Taking some survivor accounts with a pinch of salt.


Arun Vajpey

Member
Apr 21, 2009
1,742
496
218
64
It is a human tendency to embellish a little and I suppose if any of us had been a survivor of the Titanic tragedy, the survivor statements would include a certain amount of self-glorification given the circumstances. But a few actual survivor accounts seem to stretch the edge of credibility and at least on one occasion border on the ridiculous. Since these forums are at least partly designed to be dispassionate and differentiate between the probable and the improbable where there is no proof, I picked out 4 such survivor accounts to discuss. Coincidentally (or otherwise), all of them were on the overturned Collapsible B most of the time after the ship foundered.

Colonel Archibald Gracie: At the time of his Titanic voyage, Gracie was a 53 year old none-too-fit diabetic. And yet he appears to have been more active than most following the collision. He is supposed to have run around with friend Clinch Smith (who did not survive) gathering ladies to help into boats, including lifting a pregnant Madeline Astor into Lifeboat #4. I recall reading somewhere that he and Smith helped some 36 ladies into Lifeboat #2 whereas in actuality there were only 20 or so people in it, including Boxhall. Later Gracie was supposedly helping to free Collapsible boats A & B on the roof of the Officers Mess before moving aft with Clinch Smith and getting caught in the crowd of steerage passengers emerging from below decks. He was then hit by the wave created by the ship’s forward lurch but managed to ride it and catch the ladder to the roof of the officers’ mess. Was eventually pulled under by the sinking ship’s undertow but kicked himself free to the surface, clung onto a wooden crate, saw the overturned Collapsible B and swam over to it and climbed on board. Later, after transfer to Boat #12, worked feverishly but unsuccessfully to revive a dying man.
Of course, Colonel Archibald Gracie himself died the same year in December 1912, presumably due to complications related to his diabetes and before publication of his book The Truth About the Titanic.

Charles Lightoller: After his strangely confusing and occasionally illogical decision of allowing “women & children only” into front starboard lifeboats and sending off most of them less than half full, Second Officer Lightoller reportedly refused Chief Officer Wilde’s suggestion of taking command of Collapsible D and jumped back with a crisp “Not damn likely!” He then got on to the roof of the officers’ mess and freed Collapsible B with nothing more than a borrowed penknife as the ship foundered. Dived into the water, went down with the ship and was trapped underwater against a ventilator grating. Freed by a blast of hot air from somewhere down below and was blown back to the surface, narrowly missing the falling forward funnel. Then miraculously found himself next to the upturned Collapsible B, got on board and eventually assumed command.

Harold Bride: Following his altercation with the stoker (the one who was allegedly slipping Phillips’ lifejacket off his back unnoticed) in the Marconi Room, Bride & Phillips got out to the boat deck together but according to Bride went off in opposite directions and lost contact. Bride then helped to float off Collapsible B only to end up underneath it and completely underwater. He held his breath and eventually (and presumably still wearing his lifejacket), swam out from under the boat in time to see the “beautiful” Titanic, complete with the band still playing, going down smoothly like a duck on a dive. Then got on board the overturned Collapsible B without help.
**I find this part difficult to believe from personal experience. While white-water rafting in Tully River in Queensland a few years ago, our raft capsized and I was trapped under the raft with everyone else on top. We had been specially warned not to panic in such an event because of the trapped air under the overturned raft but even so, I found it scary despite being an experienced scuba diver. I could breathe but with the lifejacket — a lightweight job compared with the bulky Titanic ones — holding me up, I could not swim down under the edge of the raft and come out to the surface. I had started to panic and was tugging clumsily at my lifejacket when the guides pulled the others off and helped me out. The water was comfortably warm and the bright daylight permeated through the thin bottom of the raft so that it was not even dark under the capsized craft but I do not want to go through that experience again.

Charles Joughin: Even allowing for his self-confessed “fortification” with alcohol, the Chief Baker’s account of his survival sounds preposterous. After throwing several deck chairs overboard to help those in the water, Joughin allegedly walked along the side of the tilting ship to the stern. After securing himself there, he rode down with the stern as it sank, letting go as the ship disappeared underwater and famously did not even get his hair wet. He then saw and swam across to the overturned Collapsible B but was pushed away when he tried to board. But he hung on to its side for ‘several hours’ with most of his body immersed in the icy cold water. Finally swam over to the other side of the boat and was helped on board by his friend, cook Maynard.
 

