Second Officer Lightoller's memoir of the Titanic sinking was published in 1934.
LOSS OF THE “TITANIC”
From the Oceanic as First, I was appointed to the Titanic of tragic memory, as First, and three very contented chaps took the midnight boat for Belfast, where she was completing. Murdoch, Chief, your humble, First, and Davy Blair, Second; Captain E.J. Smith, Commodore of the Line came over a little later on. Captain Smith, or “E.J.” as he was familiarly and affectionately known, was quite a character in the shipping world. Tall, full whiskered and broad. At first sight you would think to yourself “Here’s a typical Western Ocean Captain.” “Bluff, hearty, and I’ll bet he’s got a voice like a foghorn.” As a matter of fact, he had a pleasant quiet voice and invariable smile. A voice he rarely raised above a conversational tone—not to say he couldn’t; in fact, I have often heard him bark an order that made a man come to himself with a bump. He was a great favourite, and a man any officer would give his ears to sail under. I had been with him many years, off and on, in the mail boats, Majestic, mainly, and it was an education to see him con his own ship up through the intricate channels entering New York at full speed. One particularly bad corner, known as the South-West Spit, used to make us fairly flush with pride as he swung her round, judging his distances to a nicety; she heeling over to the helm with only a matter of feet to spare between each end of the ship and the banks.
For some time previous to being appointed to the Titanic “E.J.” had been in command of the Olympic—since she was launched in fact. Murdoch also came from the Olympic, whilst Blair and I were from the Oceanic.
It is difficult to convey any idea of the size of a ship like the Titanic, when you could actually walk miles along decks and passages, covering different ground all the time. I was thoroughly familiar with pretty well every type of ship afloat, from a battleship and a barge, but it took me fourteen days before I could with confidence find my way from one part of that ship to another by the shortest route. As an instance of size, there was a huge gangway door through which you could drive a horse and cart on the starboard side aft. Three other officers, joining later, tried for a whole day to find it. No doubt with the help of a plan, it would have been fairly simple, but a sailor does not walk round with a plan in his pocket, he must carry his ship in his head, and in an emergency such as fire must be able to get where he wants by sheer instinct—certainly without a chance of getting lost on the way.
[A brief digression on modern (1930s) fire equipment is omitted, ed.]
Putting a new ship in commission is, at the best of times, a pretty strenuous job. With the Titanic, it was night and day work, organizing here, receiving stores there, arranging duties, trying and testing out the different contrivances, makers of the hundred and one instruments with their chits to be signed certifying that this, that, and the other was in perfect working order. All the navigation instruments fell to my lot, as also did firearms and ammunition.
These latter are looked on mostly as ornaments in the modern ship. Revolvers, rifles and bayonets in the Merchant Service, are rather superfluous. A man governs by accepted discipline, tact, his own personality, and good common sense. We have no King’s Regulations to back us up; neither do we need them; nor yet do we require firearms, except on the rarest occasions. Curiously enough, the Titanic was to prove the only occasion at sea that I have ever seen firearms handed out, and even then it was not Britishers they were used to influence.
After running our trials we finally took over from the builders and proceeded round to Southampton. It was clear to everybody on board that we had a ship that was going to create the greatest stir British shipping circles had ever known. For one thing she was the first ship to be fitted with a third screw, driven by a low-powered turbine. For manœuvering, the two wing screws alone were used, but once clear of the land, steam from low-pressure cylinders was turned into this turbine, and undoubtedly gave her a wonderful turn of speed.
Unfortunately, whilst in Southampton, we had a re-shuffle amongst the Senior Officers. Owing to the Olympic being laid up, the ruling lights of the White Star Line thought it would be a good plan to send the Chief Officer of the Olympic, just for the one voyage, as Chief Officer of the Titanic, to help, with his experience of her sister ship. This doubtful policy threw both Murdoch and me out of our stride; and, apart from the disappointment of having to step back in our rank, caused quite a little confusion. Murdoch, from Chief, took over my duties as First, I stepped back on Blair’s toes as Second, and picked up the many threads of his job, whilst he,--luckily for him as it turned out—was left behind. The other officers remained the same. However, a couple of days in Southampton saw each of us settled in our new positions and familiar with our duties. Board of Trade surveys were carried out to everyone’s satisfaction. Lifeboats and all life-saving equipment tested, exercised and passed. “Fireworks” (distress rockets, distress signals, blue lights, etc.) examined, tried and approved. All these and a hundred and one other details pertaining to a crack Atlantic Liner preparing for sea were gone through. Being a new ship, and the biggest in the world, even more scrupulous care was exercised than is usual, or applies to a ship on her settled run. The Board of Trade Surveyor, Captain Clark, certainly lived up to his reputation as being the best cursed B.O.T. representative in the South of England at that time. Many small details, that another surveyor would have taken in his stride accepting the statement of the officer concerned was not good enough for Clark. He must see everything, and himself check every item that concerned the survey. He would not accept anyone’s word as sufficient—and got heartily cursed in consequence. He did his job, and I’ll certainly say he did it thoroughly.
At last sailing day arrived, and from end to end the ship, which for days had been like a nest of bees, now resembled a hive about to swarm.
As “zero” hour drew near, so order could be seen arriving out of chaos. On the stroke of the hour the gangway was lowered, the whistle blew, ropes were let go, and the tugs took the strain.
She was away.
Before she cleared the dock we had a striking example of the power that lay in those engines and propellers.
The Oceanic and New York were lying moored to the wharf alongside each other. They happened to be in a position where theTitanic had to make a slight turn, which necessitated coming astern on her port engine. The terrific suction set up in that shallow water simply dragged both these great liners away from the wharf. The New York broke adrift altogether, and the Oceanic was dragged off until a sixty-foot gangway dropped from the wharf into the water. It looked as if nothing could save the New York crashing into the Titanic’s stern—in fact, it was only Captain Smith’s experience and resource that saved her. The Titanic, of course, dwarfed these two ships and made them look like cross-channel boats, and the wash from her screws had a corresponding influence. Just as a collision seemed inevitable, Captain Smith gave theTitanic a touch ahead on her port engine, which simply washed the New York away, and kept her clear until a couple of tugs, to our unbounded relief, got hold, and took her back alongside the wharf.
[See The New York Incident]
To the casual observer the whole incident would have been just a thrill—perhaps not much more even though there had been a collision. For us it would have been something much deeper. It is difficult to describe just exactly where that unity of feeling lies, between a ship and her crew, but it is surely there, in every ship that sails salt water. It is not always a feeling of affection either. A man can hate a ship worse than he can a human being, although he sails on her. Likewise, a ship can hate her men, then she frequently becomes known as a “killer,” and in the days of sail, would regularly kill a man voyage after voyage.
The greatest care had to be taken whilst threading our way down the then comparatively shallow channel of Southampton Water and eventually out to Spithead. There was a general feeling of relief when at last we got her into her proper element, deep water.
Each day, as the voyage went on, everybody’s admiration of the ship increased; for the way she behaved, for the total absence of vibration, for her steadiness even with the ever-increasing speed, as she warmed up to her work.
As day followed day, officers and men settled down into the collar, and duty linked up with duty until the watches went by without pause or hitch. We were not out to make a record passage; in fact the White Star Line invariably run their ships at reduced speed for the first few voyages. It tells in the long run, for the engines of a ship are very little different from the engines of a good car, they must be run in. Take the case of the Oceanic. She steadily increased her speed from 19½ knots to 21½ when she was twelve years old. It has often been said that had not the Titanic been trying to make a passage, the catastrophe would never have occurred.
