she would have to have been about 10.5 miles NW of Carpathia - right beside Mount Temple before she started to go to the rescue and on the wrong side of the ice field! She would also have had to have left her original position at 7-30am - an hour and a half after Lord said she did.

    You further write:

    "None of the bizarre revisionist theories postulating “mystery ships”￾ can change that fact."

    Without mentioning a single mystery ship, I have just done so!

    As for the "gallant" Captain Rostron - I would not chose that adjective to describe the man in question. Lucky? -yes! Fool-hardy?-yes but gallant? - only if you consider rushing at full speed through ice-infested waters with a full load of passengers while letting of distress rockets as you go.

    Would you describe Captain Smith of Titanic the same way? - I think not! Yet that's almost exactly what he did - he let off his rockets after he was found out!

    No, I think I'll plump for just plain old 'lucky' - followed by 'criminal'. He had no more right to risk the lives of all those on board his ship than did Smith of Titanic.
    Actually, I think everyone was lucky that night but not from the skills and professionalism of Captain Rostron. I'm not a religious person but I do believe the phrase "There but for the grace of God" figured much in the fortunes of the 'Gallant Captain'.

    Jim.
     
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  9. Jim,

    The Californian came along side the Carpathia at about 8:30 AM, true. But several witnesses, including Captain Moore of the Mount Temple, placed the Californian no more than six miles away from Carpathia not long after 6 AM! Captain Moore testified to such at the U.S. Inquiry and it is part of the official record.

    My major point, which you did not address, merely echoes the observation of Lord Mersey, Wreck Commissioner, in the Report on the Loss of the SS Titanic. Members of the crew of the Californian saw a ship within their horizon stop dead, fire rockets, and then disappear, all coincident with the time frame of the Titanic events. That could not be a coincidence and indicates that Stone and Gibson stood by and watched the Titanic sink, without, of course, realizing what they were witnessing. There can be no other conclusion short of the outright invoking of sophistry.

    The point is that without a doubt Californian was closest and her captain and watch officer did not take even the elementary step of waking the wireless operator to ascertain what the rockets had been about.

    Despite of what I feel about Captain Lord, I most certainly do not deny that responsibility for this tragedy lay not with him but aboard the Titanic herself. To compare Captain Smith’s reckless motivation (prodded on by Ismay–of whom it is best not to comment upon here!) for speeding through ice-infested waters to the heroic actions of Captain Rostron, one of the greatest seamen (and men!) ever to grace the planet, is mendacious.

    Captain Rostron’s hopeful response to Titanic of “Coming hard”￾ is indicative of a professional doing the only thing he thought he could do in the name of humanity. He was not reckless. His lookouts were sharp, well-trained and acutely aware of the dangers at all times. He was the consummate professional who was in control of his ship every mile of this dangerous errand of mercy. Captain Rostron did slow his ship’s speed when he got nearer to Titanic because of the increased presence of ice in the waters. As with the hold nothing back rescue attempt, he was simply forced to. He was a great man!
     
  10. >>Because the medium of the wireless was in its infancy, Capt. Lord and his officers didn’t fully realize its utility in emergency situations when outside assistance might be needed or offered? Instead, they merely thought of it as a device to convey social messages for passengers (which, as I’m sure you know, the Californian wasn’t carrying on the voyage in question)? Is that what you are trying to argue?<<

    I'm not argueing it. That's just the way it was.

    >>The year is 1930. <<

    No it's not. It's 1912. Whatever conclusions or judgements you make have to be made in that context and as it was seen and understood by people living and working within the maritime industry in 1912.

    1930 is simply anachronism at it's worst.

    >>Expecting common sense of people from any time period can never be considered anachronistic! <<

    It is if you're seeing it through the lense of your own understanding rather then the way it would have actually been seen at the time.

    It's not what you think they should have understood which counts...or even mine for that matter.

    What counts is how they would have seen and understood it.
     
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  11. Steven Hall

    Steven Hall Member

    I thought we'd hear from you soon on this thread Sam.
     
  12. Jim Currie

    Jim Currie Member

    "So are we to interpret the regulation to mean that distress signals therefore have to be a recognized colour? And if white is not a colour then it could not have been distress signals?"

    No Sam you are not! - nor did I ask anyone to do so. I simply pointed out what was different about how people might interpret things in those days.