Arun Vajpey

Member
Apr 21, 2009
1,742
496
218
64
Be careful with this topic!
I am being careful. So careful in fact that apart from using different sequence of words, all the points mentioned are taken from either biography excerpts right here on ET or recognised works from members.
 

Adam Went

Member
Apr 28, 2003
1,194
10
233
I know this is basically the opposite of how the believability of witness testimony is normally gauged, but I would be personally more inclined to believe accounts of the sinking from years or even decades afterwards than ones in the immediate aftermath of the sinking - say, at the inquests, for example, or ones given to members of the press, or accounts written privately. The reason for this is simply that so many of those passengers would have been in shock from the events that had unfolded just days beforehand that their minds might well have not been functioning properly enough to give an accurate portrayal of events. Whereas if we take into account testimony from years later after the dust has settled, so to speak, it might be a little more accurate. It is, after all, not the sort of experience that one would be likely to forget about in a hurry.
 

Jude

Member
Apr 8, 2012
61
6
58
England
It is a human tendency to embellish a little and I suppose if any of us had been a survivor of the Titanic tragedy, the survivor statements would include a certain amount of self-glorification given the circumstances. But a few actual survivor accounts seem to stretch the edge of credibility and at least on one occasion border on the ridiculous. Since these forums are at least partly designed to be dispassionate and differentiate between the probable and the improbable where there is no proof, I picked out 4 such survivor accounts to discuss. Coincidentally (or otherwise), all of them were on the overturned Collapsible B most of the time after the ship foundered.
Hi Arun, I’ve been waiting to see what others had to say. Not a lot! I notice that you rather sardonically describe the accounts as seeming “to stretch the edge of credibility and at least on one occasion border on the ridiculous.” but don’t say why or give any reasons for your scepticism, except vaguely with Gracie:

Colonel Archibald Gracie: At the time of his Titanic voyage, Gracie was a 53 year old none-too-fit diabetic. And yet he appears to have been more active than most following the collision. He is supposed to have run around with friend Clinch Smith (who did not survive) gathering ladies to help into boats, including lifting a pregnant Madeline Astor into Lifeboat #4. I recall reading somewhere that he and Smith helped some 36 ladies into Lifeboat #2 whereas in actuality there were only 20 or so people in it, including Boxhall.
As I’ve said to others here, it really would be helpful if people could check facts before making allegations! In his book “The truth about the Titanic” Gracie states that there were 25 loaded into lifeboat 2, not 36 (see page 138)

If you read Gracie’s book, there are many acknowledgements of how he believed he found the strength to do what he did. Here are some:
From “The truth about the Titanic” Pages 59/60

It is eminently fitting, in gratitude to my Maker, that I should make the acknowledgement that I know of no recorded instance of Providential deliverance more directly attributable to cause and effect, illustrating the efficacy of prayer and how, “God helps those who help themselves.” I should have courted the fate of many hundreds of others had I supinely made no efforts to supplement my prayers with all the strength and power which He has granted to me. While I said to myself, “Goodbye to all at home” I hoped and prayed for escape. My mind was nerved to do the duty of the moment, and my muscles seemed to have hardened in preparation for any struggle that might come.
From a dockside interview by the Daily Telegraph?

"After sinking with the ship, it appeared to me as if I was propelled by some great force through the water. This might have been occasioned by explosions under the water, and I remembered fearful stories of people being boiled to death. Again and again I prayed for deliverance, although I felt sure that the end had come. I had the greatest difficulty in holding my breath until I came to the surface…"
From “The truth about the Titanic” p 91

With renewed determination and set jaws, I swam on. Just at the moment I thought that for the lack of breath I would have to give in, I seemed to have been provided with a second wind, and it was just then that the thought that this was my last moment came upon me. I wanted to convey the news of how I died to my loved ones at home. As I swam beneath the surface of the ocean, I prayed that my spirit could go to them and say, “Goodbye, until we meet again in heaven.” In this connection, the thought was in my mind or a well-authenticated experience of mental telepathy that occurred to a member of my wife’s family. Here in my case was a similar experience of a ship wrecked loved one, and I thought if I prayed hard enough that this, my last wish to communicate with my wife and daughter, might be granted.