Nothing of the kind.
She was certainly making good speed that night of April 14th, but not her best—nothing compared with what she would have been capable, in say a couple of years’ time. The disaster was just due to a combination of circumstances that never occurred before and can never occur again. That may sound like a sweeping statement, yet it is a fact.
All during that fatal day the sea had been like glass—an unusual occurrence for that time of the year—not that that caused any great worry. Again, there had been an extremely mild winter in the Arctic, owing to which, ice from the ice cap and glaciers had broken away in phenomenal quantities, and official reports say that never before or since has there been known to be such quantities of icebergs, growler, field ice and float ice, stretching down with the Labrador current. In my fifteen years’ experience on the Atlantic I had certainly never seen anything like it—not even in the South Atlantic when, in the old days of sailing ships, we used to sometimes go down to 65º south.
These were just some contributory causes that combined and brought into existence, conditions of which the officers of the ship were to a great extent ignorant.
Wireless reports were coming in through the day from various ships, of ice being sighted in different positions. Nor was that anything unusual at this time of the year, and none of the reports indicated the extent of the ice seen. A report would read “iceberg (or icebergs) sighted in such and such a latitude and longitude.” Later on in the day we did get reports of ice sighted in larger quantities, and also two reports of field ice, but they were in positions that did not affect us. The one vital report that came through but which never reached the bridge, was received at 9-40 p.m. from the Mesaba stating “Ice report in Latitude 42ºN to 41º 25N. Long. 49º to Long. 50º 30W. Saw much heavy pack ice, and great number large icebergs. Also field ice. Weather good, clear. Phillips, the wireless operator on watch who received the message was not to know the extreme urgency of the warning or hat we were at the time actually entering the area given by the Mesaba, and are literally packed with icebergs, field ice and growlers. He was very busy working wireless messages to and from Cape Race, also with his accounts. The junior operator, Bride, of course, knew nothing about this vital warning, being off duty, and turned-in. Later, when standing with others on the upturned boat, Phillips [*he may mean Bride since Phillips was lost] explained when I said that I did not recollect any Mesaba report: “I just put the message under a paperweight at my elbow, just until I squared up what I was doing before sending it to the Bridge.” That delay proved fatal and was the main contributory cause to the loss of that magnificent ship and hundreds of lives. Had I as Officer of the Watch, or the Captain, become aware of the peril lying so close ahead and not instantly slowed down or stopped, we should have been guilty of culpable and criminal negligence.
For the last hour of my watch on that never-to-be-forgotten night I had taken up a stationary position on the bridge, where I had an unobstructed view right ahead, and perhaps a couple of points on either bow. That did not signify that I was expecting to see ice, but that there was the possibility of seeing ice, as there always is when crossing
The Banks; ice may be sighted. In point of fact, under normal conditions, we should have probed to be well south of the usual ice limit; only in this case the ice limit had moved very many miles south, due solely to the immense amount of ice released in the Arctic.
In ordinary circumstances the cold current carrying the icebergs south, strikes the warm current flowing to the north-east and under-runs in— that is to say the cold current goes under the warm current, on the same principle that warm water always rises. The effect of this is to melt the iceberg around the water line. It soon “calves” or breaks up into smaller pieces, which again break up, continuing to float in the warm surface current for a short time, until completely melted. And so the work of disintegration goes on in an ever increasing ratio, thereby forming the “ice limit.”
It is often said you can tell when you are approaching ice, by the drop in temperature. The answer to that is, open a refrigerator door when the outside temperature is down, and see how close you have to get before you detect a difference. No, you would have to be uncomfortably close to “smell” ice that way.
Ten p.m. came and with it the change of the officers’ Watches. On the bridge, after checking over such things as position, speed and so forth, the officers coming on deck usually have a few minutes chat with their opposite number, before officially taking over. The Senior Officer, coming on Watch, hunts up his man in the pitch darkness, and just yarns for a few minutes, whilst getting his eyesight after being in the light’when he can see all right he lets the other chap know and officially “takes over.” Murdoch and I were old shipmates and for a few minutes—as was our custom—we stood there looking ahead, and yarning over times and incidents part and present. We both remarked on the ship’s steadiness, absence of vibration, and how comfortably she was slipping along. Then we passed on to more serious subjects, such as the chances of sighting ice, reports of ice that had been sighted, and the positions. We also commented on the lack of definition between the horizon and the sky—which would make an iceberg all the more difficult to see—particularly if it had a black side, and that should be, by bad luck, turned our way.
The side of an iceberg that has calved or broken away from its parent glacier will usually be black, where the fresh ice is showing, and is consequently more difficult to see at night. After considerable exposure, this side turns white like the rest.
We were then making an easy 22 knots. It was pitch dark and dead cold. Not a cloud in the sky, and the sea like glass. The very smoothness of the sea was, again, another unfortunate circumstance that went to complete the chain.
If there had been either wind or swell, the outline of the berg would have been rendered visible, through the water breaking at the base.
Captain E.J. was one of the ablest Skippers on the Atlantic, and accusations of recklessness, carelessness, not taking due precautions, or driving his ship at too high a speed, were absolutely, and utterly unfounded; but the armchair complaint is a very common disease, and generally accepted as one of the necessary evils from which the seafarer is condemned to suffer. A dark night, a blinding squall, and a man who has been on the mental rack for perhaps the last forty-eight hours, is called on to make an instantaneous decision embodying the safety of his crew and his ship. If he chooses the right course, as nine times out of ten he does, all well and good, but if on the tenth time his judgment is, momentarily, in error, then he may be certain he is coming under the thumb of the armchair judge, who, a thousand to one, has never been called on to make a life and death decision in a sudden emergency.
Captain Smith, with every other senior officer (apart from myself), went down, and was lost with the ship, and so escaped that never to be forgotten ordeal carried out in Washington; repeated again in England, and finally concluded in the Law Courts [See Ryan vs. OSNC].
Murdoch, the First Officer, took over from me in the ordinary way. I passed on the “items of interest” as we called them, course, speed, weather conditions, ice reports, wished him joy of his Watch, and went below. But first of all I had to do the rounds, and in a ship of that size it meant a mile or more of deck, not including a few hundred feet of ladders, staircases, etc.
Being a new ship it was all the more necessary to see that everyone was on the top line. I had been right fore and aft several decks, along a passage known as Park Lane, leading through the bowels of the ship on one side, and bringing me out by a short cut to the after deck. Here I had to look round to see that the Quartermaster and others were on their stations, and then back to my warm cabin.
The temperature on deck felt somewhere around the zero of Canada, although actually, it wasn’t much below freezing, and I quickly rolled into my blankets. There I lay, turning over my past sins and future punishments, waiting until I could thaw and get to sleep.
COLLISION WITH AN ICEBERG
I was just about ready for the land of nod, when I felt a sudden vibrating jar run through the ship. Up to this moment she had been steaming with such a pronounced lack of vibration that this sudden break in the steady running was all the more noticeable. Not that it was by any means a violent concussion, but just a distinct and unpleasant break in the monotony of her motion.
I instantly leapt out of my bunk and ran out on deck in my pyjamas; peered over the port side, but could see nothing there; ran across to the starboard side, but neither was there anything there, and as the cold was cutting like a knife, I hopped back into my bunk.
In any case, to go dashing up to the Bridge in night rig, or even properly clothed, when not on duty, was bound to ensure anything but a hearty welcome. Another thing, to be elsewhere than were you are expected to be found, in a ship like that, would result in the man who is sent to call you, being utterly unable to find you. So I just waited.
