The army of firemen who left Titanic at Southampton


P

philip whittick

Guest
In “The Riddle of the Titanic”￾ (Robin Gardiner, Van Der Vat) it is said that "only one of the firemen serving the great boilers on the preliminary run from Belfast to Southampton signed on again for the maiden voyage. The rest, even though they must have been short of money as a result of the long coal strike just ended, forwent the chance of continued employment and sought employment elsewhere”￾.
I have seen 167 firemen listed in the Titanic’s crew (surely the highest number of ratings (with a common title) in any single crew department) and yet it is alleged that they left the ship en masse.
Surely there must have been some strong reason for this. Were labour relations very bad in the engine department? Or perhaps working conditions very poor. “Voting with their feet”￾ was a good career move for those firemen, as it turned out, but I am intrigued to know what prompted their mass exodus from Titanic. Something must have upset them. Is anything known about this? I would be grateful for any info.

Phil Whit
 

Dave Hudson

Member
Apr 15, 2011
503
0
71
You say you got the information from Gardiner. That explains your problem. Mr. Gardiner is imfamous for constantly rearranging facts (or just making them up) in order to sound mysterious and sell books. If anything, he is the nemisis of all serious Titanic historians. His literary goal in life seems to be to perpetuate myths and promote general ingnorance in the Titanic community.

David
 

Dave Gittins

Member
Apr 11, 2001
5,015
248
333
Actually, for once Gardiner is about right!

At Belfast Titanic took on a crew of what were termed "runners", perhaps because they signed on for one run only. The list of them is on this site.

Almost all the runners, especially the firemen and trimmers, returned to Belfast and only a few stayed with Titanic. They went back to Belfast simply because they lived there and were not interested in going away. With ships always coming and going at Belfast they could always get another short job.

In other respects, I agree with David Hudson's remarks. Gardiner is a notoriously bad source of facts and a worse interpreter of facts.
 
P

philip whittick

Guest
Thank you David and Dave. Wasn’t it Darrel Huff who wrote that book called “How to Lie with Statistics”￾? That explanation about the “runners”￾ puts the situation in an entirely new light. I don’t know exactly what the firemen did - I am assuming they worked loading the coal in to the furnaces. They would surely need to have had a lot of stamina and strong, tough physiques. The general population then was undernourished and in poor shape (as was discovered by British Army medical practitioners in 1914). My point is that these men were essential to the functioning of the vessel and not every unemployed man could do their job. I found it inconceivable that regular firemen seeking employment would not want to sail on the newest, most prestigious vessel then afloat. Mr Gardiner implies that the absence of the firemen might be connected to their knowledge of the bunker fire that was burning on the voyage from Belfast to Southampton.

(“Rearranging facts to sound mysterious and sell books”￾.) Seems to me thats about it! Thanks for putting me straight.

Regards

Phil
 
Dec 2, 2000
58,641
457
453
Easley South Carolina
I suspect trying to twist the mundane or the irrelevant around to put some kind of sinister implication to it seems to be standard operating proceedure for Gardiner and Van Der Tat. Politicians have no corner on the spin control market. Conspiracy theorists of every stripe have been at it for a very long time.

And you're pretty much right about what it took to be a fireman on a coal fired vessel. It was long, hard back breaking work requiring an especially tough and even ruthless breed of man to do. If you have John Maxtone-Graham's "The Only Way To Cross", read pages 145-151 as he discusses this very subject.

As to the bunker fire, that one wasn't the major deal it's often made out to be. Smouldering fires like this happened often enough on coal fueled ships, but were dealt with by using the coal in the bunker and putting out the fire once they got to it. It was an irritant, and not as rare an occurrance as they might have wished, but hardly the sort of thing to really scare anyone off the ship.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 
M

Mac Smith

Guest
There was a mass exodus of firemen off a White Star ship in Englad a short time after the sinking. They left, they said, because they were concerned about the condition of the lifeboats of the ship they were assigned to.

Mac Smith
 
P

philip whittick

Guest
The incident that Mac refers to is mentioned in Gardiner’s book and is reported to have happened on the 24th of April 1912 in the immediate aftermath of the sinking.
Apparently 284 firemen on the Olympic refused duty just before the ship set sail for New York. The reason for the protest was the men’s misgivings about the safety standards of the lifeboats added to the Olympic’s equipment because of the disaster. Apparently, of the 40 boats added, 16 were then offloaded because there were fewer passengers than expected - and this action was misunderstood by the crew.
I think these “misgivings” are very understandable when one remembers that less than two weeks earlier 132 of their fellow firemen were lost on their sister ship Titanic.

There certainly were an army of firemen on these ships and as Michael says they were not only tough men doing a very tough job but they might even be described as having a “ruthless” streak. Is it any wonder that they had a reputation for being “bolshie”? They must have had a lot of collective strength and the ship really could not sail without them if they all stood together. If they had a problem on board Titanic they would surely have stayed and sorted it out not just pack their bags and leave.

I have heard a lot about this book “The only way to Cross”. I will check to see if it is in my local library. Thanks for the details and page reference, Michael.

Regards

Phil
 
Dec 2, 2000
58,641
457
453
Easley South Carolina
Mac Smith: I think you'll find the White Star ship was the RMS Olympic. Ultimately, they were unable to get enough replacements and White Star was forced to cancel the voyage.

Phil: If you want this book, try the local Barnes & Noble. They've been putting hardcover copies up in the bargain section lately. Occasionally, you can find a softcover in the Transportation section. Some of the material is rather dated in light of recent research, but if you want a good general history on the trans-Atlantic liner trade, this one is tough to beat. Unlike Gardiner's work, it's a lot more reliable.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 

Dave Gittins

Member
Apr 11, 2001
5,015
248
333
In brief, after the disaster, White Star equipped Olympic with numerous extra boats, many Berthon collapsibles. Some of the crew claimed they were unsafe and walked off. The dispute grew from that point into a major song and dance because White Star tried to bring in scab labour. The crew claimed that these men were unskilled and criminals to boot. White Star had 53 of them charged with failing to obey a lawful command and they were tried in Portsmouth. All were convicted but the court was sympathetic and imposed no penalty. This was because it was felt that the men were influenced by the Titanic disaster and would not normally have behaved in such a way.
 
P

philip whittick

Guest
When I worked on Liners, ship-owners would do anything to try and break a strike or dispute. I recall an incident that occurred on the Empress of Britain sometime in the late 1950’s. The ship was docked at Liverpool, about to sail for Greenock, and then on to Quebec, with a full load of passengers, when there was a dispute in the galley. A substantial number of kitchen staff trooped ashore to hold a meeting on the quay. When the ship’s hooter started to blow someone announced confidently “Don’t worry lads! She can’t sail without us”. Of course the next thing they know is that the Empress is chugging past them all on its way to Greenock: I believe their wives and families got quite a shock when they all returned home red-faced, with nothing to wear but their chef’s hats and cooks gear. Incidents like that were meant to teach the crew that no one was indispensable — anyone could, and would be replaced.

Employers were always particularly hard-nosed after a major dispute like the coal strike so I suppose it is not surprising that White Star tried to come down hard on the Olympic’s firemen in 1912. In the event they had to cancel the sailing so they did not seem to achieve their objectives. I’ll bet the ship-owners (or at least the engineer- officers) breathed a huge sigh of relief when oil eventually replaced coal.

BTW Michael, We do not seem to have Barnes and Noble, here in the UK. I have however just taken delivery of Eaton and Haas, Titanic, Triumph and Tragedy. What a beauty. All those lovely pictures and documents.

Regards

Phil
 

Similar threads