To what extent my prayer was answered let Mrs Gracie describe in her own written words, as follows: “I was in my room at my sister’s house, where I was visiting, in New York. After retiring, being unable to rest I questioned myself several times over, wondering what it was that prevented the customary long and peaceful slumber, lately enjoyed. “What is the matter?” I uttered. A voice in reply seemed to say, “On your knees and pray.” Instantly, I literally obeyed with my prayer book in my hand, which by chance opened at the prayer, “For those at sea.” The thought then flashed through my mind, “Archie is praying for me.” I continued wide awake until just before 5 a.m., by the watch that lay beside me. About 7 a.m. I dozed a while and then got up to dress for breakfast……

But let me now resume my personal narrative. With this second wind under water there came to me a new lease of life and strength, until finally I noticed by the increase of light that I was drawing near to the surface…..
Few people have a really deep faith or have experienced the effects of answered prayer, so it’s almost impossible to accept, but I have. I have had a life-time of physical cures through prayer, plus many instances of protection and guidance. When I was a member of airline cabin crew, three or four times, Captains used the word “miracle’ (though I would not describe what happened as that), like once when we were warned of severe turbulence ahead and after securing the cabin, I sat down and prayed with the Psalm of protection, the 91st Psalm, claiming the omnipotence and omnipresence of God. Other planes just minutes in front of us, in exactly the same air space and at the same altitude, were experiencing such severe turbulence that their pilots could not read their instrument panels, but our experience was one of absolute calm, “Like a mill pond,” said the Captain, who kept asking, “What happened back there?”

Though some here may find it impossible to understand, there are some things that are not possible to explain from the basis of human logic. Gracie’s experience I find completely believable and understandable.
 

Jude

Member
Apr 8, 2012
61
6
58
England
I won’t comment on either Harold Bride or Joughin, as I really know very little about either. I am always very uncomfortable when people state their personal opinions (as if they were fact), about those who are no longer around to defend themselves.

Charles Lightoller: After his strangely confusing and occasionally illogical decision of allowing “women & children only” into front starboard lifeboats and sending off most of them less than half full, Second Officer Lightoller reportedly refused Chief Officer Wilde’s suggestion of taking command of Collapsible D and jumped back with a crisp “Not damn likely!”
Lightoller I do know a bit about and it was because of writing something about him and needing confirmation about the numbers saved on Collapsible B, that I came to this website. I’ll come back to him perhaps tomorrow, but in my personal opinion, one has to understand the thinking of the Edwardian era to try to comprehend why he made the decisions he did. What I’m sure of, is that he was doing what seemed to him the highest right. Of course, from the viewpoint of the 21st Century and with that wonderful thing called “hindsight” it is so easy to criticise.

Regarding this:

Second Officer Lightoller reportedly refused Chief Officer Wilde’s suggestion of taking command of Collapsible D and jumped back with a crisp “Not damn likely!”
I’ll let Lightoller defend himself:

I stood partly in the boat, owing to the difficulty of getting the womenfolk over a high bulwark rail just here. As we were ready for lowering, the chief came over to my side of the deck and, seeing me in the boat and no seamen available, said: “You go with her, Lightoller.”

Praises be. I had just sufficient sense to say “Not damn likely” and jump back on board, not with any idea of self-imposed martyrdom; far from it — it was just pure impulse of the moment, and an impulse that I was to thank my lucky stars a thousand times over in the days to come. I had taken my chance and gone down with the rest; consequently I didn’t have to take any old back chat from anyone.
(from 'Titanic and other ships' pages 169-170)
Considering how much “old back chat” there is against Lightoller by armchair experts today, I for one am also very grateful that he took his chance and went down with the ship.
 
Mar 18, 2008
2,505
931
248
Germany
Regarding this:



I’ll let Lightoller defend himself:



Considering how much “old back chat”￾ there is against Lightoller by armchair experts today, I for one am also very grateful that he took his chance and went down with the ship.

I would be very careful with some of what Lightoller said or wrote. Regarding collapsible D, Quartermaster Bright only said that Lightoller went out of the boat again, no mention about the conservation with Wilde. Same Steward Hardy;

When the boat was full, Mr. Lightoller was in the boat with me; and the chief officer came along and asked if the boat was full, and he said yes. He said he would step out himself and make room for somebody else, and he stepped back on board the ship and asked if I could row. I told him I could, and I went away in that boat. ... There was nobody to lower the afterfall until Mr. Lightoller went aboard to do it himself.


It's only Lightoller who mentioned that conservation with Wilde.
 