The time we struck was 12:00 p.m., April 14th of tragic memory, and it was about ten minutes later that the Fourth Officer, Boxhall opened my door, and, seeing me awake, quietly said, “We’ve hit an iceberg.”
I replied, “I know you’ve hit something.” He then said, “The water is up to F Deck in the Mail Room.”
That was quite sufficient. Not another word passed. He went out, closing the door, whilst I slipped into some clothes as quickly as possible, and went out on deck.
The decks in a modern liner are lettered from the boat deck downwards, A, B, C, D, E, and so on. The fact of the water having reached “F” deck, showed me she had been badly holed, but, at the time, although I knew it was serious, I had not a thought that it was likely to prove fatal; that knowledge was to come much later.
Up to this time we had had no chance for boat drill, beyond just lowering some of the boats in Southampton. In any case, officers and men in the Mercantile Marine are always impressed with the vital importance of using their own heads, thinking for themselves, and acting on their own initiative in an emergency.
Discipline in a Merchant Ship calls for the highest display of individual intelligence and application. Each man must think for himself. Whereas in the Navy, the Bluejacket must do as he is told, nothing more and nothing less. All perfect in its own way where a man is required to act with machine-like precision, but that won’t work in the Merchant Service. If a man does no more than he is told, and makes that an excuse for leaving something undone, unseen or unattended to, he is quickly asked, “What the hell are your brains for?”
The result is that a crew comes aboard a strange ship, and everything seems like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. But there is just this difference between the two Services. Whereas each man in the Senior Service must be fell in, and detailed to his own particular job, to which he has probably been trained for years, but by which method each piece of the jigsaw must await the touch of the Master hand; in the Merchant Service the whole of the pieces shake themselves together without being “fell in” and “told off.” Thus, in an amazingly short space of time, they have all shaken down and become a homogeneous workable unit. If there should be a piece that won’t seen to fit, then all I can say is heaven help him!
You may be sure that the crew of the Titanic had been put through a fine sieve, and particular care taken that there were no misfits. The result was that when the call came—not the call of bugles, but the call on every man to exhibit the highest individual effort, intelligence and courage, the response was absolutely universal—not a man failed.
The survivors of that night may thank God that our men did not wait for bugles and pipes. Nevertheless, they put up as fine a show as has ever been done in any sea tragedy in history. The final and conclusive proof lay in the fact that every single boat in the ship was cleared, swung out and safely lowered into the water and got away, without a hitch of any kind.
The ship had been running under a big head of steam, therefore the instant the engines were stopped the steam started roaring off at all eight exhausts, kicking up a row that would have dwarfed the row of a thousand railway engines thundering through a culvert.
All the seamen came tumbling up on the boat deck in response to the order, “All hands on deck” just following the instinct that it was here that they would be required. It was an utter impossibility to convey an order by word of mouth; speech was useless, but a tap on the shoulder and an indication with the hand, dark though it was, was quite sufficient to set the men about the different jobs, clearing away the boat covers, hauling tight the falls and coiling them down on deck, clear and ready for lowering.
The passengers by this time were beginning to flock up on the boat deck, with anxious faces, the appalling din only adding to their anxiety in a situation already terrifying enough in all conscience. In fact it was a marvel how they ever managed to keep their heads at all. All one could do was to give them a cheery smile of encouragement, and hope that the infernal roar would soon stop. My boats were all along the port side, and by the time I had got my Watch well employed, stripping the covers and coiling down, it became obvious to me that the ship was settling. So far she had remained perfectly upright, which was apt to give a false sense of security. Soon the Bosun’s Mate came to me and indicated with a wave of his hand that the job I had set him of clearing away was pretty well completed. I nodded, and indicated by a motion of my hand for him to swing out.
The Titanic was fitted with a well-known pattern of davit called the “Wellin.” In operation, it was merely a matter of shipping and manning the handles of the davits, and the boats were quickly swung out. By this time it was clear that the ship was seriously damaged and making a lot of water. She struck the berg well forward of the foremast, and evidently there had been a slight shelf protruding below the water. This pierced her bow as she threw her whole weight on the ice, some actually falling on her foredeck. The impact flung her bow off, but only by the whip or spring of the ship. Again she struck, this time a little further aft. Each blow stove in a plate, below the water line, as the ship had not the inherent strength to resist.
Had it been, for instance, the old Majestic or even the Oceanic the chances are that either of them would have been strong enough to take the blow and be bodily thrown off without serious damage. For instance, coming alongside with the old Majestic, it was no uncommon thing for her to hit a knuckle of the wharf a good healthy bump, but beyond, perhaps, scraping off the paint, no damage was ever done. The same, to a lesser extent with the Oceanic.
Then ships grew in size, out of all proportion to their strength, till one would see a modern liner brought will all the skill and care possible, fall slowly, and ever so gently on a knuckle, to bend and dent a plate like a piece of tin.
That is exactly what happened to the Titanic. She just bump, bump, bumped along the berg, holing herself each time, till she was making water in no less than six compartments, though, unfortunately, we were not to know this until much later. Andrews, the designer, and nephew of the late Lord Pirrie was making the trip with us and it was he, familiar with every nook and corner in her who made a quick tour of inspection with the Carpenter and reported her condition to Captain Smith.
Actually the Titanic was so constructed and divided into watertight compartments that she would float with any two compartments full of water, and the margin of safety made it fairly certain that she would still have floated with even three of the four forward compartments full up. Although the water would have been above the forward watertight bulkheads, it would still have been kept out of the rest of the ship, despite the fact that the forward part of her would have completely submerged. The whole ship would have assumed a fairly acute and mighty uncomfortable angle, yet, even so, she would, in all probability have floated—at least for some considerable time, perhaps all day. Certainly for sufficient time for everyone to be rescued; and, just possibly, until she could have been beached. But she could not remain afloat when she was holed in the forward stokehold as well. That made the fifth compartment counting from forward, that was smashed in by the iceberg, and this finally sealed her fate.
By this time all the boats were swung out she was well down forward and the water was practically level with the main deck. Even so I still had no thought that she was actually going to founder. There had been no chance or time to make enquiries, but I figured up in my own mind that she had probably struck the berg a glancing blow with the bluff of her bow and opened up one or perhaps two of the forward compartments, which were filling and putting her down by the head; also that she would go so far, until she balanced her buoyancy, and there she would remain. Bulkheads were all new and sound and should be able to carry the pressure, and there was no reason to suppose they would not have been equal to their task. All watertight doors had been closed automatically from the bridge, at the time of the collision—all except one place where there was no door, but which, in any case, would not have made any ultimate difference.
Although I was fairly confident in my own mind that she would not sink, one has no right to risk an error of judgment that may entail loss of life, particularly when it is the case of the passengers you are carrying. They are your trust and must at all times be your first consideration, to the total elimination of all personal feelings, or personal impressions. It was fortunate we played for safety, for, as it turned out, she was holed in no less than six compartments along the starboard side, and nothing could have saved her.
Having got the boats swung out, I made for the Captain and happened to meet him nearby on the boat deck. Drawing him into a corner, and cupping both my hands over my mouth and his ear, I yelled at the top of my voice, “Hadn’t we better get the women and children into the boats, sir?” He heard me, and nodded reply. One of my reasons for suggesting getting the boats afloat was, that I could see a steamer’s steaming lights a couple of miles away on our port bow. If I could get the women and children into the boats, they would be perfectly safe in that smooth sea until the other ship picked them up; if the necessity arose. My idea was that I would lower the boats with a few people in each, and when safely in the water fill them up from the gangway doors on the lower decks, and transfer them to the other ship.