    The problem with all of this is the very word you used - interpretation!

    Very few 'interpreters' are fluent in the subject they are attempting to interpret. You and many others quote from the very excellent transcripts of both Inquiries but the authors of these admit themselves that even they are flawed because the sense might be lost due to missing punctuation etc.

    "Senator FLETCHER. What was the character of the rockets fired off on the Titanic, as to colors?
    Mr. BOXHALL. Just white stars, bright. I do not know whether they were stars or bright balls. I think they were balls. They were the regulation distress signals."

    This is from the man who thought they went up a few hundred feet - 200 was it?

    Not a very good support for the argument Sam - all this tells anyone is that Boxhall had exactly the same attitude to distress signals as everyone else.
    He would of course, like all other certificated officers, know all about what the regulations said but although he actually fired the damn things - he could not describe them. Was it Pitman who said they were coloured stars?

    "
    7290. Do just think? - Company signals usually have some colours in them."

    So how did they determine the difference between company signals and signals of distress?

    All these guys at the enquiry were- like very many researchers- attempting to be wise after the event. Even those who were being questioned were completely confused by smart lawyers.
    In such a situation, an element of being 'wise after the event' can easily be induced into the thought process of a witness. I know.. I've done it!
    If you carefully examine the questioning process, you will find questions similar to " don't you think?".. "Would it not have been better?"... "do you suppose?". Many of the questions asked were designed to trip witnesses up - not to get them to recall what they saw, heard or did, which was the purpose of the Inquiries in the first place!

    Questions 7090 to 7099 merely tell the reader that Lord had received information from the man he had left in charge. That the information he received up to a certain point did not urge him to personally intervene. If he had received information which triggered such a response he would have done so. He agreed that if he had done so, his wireless apparatus would have discovered Titanic's plight.
    Too many 'ifs' - If the Queen of Britain had been born a man she would be the King!

    Here's another 'if'.....

    If Lord had indeed called Evans and Evans had found out the CQD.. given the claim that Titanic was to Californian's SE... what direction should Lord have driven his ship?
    I can answer that for you...He would still have ignored those rockets. Remember he was not convinced of the CQD position given by Mount Temple and Frankfurt but demanded and got verification from Antillian before heading in the direction of Boxhall's erroneous CQD - not toward Stone's rockets! Indeed if he had done soand was where he said he was to begin with at 6am, he would have been heading toward the Azores. If he was only 12 miles away to start with and there had been a south setting current, he would have been within sight of at least three other ships - Mount Temple, her neighbour and Carpathia. If nothing else, he would have seen the smoke from three funnels. If you've ever seen a coal burner you'll know what I mean!

    The questioners of the day did not question Lord's chosen course of S16W.. why was that?

    As for what Evans did or did not say...You can say the same for Stewart, Groves, Stone and Gibson. Any one of them could have verified the course taken by Lord after 6am. Did they?

    Because every word is not recorded does not mean it was never uttered.

    On the subject of log book entries: I'm sure you know that The Mate's or Official Log book was not a faithful recording of every event during a Watch.. It still isn't!
    If Stone did not think it important enough, he would not have recorded it in the scrap log. Many ships of the day didn't even have scrap logs and still used the old chalk and slate method of recording happenings.
    In the 1950s and 60s, ships still had a chalk course board in the wheelhouse. I can remember many a junior getting a bollocking from the 'Old Man' for not wiping it and updating it.

    No one will ever know but I'd bet my last dollar, euro or pound that neither Groves or Stone recorded anything about the vessel stopped near them. Stone was curious and went into the usual 'find-out' mode. He was unsuccessful but mildly concerned. As was suggested- the other ship was 'not sending up rockets for nothing' so what constituted distress?
    Everyone nowadays thinks 'disaster'. Lord and Stewart did not immediately think of that they thought damaged rudder or something.
    Incidentally..earlier, there was another ship in distress - a tanker which was eventually taken under tow.. she just ran out of coal!

    Great to see you being tempted Sam.. always adds a bit of spice to the proceedings!

    regards,

    Jim
     
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  13. John Clifford

    John Clifford Member

    For Captain Lord, the question will always be: if the Californian had started up its engines and started over to Titanic, would it have gotten there before 2:20 AM. That is something we can only guess about, short of trying a re-enactment of one trying to reach the other, after the first ship has shut down its engines, as the Californian did, in choosing to wait out the night, due to the heavy iceflows.