Jude

Member
Apr 8, 2012
61
6
58
England
It is a human tendency to embellish a little and I suppose if any of us had been a survivor of the Titanic tragedy, the survivor statements would include a certain amount of self-glorification given the circumstances. But a few actual survivor accounts seem to stretch the edge of credibility and at least on one occasion border on the ridiculous. Since these forums are at least partly designed to be dispassionate and differentiate between the probable and the improbable where there is no proof, I picked out 4 such survivor accounts to discuss. Coincidentally (or otherwise), all of them were on the overturned Collapsible B most of the time after the ship foundered.
In his book, “Titanic and other ships” Lightoller observes:
“However anyone that had sought refuge on the upturned Engleheart survived the night is nothing short of miraculous.....That the majority were still standing when the first faint streaks of dawn appeared is proof that whilst there is life there is still some hope”
Lightoller describes how they all prayed the Lord’s Prayer together during his BBC interview. This is the bit after he describes speaking to Jack Phillips and learning of the vital Masaba telegram that Phillips had put under a paperweight:
“Many died from cold during the night, the wireless operator amongst them and a mighty long time it seemed before daylight broke, standing wet through and up to our knees in icy water on that upturned boat. Frankly I don’t think many of us expected to see daylight At one time during the night, someone suggested we should say, “Our Father” and I don’t think it was exactly scare that made everyone join in, but you’d need to be in somewhat the same fix, where a couple of minutes may mean all the difference between, well, here and hereafter, to understand the feeling we put into it. I’ve heard that prayer ever since I was the height of six pennyworth of carpets (?) but never with such intense earnestness as the surroundings lent to it that night.” BBC - Archive - Survivors of the Titanic - I Was There | Commander CH Lightoller
 

Adam Went

Member
Apr 28, 2003
1,194
10
233
Hey Jude (pun intended),

I agree with what you say about being critical of those who are not here to defend themselves, IMO it's one of the uglier parts of being a historian. What we also have to remember in terms of the actions of the crew that night is that every decision was made in the "heat of the moment," they did not have decades up their sleeves to analyse what they should do or might have done better, as historians and researchers have since had the opportunity of doing.

Cheers,
Adam.
 
Jan 28, 2003
2,525
13
223
Pinch of salt? Anyone serious, here?

Yes, Adam, I agree. None of us knows what we might have done during the sinking, but I think we do know that praying didn't work. Some young and innocent perished, and some fairly old and worldly survived. Not much justice there then. So - nothing to do with God or religion.
 

Arun Vajpey

Member
Apr 21, 2009
1,742
496
218
64
Monica, I fully agree that what happened on the Titanic had nothing to do with God or religion. Being a relatively junior member however, I did not want to be critical of Jude's words...I thought best to ignore such ideas.

And Adam, I agree that almost all the decisions made by all concerned that night on the Titanic had to be made on the spur of the moment and without the benefit of hindsight and analysis that we now have. However, I was not referring to what actually happened on the ship that night but what some survivors said had happened afterwards - during the hearings, in their memoirs etc. It seemed to me that in certain cases there was more than a bit of embellishment and self-glorification involved.
 
Jan 28, 2003
2,525
13
223
Arun - don't worry about what your membership status is. I don't think it means anything in terms of validity or soundness of argument. Just say what you think. I often write complete rubbish, despite being a senior member, as many people will attest. Especially Bob Godfrey, Jim C., Jim K., Senan, Inger, Paul, Phil, numerous Daves, and more others than I care to remember.
 
Dec 2, 2000
58,649
569
483
Easley South Carolina
On what Adam said about being judgemental being one of the uglier aspects of historical research, I have to conceed that he has a perfectly valid point. One where the prudent historian needs to walk a very fine line. Objective historical research means that at some point, one has to make some judgements. It's one of the inevitable concequences of the game that one needs to call it as it actually is.

By the same token, it behooves to be very careful of the judgements we make because the people involved didn't have the benefit of seeing the whole picture the way we can after a hundred years of research. They had to make do with the information they had which was far from complete and couldn't always be trusted.

As far as religion goes, and seeing it through the lens of current sensibilities, the only thing I can say is that this is extremely dicey ground. Not everybody agrees on such matters, even when they identify with the same creed. In light of that, it's wiser overall to keep the theology out of here, if only to avoid stepping on somebody's toes.
 

Jude

Member
Apr 8, 2012
61
6
58
England
Adam and Michael, (and everyone)

Thank you for your comments. I am without a phone line - so no broadband. This is a quick one from work.