Although boats and falls were all brand new, it is a risky business at the best of times to attempt to lower a boat between seventy and eighty feet at night time, filled with people who are not “boatwise.” It is, unfortunately, the rule rather than the exception for some mishap to occur in lowering boats loaded with people who, through no fault of their own, lack this boat sense. In addition, the strain is almost too much to expect of boats and falls under ordinary conditions.
However, having got Captain Smith’s sanction, I indicated to the Bosun’s Mate, and we lowered down the first boat level with the boat deck, and, just at this time, thank heaven, the frightful din of escaping steam suddenly stopped, and there was a death-like silence a thousand times more exaggerated, fore and aft the ship. It was almost startling to hear one’s own voice again after the appalling din of the last half hour or so.
I got just on forty people into No 4 boat, and gave the order to “lower away,” and for the boat to “go up to the gangway door” with the idea of filling each boat as it became afloat, to its full capacity. At the same time I told the Bosun’s Mate to take six hands and open the port lower-deck gangway door, which was abreast of No. 2 hatch. He took his men and proceeded to carry out the order, but neither he or the men were seen again. One can only suppose that they gave their lives endeavouring to carry out this order, probably they were trapped in the alley-way by a rush of water, but by this time the fo’c’sle head was within about ten feet of the water. Yet I still had hope that we should save her.
Passing along to No 6 boat to load and lower, I could hear the band playing cheery sort of music. I don’t like jazz music as a rule, but I was glad to hear it that night. I think it helped us all.
Wireless signals for help had been broadcast over the ocean ever since the first impact, and ships were coming to our aid. It was excusable that in some cases the Officer of the Watch on some ships could hardly credit his senses, or believe the wireless operator when told that the Titanic---that wonder of all mercantile wonders was sinking in mid- Atlantic, and sending out calls for assistance.
The wireless operator of the Virginian told me that when he reported the fact to this Officer of the Watch, he was literally chucked off the bridge, for trying to play what the O.O.W. thought was a practical joke; it was only as he was being pushed past the chart-room door, preparatory to being shot down the bridge ladder, that he landed out with his foot, and gave a terrific kick on the panel of the door. The wireless operator knew that the Captain was asleep in the chart-room, and that this crash would bring him out with a jump. The Officer of the Watch also realised when the report was officially made to the Captain, that it was no joke, and that the Titanic was truly in a bad way. They at once altered course and made all speed towards us.
On the Titanic passengers naturally kept coming up and asking, did I consider the situation serious. In all cases I tried to cheer them up, by telling them “No,” but that it was a matter of precaution to get the boats in the water, ready for any emergency. That in any case that they were perfectly safe, as there was a ship not more than a few miles away, and I pointed out the lights on the port bow which they could see as well as I could.
At this time we were firing rocket distress signals, which explode with a loud report a couple of hundred feet in the air. Every minute or two one of these went up, bursting overhead with a cascade of stars.
“Why were we firing these signals, if there was no danger:” was the question, to which I replied that we were trying to call the attention of the ship nearby, as we could not get her with wireless. That ship was the “Californian.”; Here again we were to see exemplified what has become almost proverbial at sea, that in cases of disaster, one ship, the first on the scene, will be in a position to rescue, and yet, through some circumstance or combination of circumstances, fails to make that rescue.
The distress signals we fired were seen by the Officer of the Watch on the Californian, also be several members of her crew. Even the flashes from our Morse lamp were seen but finally judged to be “Just the masthead light flickering.” Though at one time the thought evidently did arise that we were trying to call them
To let pass the possibility of a ship calling by Morse, in the existing circumstances then surrounding her was bad enough; but to mistake distress signals was inexcusable, and to ignore them, criminal. In point of fact, the O.O.W. alone saw and counted, five distress signals (or, as he reported them to Captain Lord, “five white rockets”). Evidently, the Captain’s curiosity was more than a little aroused for him to ask, “Are they company’s signals?” To which the O.O.W. replied that he did not know, but that they “Appear to me to be white rockets.” Captain Lord merely told him to “go on Morsing,” and if he received any further information to send it down to him.
It is an unqualified fact that every single one of our distress signals— unmistakable and urgent calls for help, were clearly seen by the Californian. These signals are never made, except in cases of dire necessity. The O.O.W. of the Californian fully appreciated this fact as was evidenced by his remark to the Apprentice on watch with him, “A ship is not going to fire rockets at sea for nothing.”
Shortly after counting eight “rockets” he again sent down word to the Captain, with the added rider to the Apprentice, “be sure to wake him and tell him that altogether we have seen eight of these white lights, like rockets, in the direction of this other steamer.”
Precisely at 2:40 a.m. this Officer of the Watch again called Captain Lord, this time by voice pipe, and told him that the ship from which he had seen the rockets, had disappeared.
He spoke truly. A great sea tragedy had been consummated before his very eyes.
WOMEN AND CHILDREN—ONLY
The quiet orderliness amongst the passengers, and the discipline amongst the crew, is a thing never to be forgotten. Many of the former came quietly with offers of help. The Bosun’s Mate and six of the watch having been lost to me, the work had become very heavy, and still heavier, as I detailed two of the remaining Watch to go away with each boat as it was lowered. The practice was, to lower each boat until the gunwale was level with the boat deck, then, standing with one foot on the deck and one in the boat, the women just held out their right hand, the wrist of which I grabbed with my right hand, hooking my left arm underneath their arm, and so practically lifted them over the gap between the boat’s gunwale and the ship’s side, from the boat.
Between one boat being lowered away and the next boat being prepared, I usually nipped along to have a look down the very long emergency staircase leading direct from the boat deck down to “C” deck. Actually built as a short cut for the crew, it served my purpose now to gauge the speed with which the water was rising, and how high it had got. By now the foredeck was below the surface. That cold, green water, crawling its ghostly way up that staircase, was a sight that stamped itself indelibly on my memory. Step by step, it made its way up, covering the electric lights, one after the other, which, for a time, shone under the surface, with a horribly weird effect.
Still, it served a very good purpose, and enabled me to form an accurate judgment as to how far she had gone, and how quickly she was going down. Dynamos were still running, and deck lights on, which, though dim, helped considerably with the work; more than could be said of one very good lady who achieved fame by waving an electric light and successfully blinding us as we worked on the boats. It puzzled me until I found she had it installed in the head of her walking stick! I am afraid she was rather disappointed on finding out that her precious light was not a bit appreciated. Arriving in safety on board the Carpathia, she tried to make out that someone had stolen her wretched stick, whereas it had been merely taken from her, in response to my request that someone would throw the damn thing overboard.
It had now become apparent that the ship was doomed, and in consequence, I began to load the boats to the utmost capacity that I dared. My scheme for filling up at the lower deck doors had gone by the board—they were under water.
Many were the incidents of calm courage.
One young couple walked steadily up and down the boat deck throughout pretty well the whole of the proceedings. Once or twice the young chap asked if he could help. He was a tall, clean-bred Britisher, on his honeymoon, I should say. The girl—she was little more—never made the slightest attempt to come towards the boats, much less to be taken on board, although I looked towards her several times with a sort of silent invitation, but no, she was not going to be parted from her man.
