When we sleep we die

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Alex McLean

Guest
Hello all,
I've been meaning to ask this for a while now. Lowe, as many of us are awear of, was asleep when the iceberg was struck and remained so until he woke and saw passengers on deck with their lifebelts on.
Why, then, was Lowe asleep at this point when his watch was supposed to start at midnight? Would one of the other officers come to wake him, or would the officers wake on their own accord and come to the bridge when their watch started, or presumably a few minutes beforehand?
Any information would be greatly appreciated,
My best,
happy.gif

Alex
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>Why, then, was Lowe asleep at this point when his watch was supposed to start at midnight?<<

I would bet on Occam's razor here. He was asleep because even though he was due on watch, he had not awakened or been awakened. When he said "When we sleep, we die." he knew what he was talking about. The watch rotation was such that a strieght 8 hours uninteruppted sleep was an impossibility. In addition to watch obligations, an officer would have any number of collateral duties to attend to. This leads to a situation where sleep is a valued and often elusive commodity. While not quite as bad now, even today, watch rotations and day to day duties in addition to that can still be trying in the extreme.
 

Inger Sheil

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Dec 3, 2000
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A QM would have woken him in the normal course of events, Alex. Unfortunately that didn't happen. I wonder if, having found Lightoller and Pitman awake, Boxhall's attempt to wake Lowe was rather perfunctory. Michael's comments are on the mark - and judging from what Moody wrote home, the junior officers were already exhausted before the ship sailed.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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And they didn't get much of a break inport either. There was the matter of getting the passengers, their baggage and the cargo off and getting the ship ready for the return voyage. Taking on stores, mails, checking manifests and bills of lading, victuals, and then there was the always much anticipated and popular (NOT!!!!) evolution of fueling the ship. This involved taking on coal in three hundred pound buckets, getting it into the bunkers, getting it all trimmed up, and then cleaning up the ship of all that black dust which stettled into every nook and cranny in existance.

Guess who got to supervise all of it!

While being an officer may have appeared glamourous to an outsider, you can bet that those who did the job had a very different view of it. Especially knowing that the Able Bodied Seamen often got more rest. It was tough work and only some really tough individuals survived it.
 
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Alex McLean

Guest
Mike and Inger,
Thanks for your input. I thought it would have been a quartermaster's job to awaken the officers. I realise the sleeping and on duty hours for the junior officers was pretty draining, and with the preperations in Southampton which you both mentioned, but I had no idea that someone like an AB got more rest.
What are the watch rotations like now for an officer on a ship? Have they changed much?
Many thanks for both of your responces and for clearing up some thoughts of mine,
happy.gif

Alex
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>What are the watch rotations like now for an officer on a ship? Have they changed much?<<

It depends on the service. In the U.S. Navy, I noticed it was something like 4 on, 8 off but with day to day duties still staring them in the face, and watch times changing depending on how the dog watches fell. Things may be different in the merchent marine.
 
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mark garfien

Guest
In an average voyage in 1912 would a senior officer, lose as much sleep as a jounior officer would.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>In an average voyage in 1912 would a senior officer, lose as much sleep as a jounior officer would.<<

Very likely, yes. They might in fact stand to lose more because they still had to stand their regular watch rotation on the bridge, which was the same for juniors as it was for the senior officers. They would then have been obliged to attend to any additional responsibilities that came with the rank outside of their normal watchstanding before they could even think of racking out.

Rank may have it's priviledges, but it has it's drawbacks too, and it's still a problem today.
 
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mark garfien

Guest
Thank you for your response to my question Mr. Standart.
 

Dave Gittins

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Apr 11, 2001
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I beg to disagree with Michael.

On White Star ships, the senior officers had a great advantage over the juniors. The juniors worked four hours on and four hours off all the time, plus the dog watches. They never got more than about 3½ hours sleep at a stretch. This was not a good idea, as the juniors did most of the navigating.

The seniors worked four hours on and eight hours off. It's true that they had to make rounds of the ship at the end of each watch, but they still could sleep for seven hours or so at a time. I know who I'd rather be!

White Star was behind the times. Cunard's officers worked four hours on and eight off, regardless of rank. On some lines, all officers worked four hours on and four off when inshore or in potentially dangerous situations. This had the effect of slightly increasing the number of eyes on the bridge.
 
