by Senan Molony
In the newly-released transcript of a recording session with Captain Lord in 1961, the maligned mariner is prompted by his interviewer (Leslie Harrison, General Secretary of the Mercantile Marine Services Association) to recall a story he had obviously previously recounted.
The incident occurred on the morning of April 15, 1912, as the Californian was urgently responding to reports it had received since daylight of the Titanic sinking.
Q570. Harrison: You told me that when you were coming down the [western] side of the ice [field], Groves was – joined you on the bridge, all hands had been turned out – and he had a comment to make on the disaster. I wonder if you remember anything he said to you at the time?
Lord: I don’t remember.
Q571. Something about Lloyd’s, was it?
Lord: About what? Oh – ‘Lloyd’s will get a shock over this, won’t they, Sir?’
Q572. That was his only comment you remember?
Lord: That’s the only – all he said. ‘Lloyd’s will get a shock, won’t they?’
The reported heartless remark would depict 24-year-old Groves to be a callow, shallow youth – although the British Titanic inquiry would subsequently come to rely upon him for its preferred version of events.
Captain Lord had nothing against Groves, who was qualified as an officer.
Q138. What’s your attitude towards Gill and Groves, both of whom gave evidence which really – ?
Lord: I don’t have… I think Groves, Groves a very nice young fellow. Nothing wrong with his abilities. I think he was inclined to exaggerate a little in public…
Groves went to the Boston Herald – but on the following voyage, said Captain Lord. In the meantime Groves had claimed in Britain for the first time that he thought he had seen the Titanic.
He also thought – and wrote in a poorly-composed and ungrammatical 1957 manuscript that he thought on this morning that he had seen Titanic survivors on icefloes. He claims Captain Lord used binoculars and reported that the ‘figures’ were merely seals. No other crew member reports this incident.
Groves’ timings for the events of the ‘morning after the night before’ meanwhile clash with all of his shipmates, and with Captain Rostron of the Carpathia.
The young officer also claimed in his manuscript that he had the Californian’s wireless phones on his head at a time when the Titanic was sending out distress messages.
He did not notice the apparatus was not working, and listened to silence. But he believes he was competent in Morse code and could not have missed alerting everyone aboard his own vessel if he messages had come through.
Groves testified in London –
8283 Did you take his [the wireless operator’s] instruments and put them to your ears? — Yes.
[It was after midnight and ship’s operator Cyril Evans had gone to bed.]
8285 Did you hear anything? — Nothing at all.
8286 How long did you listen? — I do not suppose it would be more than 15 seconds at the outside — well, 15 to 30 seconds, I did it almost mechanically.
Half a minute is a very long time to be listening to silent earphones. Not even a tiny hiss, which would be familiar to anyone who claims to be au fait with wireless.
Would such a person, experienced with the system, keep dead earphones on his head for half a minute? [Try it for even fifteen seconds!]
Wireless operator Evans however testified as follows –
9044. — I do not remember Mr Groves picking the ‘phones up, but Mr Groves says so.
Which is a very careful answer… if it does not outright mean that Groves is probably lying, it does not amount to any sort of corroboration that he is telling the truth.
There is ample evidence that Charles Victor Groves is a Walter Mitty. His inquiry evidence is littered with contradictions and impossibilities.
Yet his evidence was preferred to that of his seniors.
‘I was rather sore about it, I must admit,’ says Lord at Q342 in the recordings transcript.
‘Why should a junior officer’s evidence be taken in preference to two senior officers, three senior officers – myself, the chief officer and the second officer?
‘And they take the third officer’s evidence. The junior man of all, as being the infallible man. To make their statements about us legitimate.’
But Captain Lord immediately adds: ‘No reason why Groves shouldn’t have an opinion of his own, I am not saying anything about that.’
Later, at Q377, Captain Lord states: ‘Groves wanted publicity. He went to that, I told you, he went to the Boston Herald on the next voyage, when I wasn’t there, but apparently they refused to see him.’
And at Q419. Can you describe the personal appearance of, say, Groves, in those days?
Lord: I’ve nothing against Groves, only his [he was?] - fond of publicity after everything happened. He was dying to get into -
Q420. But at the time he was an ordinary - ?
Lord: ‘An ordinary, common-or-garden officer.’
In a written extract from one of the 1961 conversations, this comment is also attributed to Captain Lord:
‘Groves was just the man [Lord] Mersey wanted. He [Groves] was dying to get publicity…’
The Titanic disaster itself got a lot of publicity. No doubt it did shock the underwriters at Lloyd’s. But it was nothing for Charles Victor Groves to smirk and preen about.
Read the fully searchable 32,000-word transcript of February and August 1961 recordings of conversations with Captain Lord
Read Extracts of Captain Lord in Conversation with Leslie Harrison
Download the transcript (PDF)
Photo of Charles Victor Groves courtesy of Claes-Göran Wetterholm