The order implicitly obeyed was, “Women and children only.” The very highest tribute that is was possible for a human being to pay would hardly do justice to or give the praise due to the sheer courage shown by most women and children amongst the passengers on that ship, individually and collectively. It made me unutterably proud of the English speaking race. The conditions were all strange; the ship was sinking and the boats were leaving, yet, neither man nor woman attempted to get into a boat without being ordered.
In the case of a Major Peuchen, a Canadian by birth, who sent away in one of the boats, unwarrantable blame was attached, at a later date.
I was reduced to sending one seaman away in a boat, and on an occasion, after ordering away a sailor to take charge, I turned round to find that there was only one left to attend the boat falls, for lowering away.
“Someone for that fall,” I called, and the next thing a man who had sailed with me for many years, Hemming by name, replied, “Aye, aye, sir! All ready.” Unknown to me he had stepped out of the boat, back on board, to carry out what he considered the more important duty. Bravery and self-sacrifice such as this was of common occurrence throughout the night.
The boat was halfway down when someone hailed me, saying, “We’ve no seaman in this boat, “and at that moment I had no one available. I called to the people standing around, “Any seaman there:” No reply, and it was then that Major Peuchen, when he saw that there were none of the ship’s crew available, said, “I’m not a seaman, but I’m a yachtsman, if I can be of any use to you.”
The boat’s falls, or ropes, by which the boat is lowered, hang up and down from the davit head, about nine or ten feet from the ship’s side. I said to him, “If you’re seaman enough to get out on those falls, and get down into the boat, you may go ahead.” He did, and has been very
unfairly criticised for carrying out what was a direct order.
It was about this time that the Chief Officer came over from the starboard side and asked, did I know where the firearms were?
As I pointed out before, it was the First Officer’s responsibility to receive firearms, navigation instruments, and so forth. I have also said firearms on merchant ships are looked on as ornamental more than useful, and as First Officer I had simply hove the lot into a locker, in my original cabin, a locker that was of little use owing to its inaccessibility.
Then, later on, had come the “general post,” whereby Murdoch who was now First Officer, knew nothing about the firearms, and couldn’t find them when they were wanted—I say wanted, rather than needed, because I still don’t believe they were actually needed.
I told the Chief Officer, “Yes, I know where they are. Come along and I’ll get them for you,” and into the First Officer’s cabin we went—the Chief, Murdoch, the Captain and myself—where I hauled them out, still in all their pristine newness and grease.
I was going out when the Chief shoved one of the revolvers into my hands, with a handful of ammunition, and said, “Here you are, you may need it.” On the impulse, I just slipped it into my pocket, along with the cartridges, and returned to the boats. The whole incident had not taken more than three minutes, though it seemed barely worth that precious time.
As I returned along the deck, I passed Mr. and Mrs. Straus leaning up against the deck house chatting quite cheerily. I stopped and asked Mrs. Strauss, “Can I take you along to the boats?” She replied, “I think I’ll stay here for the present.” Mr. Strauss, calling her by her Christian name said, smilingly, “Why don’t you go along with him, dear?” She just smiled, and said, “No, not yet.” I left them, and they went down together. To another couple, evidently from the Western States, that I found sitting on a fan casing I asked the girl, “Won’t you let me put you in one of the boats?” She replied with a very frank smile, “Not on your life. We started together, and if need be, we’ll finish together.” It was typical of the spirit throughout.
Boat after boat was safely lowered into the water, with its human freight of women and children, each with an ever-increasing cargo as it became more apparent that the Titanic was doomed, and that the ship to which we had looked for immediate help, was also a false hope. Time and again I had used her lights as a means to buoy up the hopes of the many that I now knew only too well, were soon to find themselves struggling in that icy water.
Why couldn’t she hear our wireless calls? Why couldn’t her Officer of the Watch or someone of her crew, see our distress signals with their showers of stars, visible for miles and miles around?—a signal that is never used except when a ship is in dire need of assistance. What wouldn’t I have given for a six-inch gun and a couple of shells to wake them up I had assured and reassured the passengers throughout those anxious hours, “She cannot help but see those signals, and must soon steam over and pick everyone up.” And what an absolutely unique opportunity Captain Lord of the Californian had that night of rendering aid and saving close on 1,500 lives. Nothing could have been easier than to have laid his ship actually alongside the Titanic and taken every soul on board. Yet, not a thing was done, not even their wireless operator roused to see if there were any distress calls.
There are no police, fire brigades or lifeboats out at sea, therefore it becomes nothing less than a fetish—the tenet above all tenets in the religion among sailors that absolutely no effort shall be spared in an endeavour to save life at sea. A man must even be prepared to hazard his ship and his life.
Just before launching the last two lifeboats, I had made my final hurried visit to the stairway. It was then conclusively evident that not only was she going, but that she was going very soon, and if we were to avoid the unutterable disgrace of going down with lifeboats still hanging to the davits, there was not one single moment to lose.
Hurrying back to the two remaining lifeboats still hanging in their davits, I met the Purser, Assistant Purser, and the Senior and Junior surgeons—the latter a noted wag—even in the face of tragedy, couldn’t resist his last mild joke, “Hello, Lights, are you warm?” The idea of anyone being warm in that temperature was a joke in itself, and I suppose it struck him as odd to meet me wearing a sweater, no coat or overcoat. I had long since discarded my great coat, even in pants and sweater over pyjamas alone I was in a bath of perspiration. There was only time to pass a few words, then they all shook hands and said, “Good-bye.” Frankly, I didn’t feel at all like “Good-bye,” although I knew we shouldn’t have the ship under us much longer. The thing was to get these boats away at all costs. Eventually, and to my great relief, they were all loaded and safely lowered into the water.
The last lifeboat having got away, there remained No. 2 boat, which was actually a small sea boat used for emergency purposes (in fact often termed, “The Emergency Boat”), hanging in the davits.
About this time I met all the engineers, as they came trooping up from below. Most of them I knew individually, and had been shipmates with them on different ships of the Line. They had all loyally stuck to their guns, long after they could be of any material assistance. Much earlier on the engine-room telegraphs had been “Rung off”—the last ring made on board ships at sea, and which conveys to the engine- room staff the final information that their services below can be of no further use, that the case (from whatever cause) is hopeless. At the same time it releases engineers and stokers from duty, leaving them free to make the best of their way up to the boats. Of course, in theory, each had his appointed place in a given boat.
Since the Titanic disaster, each undoubtedly has. But before that tragedy brought home to the world the utter fallacy of the “unsinkable ship” I’m afraid that many “appointed places”—as far as lifesaving equipment was concerned—were just so much theory, concocted ashore with a keen eye to dividends.
Certainly there was no sailor who ever sailed salt water but who smiled—and still smiles—at the idea of the “unsinkable ship.”
There was little opportunity to say more than a word or two to the engineers. Up to that time they had known little of what was going on, and it was surely a bleak and hopeless spectacle that met their eyes. Empty falls hanging loosely from every davit head, and not a solitary hope for any of them.
In point of fact, they were lost to a man, not one single survivor out of the whole thirty-five.
Arriving alongside the emergency boat, someone spoke out of the darkness, and said, “There are men in that boat.” I jumped in, and regret to say that there actually were—but they weren’t British, nor of the English speaking race. I won’t even attribute any nationality to them, beyond saying that they come under the broad category known to sailors as “Dagoes.” They hopped out mighty quickly, and I encouraged them verbally, also by vigorously flourishing my revolver. They certainly thought they were between the devil and the deep sea in more senses than one, and I had the satisfaction of seeing them tumbling head over heels on to the deck, preferring the uncertain safety of the deck, to the cold lead, which I suppose they fully imagined would follow their disobedience—so much for imagination—the revolver was not even loaded!