    Remember, also: the wireless was still considered a 'luxury', for the most part, in sending messages out from the passengers, and receiving some replies.

    Those ships that had wireless on board did give notifications of possible dangers, like icebergs and pack ice. However, many messages were of the type: "To Michael and Mark: We arrive on Thursday. Looking forward to seeing you. 'Signed' Jason and John".

    It was after the Titanic's loss that it was realized how invaluable the wireless really was, and that the 24-hour watch was put into place.
     
  14. Jim Currie

    Jim Currie Member

    Hello John!

    you wrote:

    "For Captain Lord, the question will always be: if the Californian had started up its engines and started over to Titanic, would it have gotten there before 2:20 AM."

    The emphatic answer to that is NO! for reasons given after "here's another 'if'...in my last post,

    Jim.
     
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  15. >>It is if you're seeing it through the lense of your own understanding rather then the way it would have actually been seen at the time.<<

    And how do you know how it actually would have been seen at that time? I know you're younger than me Michael, and neither of us were around then. So how can you say, "That's just the way it was?" I suggest that what you are saying is just your view of how things were seeing it through the lens of your own understanding.
     
  16. I think you all should remember that after the collision of the Republic and the Florida, people began to understand the importance of wireless as safety device, so that is no excuse.

    However, my curiosity has been aroused: how much could the crew of the Californian see from the Titanic?

    If they could see the four funnels they would certainly know that being a major liner, the Titanic would have a 24 hours wireless service.

    Despite all this, a last thing must be taken into account: the Californian wireless operator was already told to shut up by Phillips when the latter was too busy sending passengers messeges. So the operator wouldn´t be willing to get through with the ill fated ship again.
     
  17. >>I simply pointed out what was different about how people might interpret things in those days. <<

    Your argument had to do with the interpretation of what "colour" meant to people in those days, if I understand your point. From what you told us, white was not considered a colour. So if some officer is taught "Rockets or shells, throwing stars of any colour or description, fired one at a time, at short intervals" meant distress, were they to assume that colourless white rockets sent up at intervals would not be considered signals of distress? Of course not. The fact that BOT approved socket signals that bursted into white stars as regulation distress signals proves that.

    By the way, I believe it was Lightoller that said they go up a couple of hundred feet, not Boxhall. And were you aware that Pitman was partially color blind?

    And by the way, I believe you are wrong about white not being considered as a colour in those days. For example, the description for private night signals of the Atlantic Transport Line registered on 20 Oct 1888 says: "Roman candle throwing six balls of the following colours: 1 green, 1 white and 1 red, to be repeated once in the same order." So I guess they actually viewed white as a colour.

    Lord's question to Stone about colour is exactly as he explained it. He knew that most company signals had colours in them. He said so. But regardless of colour, I'm sure he also knew that multiple rockets fired at intervals meant distress. What this tells me is that he was told of one rocket being seen when Stone called down to him on the speaking tube. That is supported by Gibson's story as to what Stone told him about calling down to Lord. If that's what happened, then I agree that a single isolated rocket, colors in it or not, would not in itself mean distress. But Stone, the OOW, saw multiple rockets go up at intervals. And he did nothing more about it. And his excuse was that if the master was not concerned, why should I be?

    Finally, the issue of what would have happened if Lord did find out that Titanic was in distress is, in my opinion, irrelevant. The issue is Californian's apparent indifference while a steamer was sending up rockets of distress.
     
  18. Augusto,

    The only thing that could be seen were lights. The hull, funnels, and other parts of a ship's structure were invisible even looking through glasses. Also, the vessel seen from Californian did not present a broadside view, but was mostly end on and presented a foreshortened view.

    What Evans was told by Phillips at 11 pm the night before was the typical way that operators talked to each other when one jumped in and interrupted an ongoing communication. It was not a Master Service Gram message from the commander of one vessel to the commander of another. If it were, Phillips would have been obligated to give it priority and have it acknowledged.
     