As far as religion goes, and seeing it through the lens of current sensibilities, the only thing I can say is that this is extremely dicey ground. Not everybody agrees on such matters, even when they identify with the same creed. In light of that, it's wiser overall to keep the theology out of here, if only to avoid stepping on somebody's toes.
I'm not talking about religion or theology. The way I read Arun's OP was that he was basically saying that these things (the experiences of some of the survivors of Collapsible B) couldn't have really happened because they didn't fit the way things are supposed to work. And because they didn't fit the accepted pattern, the explanation must be that the stories were made up. That's what I'm challenging! Anyway, I'll be back when I can.
 

Arun Vajpey

Member
Apr 21, 2009
1,742
496
218
64
The way I read Arun's OP was that he was basically saying that these things (the experiences of some of the survivors of Collapsible B) couldn't have really happened because they didn't fit the way things are supposed to work. And because they didn't fit the accepted pattern, the explanation must be that the stories were made up.
I said nothing of the kind. Nothing will alter the fact that Gracie, Lightoller, Bride and Joughin were struggling on the Titanic till almost the very end and somehow made it onto the upturned Collapsible B to survive. That in itself would have been a feat and I am not challenging that at all. But their later accounts of how it all happened sounded somewhat exaggerated,

It is just an opinion and not a criticism. Had I been one of the survivors on Collapsible A or B, I am sure that I would have embellished my experiences a bit while reporting it later.
 

Jim Currie

Member
Apr 16, 2008
5,656
856
323
NewtonMearns, Glasgow, Scotland.
Just a quick one! (something there about Games Mistresses and Gardeners I think?)

The problem with trying to make sense out of the second, third and even fourth hand versions of an event starts with the person relating what he or she heard while not fully understanding what was being seen or said.
Then to compound the felony, there is the reporter taking notes who equally hasn't a bloody clue, is unable to form a mental picture, becomes bored during the telling. Add to this, poetic licence and commercial pressure, light the touch-paper, then stand back!

Jim C.
 
Dec 2, 2000
58,649
569
483
Easley South Carolina
>>The way I read Arun's OP was that he was basically saying that these things (the experiences of some of the survivors of Collapsible B) couldn't have really happened because they didn't fit the way things are supposed to work. And because they didn't fit the accepted pattern, the explanation must be that the stories were made up.<<

While this appears to be a strawman (An attack on an arguement which wasn't made as opposed to the one which WAS made) you're going to have to account for the possibility...the probability even...that in some instances, this was exactly what happened. To compound the problem, it's entirely possibly that a witness may actually believe something even though it isn't true.

For a fuller understanding of this problem, click on: confabulation - The Skeptic's Dictionary - Skepdic.com

You might do well to take note of what Captain Jim said as well since these are also very common problems.
 

Adam Went

Member
Apr 28, 2003
1,194
10
233
Hi Michael & Arun,

Thank you both for your comments. It is difficult because there will always be a researcher out there who wants their opinions to be heard, so even if the majority of us say that we should ease up on our criticism of the crew that night, there will always be a minority who will be ultra-critical and who will keep such theories and thoughts in the public eye.

One must also remember that survivor accounts in the immediate aftermath of the sinking were given to journalists. Despite journalism and writing being my own trade, i'll be the first to concede that journalists often hunt the big stories that are going to make headlines, and especially a century ago when there was little or no regulation of the industry, would either coax weary and shocked survivors into giving accounts that might not necessarily be accurate, or embellish survivor accounts on their own accord. Hence where the problem starts, throughout history there are numerous instances where much of what we have to rely on comes from the press, and yet at the same time we know that the press reports are littered with errors.

Cheers,
Adam.
 

Adam Went

Member
Apr 28, 2003
1,194
10
233
Hi Michael & Arun,

Thank you both for your comments. It is difficult because there will always be a researcher out there who wants their opinions to be heard, so even if the majority of us say that we should ease up on our criticism of the crew that night, there will always be a minority who will be ultra-critical and who will keep such theories and thoughts in the public eye.

One must also remember that survivor accounts in the immediate aftermath of the sinking were given to journalists. Despite journalism and writing being my own trade, i'll be the first to concede that journalists often hunt the big stories that are going to make headlines, and especially a century ago when there was little or no regulation of the industry, would either coax weary and shocked survivors into giving accounts that might not necessarily be accurate, or embellish survivor accounts on their own accord. Hence where the problem starts, throughout history there are numerous instances where much of what we have to rely on comes from the press, and yet at the same time we know that the press reports are littered with errors.

Cheers,
Adam.
 

Similar threads

Similar threads