“Any more women and children?” was the cry, and we had the greatest difficulty in finding sufficient to fill even this small boat—of those who were willing to go and leave others behind. Eventually, she was filled, and we lowered her away.
There now remained two folded boats of the Englehardt type, with collapsible canvas sides, one on the deck by the davits of No. 2 emergency and one on the top of the officers’ quarters, both firmly lashed down. The rope falls of No. 2 were hurriedly rounded up and one collapsible boat hooked on and swung out ready for lowering.
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 seaman 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 for which 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.
As this boat was being lowered, two men passengers jumped into her from the deck below. This, as far as I know was the only instance of men getting away in boats from the port side. I don’t blame them, the boat wasn’t full, for the simple reason that we couldn’t find sufficient women, and there was no time to wait—the water was then actually lapping round their feet on “A” deck, so they jumped for it and got away. Good luck to them.
With one other seaman I started to cast adrift the one remaining Engelhardt on top of the officer’s quarters. We cut and threw off the lashings, jumped round to the inboard side ready to pick up the gunwale together and throw her bodily down on the boat deck. The seaman working with me called:
“All ready, sir,” and I recognised Hemmings’ voice—the chap I had ordered away long before, and who had returned on board to tend the falls, and in whose place I sent Major Peuchen.
“Hello, is that you, Hemming?”
“Why haven’t you gone?” I asked.
Oh, plenty of time yet, sir,” he replied cheerily. Apparently the chap had loyally stuck by me all through, though it had been too dark to recognise him. Stout fellow. Later he slid one of the falls, swam for it and was saved.
We had just time to tip the boat over, and let her drop into the water that was now above the boat deck, in the hope that some few might be able to scramble on to her as she floated off. Hemming and I then, as every single boat was now away from the port side, went over to the starboard side, to see if there was anything further to be done there. But all the boats on this side had also been got away, through there were still crowds of people on the deck.
Just then the ship took a slight but definite plunge—probably a bulkhead went—and the sea came rolling up in a wave, over the steel- fronted bridge, along the deck below us, washing the people back in a dreadful, huddled mass. Those that didn’t disappear under the water right away, instinctively started to clamber up that part of the deck still out of water, and work their way towards the stern, which was rising steadily out of the water as the bow went down. A few of the more agile leapt up on top of the officers’ quarters where Hemming and I were at the moment. It was a sight that doesn’t bear dwelling on—to stand there above the wheelhouse, and on our quarters, watching the frantic struggles to climb up the sloping deck, utterly unable to even hold out a helping hand.
I knew, only too well, the utter futility of following that driving instinct of self-preservation and struggling up towards the stern. It would only be postponing the plunge, and prolonging the agony—even lessening one’s already slim chances by becoming one of a crowd. It came home to me very clearly how fatal it would be to get amongst those hundreds and hundreds of people who would shortly be struggling for their lives in that deadly cold water. There was only one thing to do, and I might just as well do it and get it over, so, turning to the fore part of the bridge, I took a header. Striking the water was like a thousand knives being driven into one’s body, and , for a few moments, I completely lost grip of myself, and no wonder, for I was perspiring freely, whilst the temperature of the water was 28º or 4º below freezing.
Ahead of me the look-out cage on the foremast was visible just above the water—in normal times it would be a hundred feet above. I struck out blindly for this, but only for a short while, till I got hold of myself again and realised the futility of seeking safety on anything connected with the ship. I then turned to starboard, away from the ship altogether.
For a time I wondered what was making it so difficult for me to keep my head above the water. Time and again I went under, until it dawned on me that it was the great Webley revolver, still in my pocket, that was dragging me down. I soon sent that on its downward journey.
The water was now pouring down the stokeholds, by way of the fiddley gratings abaft the bridge, and round the forward funnel.
On the boat deck, above our quarters, on the fore part of the forward funnel, was a huge rectangular air shaft and ventilator, with an opening about twenty by fifteen feet. On this opening was a light wire grating to prevent rubbish being drawn down, or anything else being thrown down. This shaft led direct to No. 3 stokehold, and was therefore a sheer drop of close on hundred feet, right to the bottom of the ship.
I suddenly found myself drawn, by the sudden rush of the surface water now pouring down this shaft, and held flat and firmly up against this wire netting, with the additional full and clear knowledge of what would happen if this light wire carried away. The pressure of the water just glued me there whilst the ship sank slowly below the surface.
Although I struggled and kicked for all I was worth, it was impossible to get away, for as fast as I pushed myself off I was irresistibly dragged back, every instant expecting the wire to go, and to find myself shot down into the bowels of the ship.
Apart from that, I was drowning, and a matter of another couple of minutes would have seen me through. I was still struggling and fighting when suddenly a terrific blast of hot air came up the shaft, and blew me right away from the air shaft and up to the surface.
The water was now swirling round, and the ship sinking rapidly, when once again I was caught and sucked down by an inrush of water, this time adhering to one of the fiddley gratings. Just how I got clear of that, I don’t know, as I was rather losing interest in things, but I eventually came to the surface once again, this time alongside that last Engelhardt boat which Hemming and I had launched from on top of the officers’ quarters on the opposite side—for I was now on the starboard side, near the forward funnel.
There were many around in the water by this time, some swimming, others (mostly men, thank God), definitely drowning—an utter nightmare of both sight and sound. In the circumstances, I made no effort to get on top of the upturned boat, but, for some reason, was content to remain floating alongside, just hanging on to a small piece of rope.
The bow of the ship was now rapidly going down and the stern rising higher and higher out of the water, piling the people into helpless heaps around the steep decks, and by the score into the icy water. Had the boats been around many might have been saved, but, of them, at this time, there was no sign. Organised help, or even individual help, was quite impossible. All one could do was just wait on events, and try and forget the icy cold grip of the water.
The terrific strain of bringing the after end of that huge hull clear out of the water, caused the expansion joint abaft No. 1 funnel to open up. (These expansion joints were found necessary in big ships to allow the ship to “work” in a seaway.) The fact that the two wire stays to this funnel, on the after part led over and abaft the expansion joint, threw on them an extraordinary strain, eventually carrying away the port wire guy, to be followed almost immediately by the starboard one. Instantly the port one parted, the funnel started to fall, but the fact that the starboard one held a moment or two longer, gave this huge structure a pull over to that side of the ship, causing it to fall, with its scores of tons, right amongst the struggling mass of humanity already in the water. It struck the water between the Engelhardt and the ship, actually missing me by inches.
Amongst the many historic and, what in less tragic circumstances, would have been humorous—questions, asked by Senator Smith at the Washington Enquiry was “Did it hurt anyone?”
One effect of the funnel crashing down on the sea, was to pick up the Englehardt in the wash so created, and fling it well clear of the sinking ship.
When I again recognised by surroundings, we were full fifty yards clear of the ship. The piece of rope was still in my hand, with old friend Engelhardt upturned and attached to the other end, with several men by now standing on it. I also scrambled up, after spending longer than I like to remember in that icy water. Lights on board the Titanic were still burning, and a wonderful spectacle she made, standing out black and massive against the starlit sky; myriads of lights still gleaming through the portholes, from that part of the decks still above water.