Mar 22, 2003
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I agree with Dave on this. The S/O's had nominally 4 on 8 off each day. The J/O's had 4 on and 4 off, but the dog watches made a mess of that too.

Consider a typical "48+ hour" period on a westbound trip starting at Midnight:

4.4 hrs on, 4 hrs off, 4 hrs on, 4 hrs off, 2 hrs on, 2 hrs off, 4.4 hrs on ending Midnight.

Then for the next day starting with 4.4 hrs off, 4 hrs on, 4 hrs off, 4 hrs on, 2 hrs off, 2 hrs on, 4.4 hrs off, then Midnight again, and cycle repeats. That had to be hard.
 

Jim Currie

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Lowe would have been called at 'one bell' quarter to the hour. The clocks were due to be retarded at midnight but had not been when the vessel struck just before 'one bell'. The QM doing the calling would most likely have been Olliver but we know he was otherwise occupied as were all the rest. I also think that Lowe was the second last in the pecking order. I don't think he was into the 'class business' which , and until recently flourished in Cunard, P&O and other such 'Puckah' british companies. I think Boxhall didn't call him because at the time there was no need to - that was the duty of a lesser member of the bridge team.
 
Mar 22, 2003
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Jim.

Actually Lowe was also called when Boxhall was sent to call upon Lightoller and Pitman. But apparently he didn't immediately turn out. The other two were already awake.

Senator SMITH. You did not feel the impact?
Mr. LOWE. I never felt anything.
Senator SMITH. You do not know how long that was?
Mr. LOWE. I have not the slightest idea of the time, sir, because I had Greenwich time on me, and I did not look at my watch.
Senator SMITH. You were not aroused from your slumber by anyone?
Mr. LOWE. No, sir. Mr. Boxhall, the fourth officer, told me that he told me that we had struck an iceberg, but I do not remember it.
Senator SMITH. You do not remember his telling you that?
Mr. LOWE. I do not remember his telling me that.
Senator SMITH. That is, while you were -
Mr. LOWE. It must have been while I was asleep. You must remember that we do not have any too much sleep and therefore when we sleep we die.

You are of course correct about Olliver, the standby QM at the time, being the one to call upon the off duty junior officers at one bell. And as you say, the clocks were to be set back at midnight, which would have delayed one bell by the setback time as well as when the watch would have changed. Those on duty at the time expected to spend a little more than 20 minutes extra on watch because of that.
 

Jim Currie

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Sam,

I read this differently.

Lowe was 'dead to the world. Was not called- heard nothing. Must have been asleep. Boxhall told him afterwards but he doesn't remember when.

Cheers,

Jim
 
Mar 22, 2003
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Well I guess we read it very differently. I believe Lowe didn't remember Boxhall telling him the ship struck an iceberg because he must have been what we call half asleep. He only remembered Boxhall telling him that he (Boxhall) told him that. If you are suggesting that the "it" in his words "it must have been" was referring to the collision, then I must disagree because it would have been obvious to Lowe that whatever happened ocurred while he was asleep and would not have used to word "must" in that statement. From the context, in my opinion, it is clear that the "it" was referring to the time that Boxhall would have told him that the ship collided with an iceberg. Since Lowe never awoke from his slumber, he just never remembered being told.

Lowe's, Pitman's and Lightoller's cabins were all together on the port side of the officer's quarters. The most aft cabin on the port side was Moody's, but he was on watch. Then came Lowe's, then Pitman's, then Lightoller's. So why would Boxhall go only to call on Pitman and Lightoller when Lowe's cabin was right there next to Pitman's, and the boats were being uncovered at that time?
 

Inger Sheil

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My interpretation has always been along the same lines as yours, Sam - from the context, it seems quite clear to me that Lowe is stating that Boxhall told him later that he had attempted to wake and give him the same message that he gave Lightoller and Pitman, and that Lowe did not consciously register the words. As I speculated above, given that he found Lightoller and Pitman already awake and aware something had happened, I wonder if Boxhall might have been a bit perfunctory in his attempt to wake Lowe.
 