  19. Jim Kalafus

    Jim Kalafus Member

    Sam: As a former New Yorker, you might remember the notorious murder of Kitty Genovese. She was the young lady who was stabbed to death, in two separate attacks over a period of about a half hour, while 38 neighbors listened (and in a few cases watched) and no one called the police.
    http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/serial_killers/predators/kitty_genovese/1.html

    To this day, her murder is a sore point in Kew Gardens. Old timers from the neighborhood, and current neighborhood boosters, will tell you that Kitty was "loud" and "boisterous" and "Always screaming in the street." Which may have been true, but which dodges the issue that on THAT morning she was screaming "Oh my god, he just stabbed me" and later, "help" and still later incoherent wailing. Neighbors will tell you that the final attack took place in a stairwell and no one actually SAW it. They will tell you "Even if we HAD called the police sooner, she would still have died." They will ALSO tell you that there was no caller confidentially in 1965, and quite a few people who "got involved" ended up getting whacked once their names were divulged.

    In short, the current neighborhood boosters sound like a bunch of Lordites. The 1964 witnesses HAD phones. They heard, and in a few cases SAW her being attacked. They might not have saved her, but the fact is they did not even try.

    And, as repulsive as the people of Kew Gardens were on that morning, they were LESS reprehensible than Lord was. Lord was/is the equivalent of a POLICE OFFICER (fictional- there wasnt one) who listened to Kitty's prolonged death and did not run out of the house or at least pick up a telephone. Lord had, if not a legal, at least a MORAL obligation as the head of the ship, to ascertain what the irregular event being reported to him was. He might not have reached the Titanic in time. He might not have reached her by wireless, either. BUT, he did not even try, and all the second guessing and rationalizing in the world cannot alter that. He had a wireless. He had a wireless operator. Something irregular was happening, yet he utilized neither.

    He'd have been right at home in Kew Gardens, 1964.
     
  20. Jim Currie

    Jim Currie Member

    Sam,

    What individuals decided to make of whether white was a colour or not is up to the individual. - I'm telling you that in my day and in my father's day (Titanic time) school; children were taught that black and white were not colours but neutrals. Colours were the shades derived from the basic primary colours of red, yellow and blue.

    As for Pitman, I understand that it was later in life that he developed a degree of colour blindness. In that case, he would be forced to leave the deck department as colour blindness was and still is a no-no for a deck officer. Part of the examinations for BoT certificate was the sight test and the lantern box all of which used red, green and 'neutral' white!
    In any case a person who is colour blind still sees colours - they just find it difficult to differentiate one from another.

    I again refer you to your own quote:

    "7290. Do just think? - Company signals usually have some colours in them."

    Why was that question asked? In fact the problem lay with the wording of the regulations - 'rockets of any colour.'

    "Finally, the issue of what would have happened if Lord did find out that Titanic was in distress is, in my opinion, irrelevant. The issue is Californian's apparent indifference while a steamer was sending up rockets of distress."

    But that is exactly the issue! Lord was condemned on what others perceived he could and should have done but didn't. It is still happening to-day. That's why we have these hysterical arguments about the arch-evil one!

    Jim:

    You wrote:

    "Lord had, if not a legal, at least a MORAL obligation as the head of the ship, to ascertain what the irregular event being reported to him was."

    I'm afraid that's not the case. Lord only had these obligations if and when he could not rely on the information being passed to him by the man who he left in charge.

    I believe Lord told one lie - the one about Gibson's visit to him just after 2 am. What I do think happened was that Lord received a message from his 2nd. Officer via the Apprentice. Stone was ordered to do just that. Lord heard it clearly, digested what he was told and based his subsequent action on that.
    The message was to the effect that the vessel Lord had been asking for information about had finally picked-up and gone off into the night without acknowledging Californian's persistent signalling! I believe Lord based his next action - turning over and going back to sleep on the basis of that message. A perfectly rational thing to do. You and many others are basing your arguments on knowledge that Lord did not have at that time - in fact what both Inquiries did not have at the time. If Lord believed his 2nd. Officer that the other ship had stopped firing rockets and had left the scene - why on earth should he get up and go to see if the man was telling the truth or not? That is a totally unreasonable expectation. It is much like keeping a guard-dog and doing the barking and biting on it's behalf!

    Stone saw one rocket then four and told Lord about it. Lord told him to see what was going on and report. Stone never found out what was happening so he had nothing to report that would set the wheels in motion. The one definite thing he had to report was that the rocket firing ship had gone. End of story! In hind sight Lord should have told Stone to call Evans if he still got no reply after a specific time. But then hind sight's a great thing - isn't it?

    Regards,

    Jim.
     
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