The fore part, and up to the second funnel was by that time completely submerged, and as we watched this terribly awe-inspiring sight, suddenly all lights went out and the huge bulk was left in black darkness, but clearly silhouetted against the bright sky. Then, the next moment, the massive boilers left their beds and went thundering down with a hollow rumbling roar, through the bulk-heads, carrying everything with them that stood in their way. This unparalleled tragedy that was being enacted before our very eyes, now rapidly approached its finale, as the huge ship slowly but sure reared herself on end and brought rudder and propellers clear of the water, till, at last, she assumed an absolute perpendicular position. In this amazing attitude she remained for the space of half a minute. Then with impressive majesty and ever-increasing momentum, she silently took her last tragic dive to seek a final resting place in the unfathomable depths of the cold grey Atlantic.
Almost like a benediction, everyone round me on the upturned boat breathed the two words, “She’s gone.”
Fortunately the scene that followed was shrouded in darkness. Less fortunately, the calm still silence carried every sound with startling distinctness. To enter into a description of those heart-rending, never- to-be-forgotten sounds would serve no useful purpose. I never allowed my thoughts to dwell on them, and there are some that would be alive and well to-day had they just determined to erase from their minds all memory of those ghastly moments, or at least until time had somewhat dimmed the memory of that awful tragedy.
However anyone that had sought refuge on that upturned Engelhardt survived the night is nothing short of miraculous. If ever human endurance was taxed to the limit, surely it was during those long hours of exposure in a temperature below freezing, standing motionless in our wet clothes. 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.
Hour by hour the compartments in this collapsible boat were surely filling with water, due, no doubt to the rough and ready treatment she had received when dumped incontinently from the top of our quarters, with a crash on to the boat deck, there to float off of her own sweet will.
The fact remains we were painfully conscious of that icy cold water, slowly but surely creeping up our legs.
Some quietly lost consciousness, subsided into the water, and slipped overboard, there being nothing on the smooth flat bottom of the boat to hold them. No one was in a condition to help, and the fact that a slight but distinct swell had started to roll up, rendered help from the still living an impossibility.
It was only by the grace of being huddled together that most of us didn’t add to the many that lost their lives that night.
Another thing, with the rising sea I realised that without concerted action, we were all going to be pitched headlong into the sea, and that would spell finish for everyone. So I made everyone face one way, and then, as I felt the boat under our feet lurch to the sea, one way or the other, I corrected it by the order “Lean to the right,” “Stand upright,” or “Lean to the left,” as the case may be.
In this way we managed to maintain our foothold on the slippery planks by now well under water.
We knew that ships were racing to our rescue, though the chances of our keeping up our efforts of balancing until one came along seemed very, very remote. Phillips, the senior wireless operator, standing near me, told me the different ships that had answered our call. Of these, according to their positions, undoubtedly the Carpathia was nearest and should be up with the position where the Titanic sank, by daylight.
For encouragement, I passed on to those around, my rough calculation and it certainly helped the struggle to keep up. As it turned out, the information from Phillips, and the calculation, were about right, though poor old Phillips did not live to benefit by it. He hung on till daylight came in and we sighted one of the lifeboats in the distance. We were beyond making her hear with our shouting, but I happened to have in my pocket the ordinary whistle which every officer of the Watch carries. This piercing sound carried, and likewise carried the information (for what it was worth) that it was an officer making the call.
Slowly—oh how slow it seemed—she worked her way towards us. Meantime the boat under us showed unmistakable signs of leaving us altogether. I think it must have been the final and terrible anxiety that tipped the beam with Phillips, for he suddenly slipped down, sitting in the water, and though we held his head up, he never recovered. I insisted on taking him into the lifeboat with us, hoping there still might be life, but it was too late. Altogether there were thirty of us boarded the lifeboat, and later on I counted seventy-five living, apart from those lying on the bottom boards. If a sea got up it was going to take all my knowledge of boat-craft to keep her afloat.
As daylight increased we had the thrice welcome sight of the Cunard Liner Carpathia cautiously picking her way through the ice towards us. We saw boat by boat go alongside, but the question was, would she come our way in time? Sea and wind were rising. Every wave threatened to come over the bows of our overloaded lifeboat and swamp us. All were women and children in the boat apart from those of us men from the Engelhardt. Fortunately, none of them realised how near we were to being swamped.
I trimmed the boat down a little more by the stern, and raised the bow, keeping her carefully bow on to the sea, and hoping against hope she would continue to rise. Sluggishly, she lifted her bows, but there was no life in her with all that number on board.
Then, at long last, the Carpathia definitely turned her head towards us, rounding to about 100 yards to windward. Now to get her safely alongside! We couldn’t last many minutes longer, and round the Carpathia’s bows was a scurry of wind and waves that looked like defeating my efforts after all. One sea lapped over the bow, and the next one far worse. The following one she rode, and then, to my unbounded relief, she came through the scurry into calm water under the Carpathia’s lee.
Quickly the bosun’s chairs were lowered for those unable to climb the sheer side by a swinging rope ladder, and little enough ceremony was shown in bundling old and young, fat and thin, onto that bit of wood constituting the “Boatswain’s Chair.”
Once the word was given to “hoist away” and up into the air they went. There were a few screams, but on the whole, they took it well, in fact many were by now in a condition that rendered them barely able to hang on, much less scream.
When all were on board, we counted the cost. There were a round total of 711 saved out of 2,201 on board. Fifteen hundred of all ranks and classes had gone to their last account. Apart from four junior officers ordered away in charge of boats, I found I was the solitary survivor of over fifty officers and engineers who went down with her. Hardly one amongst the hundreds of surviving passengers, but had lost someone near and dear.
Then there came the torment of being unable to hold out a vestige of hope.
“Could not another ship have picked them up?’
“Could they not possibly be in some boat overlooked by the Carpathia?”
“Was it not possible that he might have climbed on to an iceberg?”
After serious consideration it seemed the kindest way to be perfectly frank and give the one reply possible. What kindness was there in holding out a hope, knowing full well that there was not even the shadow of hope. Cold comfort, and possibly cruel, but I could see no help for it.
Countess Rothes was one of the foremost amongst those trying to carry comfort to others, and through that sad trip to New York, there were very many quiet acts of self-denial.
Everybody’s hope, so far as the crew were concerned was that we might arrive in New York in time to catch the Celtic back to Liverpool and so escape the inquisition that would otherwise be awaiting us. Our luck was distinctly out. We were served with Warrants, immediately on arrival. It was a colossal piece of impertinence that served no useful purpose and elicited only a garbled and disjointed account of the disaster; due in the main to a total lack of co-ordination in the questioning with an abysmal ignorance of the sea.
In Washington our men were herded into a second-rate boarding house, which might have suited some, but certainly not such men as formed the crew of the Titanic. In the end they point blank refused to have anything more to do with either the enquiry or the people, whose only achievement was to make our Seamen, Quartermasters and Petty Officers look utterly ridiculous. It was only with the greatest difficulty I was able to bring peace into the camp—mainly due to the tact exhibited by the British Ambassador, Lord Percy, and Mr. P.A. Franklin, President of the International Mercantile Marine Co.
With all the goodwill in the world, the “Enquiry” could be called nothing but a complete farce, wherein all the traditions and customs of the sea were continuously and persistently flouted.
Such a contrast to the dignity and decorum of the Court held by Lord Mersey in London, where the guiding spirit was a sailor in essence, and who insisted that any cross questioner should at any rate be familiar with at least the rudiments of the sea. Sir Rufus Isaacs—as he was then—had started his career as a sailor. One didn’t need to explain that “going down by the bow,” and “going down by the head” was one and the same thing. Nor, that water-tight compartments, dividing the ship, were not necessarily places of refuge in which passengers could safely ensconce themselves, whilst the ship went to the bottom of the Atlantic, to be rescued later, as convenient. Neither was it necessary to waste precious time on lengthy explanations as to how and why a sailor was not an officer, though an officer was a sailor.