Tom McLeod

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I'm with Inger and Sam on this one, for the reasons they have stated. To put oneself into the junior officers mindset, with their long hours and the dog watch, it could be very hard to rouse a chap who was in the middle of a "rem" cycle! I think many of us can think of times when we are worn out from some type of work and when we are checked on to see if we are up to getting up, we just keep sleeping. If Boxhall shook Lowe awake and flipped on Lowe's cabin light, that would be different; but also quite rude and in my mind many of the Junior officers and other staff at this time in the evening where thinking the ship might stay afloat longer or not sink at all.
 

Tom McLeod

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Sep 1, 2005
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Also, Lowe certainly wasn't the first to slowly get up to speed on the situation. Quarter Master Rowe was on the late side of being up to speed with the evacuation situation; his story seems far more puzzeling then Officer Lowe's for Rowe was on duty! Plus when a mail clerk reported earlier to Officer Boxhall that water was coming into the mail room Boxhall exclaimed "that's funny." I think a fair amount of disbelieve was in the air that night.
 

Jim Currie

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Apr 16, 2008
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Hi Folks!

From what I read, it seems that no attempt was made to alert the off-duty officers until Boxhall returned from his double journey below. (where did you get the "that's funny" remark Tom?).
Lightholler distinctly states in 13765:'no one came to call us'.(because there did not seem a pressing need to do so).
I suspect they were called when the order was given to uncover the boats. Two were already awake so only one call was actually necessary.

The curious thing about this part of the story is the 'noise'. Lightholler claimed he went out on deck within minutes of Boxhall telling him the mail room was flooded. He also claimed there was a terrible noise of escaping steam which prevented verbal communication with crew members stripping boats.
Lowe says he was awakened by lady passengers talking outside his accommodation but makes no mention of steam. He also claimed he knew nothing of the berg until meeting somebody on deck who told him the ship had struck ice.
From that, one would think that in fact, Lowe was on deck before Lightholler. Was he? and did he used the cross allyway to go over to the starboard side at first?

As Lightholler suggests - engine noise or lack of it is usually enough to awaken even the soundest of sleepers at sea. Routine and monotony usually make sure of that. I am reminded of the 'One 0' Clock Gun' story.

It does not ring true that Lowe was partially awakened by the news that his ship was probably sinking and was so sleep drugged that the significance of it failed to penetrate.

I suggest this alternative:

Boxhall was told to get the others out of bed and onto the job of clearing boats and making them ready. He went round to the quarters and found Lightholler and the other guy already awake. If Lowe's cabin was second from the end he was in fact end of the line as far as notification was concerned.
Boxhall was already running on full nervous revs - his mind full of all sorts of orders and horrors. I think, in the excitement of the moment, he plain forgot to call Lowe and later remembered with dismay and guilt that he had done so. When or if confronted by Lowe, he probably blustered by saying to his junior something like ' where have you been? I called you ages ago'. To which Lowe would indignantly reply; ' rubbish! you never did call me'.
The obvious defense would be 'you must have been half asleep and didn't hear me'.

Lowe seems to have been proud of his abilities and certainly exhibited an alert, well ordered mind if his claims of organising survivors in the lifeboats are anything to go by.

As for Cabin lights and rude awakenings - believe me, the trick used to be: knock loudly, rattle the curtain rings, yell 'one bell' switch on the light - all in one sweeping action then run like hell! There was nothing more sure to get a sleepy head's avid attention. OK! not pleasant but had the desired effect. I stress ; this was only used against 'sleepy heads' but the light was most definitely switched firmly on.
If it was off again at the 'five-to' call then 'questions' were asked.
At sea, the initial responsibility lies with the caller to ensure that his shipmates are relieved on time thus also ensuring there is continuity in the safe management of the vessel. The only defense for the 'Called' is that he 'wasn't' (called).


If indeed Boxhall did call Lowe and the man did turn over and go back to sleep then Boxhall was most definitely culpable. Had Lowe not awakened as he did, Boxhall would have been directly responsible for that man's death.

The bottom line might just be that Lowe was not called because he was already on deck when Boxhall visited Lightholler. He would not remember having been called because he wasn't and perversely, at a later time, asked Boxhall why he hadn't been.

Cheers,

Jim.