In Washington it was of little consequence, but in London it was very necessary to keep one’s hand on the whitewash brush. Sharp questions tht needed careful answers if one was to avoid a pitfall, carefully and subtly dug, leading to a pinning down of blame on to someone’s luckless shoulders. How hard Mr. Scanlan and the legal luminary representing the interests of the Seamen and Firemen, tried to prove there were not enough seamen to launch and man the boats. The same applied to the passengers, and quite truly. But it was inadvisable to admit it then and there, hence the hard-fought legal duels between us. Mr. Scanlan’s conquest of the higher legal spheres of recent years proves he was no mean antagonist to face. His aim was to forth the admission that I had not sufficient seamen to give adequate help with the boats, and consequently that the ship was undermanned. How many men did I consider necessary to launch a lifeboat?
“What size lifeboat?’
“Take one of the Titanic’s lifeboats.”
“Well,” I pointed out, “it would depend greatly on weather conditions.”
“Make your own conditions,” replied by legal opponent impatiently.
I suggested, as an example, we should take the wind as force six Beaufort’s scale. “Yes,” he agreed.
“Then,” I added, “there would be an accompanying sea, or course.”
Yes, yes,” he again agreed, and fell into the trap which Lord Mersey proceeded to spring, by informing Mr. Scanlan that in the circumstances described it would be impossible to launch any boat.
So the legal battle went on.
Still, I think we parted very good friends.
A washing of dirty linen would help no one. The B.O.T. had passed that ship as in all respects fit for sea in every sense of the word, with sufficient margin of safety for everyone on board. Now the B.O.T. was holding an enquiry in to the loss of that ship—hence the whitewash brush. Personally, I had no desire that blame should be attributed either to the B.O.T. or the White Star Line, though in all conscience it was a difficult task, when handled by some of the cleverest legal minds in England, striving tooth and nail to prove the inadequacy here, the lack there, when one had known, full well, and for many years, the ever-present possibility of just such a disaster. I think in the end the B.O.T. and the White Star Line won.
The very point, namely the utter inadequacy of the life-saving equipment then prevailing, which Mr. Scanlan and his confrères had been fighting tooth and nail to prove has since been wholly, frankly, and fully admitted by the stringent rules now governing British ships, “Going Foreign.”
No longer is the Boat-Deck almost wholly set aside as a recreation ground for passengers, with the smallest number of boats relegated to the least possible space.
In fact, the pendulum has swing to the other extreme and the margin of safety reached the ridiculous.
Be that as it may, I am never likely to forget that long drawn out battle of wits, where it seemed that I must hold that unenviable position of whipping boy to the whole lot of them. Pull devil, pull baker, till it looked as if they would pretty well succeed in pulling my hide off completely, each seemed to want his bit. I know when it was all over I felt more like a legal doormat than a Mail Boat Officer.
Perhaps the heads of the White Star Line didn’t quite realise just what an endless strain it had all been, falling on one man’s luckless shoulders, as it needs must, being the sole survivor out of so many departments—fortunately they were broad.
Still, just that word of thanks which was lacking, which when the Titanic Enquiry was all over would have been very much appreciated. It must have been a curious psychology that governed the managers of that magnificent Line. Promotion and service in their Western Ocean Mail Boats was the mark of their highest approval. Both these tokens came my way, and fifteen of my twenty years under the red Burgee with its silver star, were spent in the Atlantic Mail. Yet, when after twenty years of service I came to bury my anchor, and awaited their pleasure at headquarters, for the last time, there was a brief,
“Oh, you are leaving us, are you. Well, Good-bye.”
A curious people!
However, that was not to be for some years, and I was yet to see another of the Line, my old favourite, the Oceanic, swallowed up by the insatiable sea.
Having at last finished with the “Titanic Enquiry,” I again set about picking up the threads and found myself once more signing Articles on the Oceanic with many that had survived the Titanic. One well- known figure was missing from the Shipping Office about this time and that was “Old Ned”, known to all and sundry as just “Ned.” Actually, he was responsible for the stokehold crowd, and a tougher bunch than the firemen on a Western Ocean Mail boat it would be impossible to find. Bootle seemed to specialise in the Liverpool Irishman, who was accounted to be the toughest of the tough, and prominent amongst the few that could stand up to the life, where life below consisted of one endless drive. Even the engineers seemed to get tainted with that unqualified “toughness,” for they must be able to hold their own with the worst. This type reached its peak in the days of the old Majestic and Teutonic. The conditions under which firemen laboured in these boats, were inhuman. Little blame if the men did become brutes. The heat of the stokehold alone, when driving under the last ounce of steam, was terrible. Added to this, when in the Gulf Stream, was the intense humidity.
It was no uncommon sight to see a man, sometimes two, three or even four in a watch, hoisted up the ash-shoot with the bucket chain hooked roughly round their arm-pits, to be dumped on deck unconscious. A few buckets of water over them and then they were left to recover. Neither must they be long about it, or up comes the Leading Fireman, who, with strict impartiality, will apply both boot and fist to drive his dogs of war below again.
The instructions were to keep up that “arrow,” indicating the steam pressure, at all costs, regardless of body or bones. Small wonder at the tales that used to creep about, of men gone missing after a free fight, when sharp shovels are used as flails.
“So and so missing, He must have gone overboard during the night. Caught with the heat, poor beggar.”
Yes, caught, all right, but perhaps with the sharp edge of a shovel.
An engineer at one time was seen to go into the stokehold, and never seen to come out, nor yet seen on deck. He was a particularly powerful type of man and brutal withal, who hazed his watch to the limit in the demand for steam, till the stokehold was Bedlam let loose. From that day till this—though never mentioned ashore—his disappearance was frankly attributed to the swift cut of a shovel from behind, and his body shot into a furnace. The truth will never be known, but from then on, and engineer never went into the stokehold unaccompanied by his leading hand.
These were the type of men “Old Ned” was called upon to supply and handle. Originally a fireman himself, he knew all the tricks, and feared none. Tall, keen, alert. Perfect athletic build. A hawk-like eye, and monstrous aquiline nose, that had been broken more times than even he could remember. Slow of movement and quiet of speech, with a voice that came rumbling from way down in his chest.
A couple of hundred toughs, crowing and jostling together, waiting to sign on. “Ned,” towering above the tallest, comes through the doorway and makes his way with hardly a check, surging through, and throwing aside the Bootle toughs like a ship contemptuously flinging off the little waves that would hold her. A shoulder here, an elbow there. Nor would he hesitate to put the flat of that huge hand of his on the flat of some more than usually objectionable face, with the base of his wrist tucked neatly under the chin. If the man was sensible, he stepped back, quickly and sharply, regardless of the curses of those behind him, or how they might retaliate. Arriving at the table, “Ned” quickly says, “Stand back” to those who would crowd in with their Discharge books held out. For be it known that there will be a full score and more eager to accept every single vacancy. Even “Brutal Bootle” looks with respect at a man who has gained that giddy height, and been chosen by “Ned” for “The Mail Boat” A vicious and resentful crowd they were, and though master of the situation at the pay table, it was a different matter when turning a dark corner in Dockland, as old “Ned” had known to his cost, many a time and often. On the other hand, there was not a pub within a mile or more radius, that he could not walk into and call for enough beer to drown a man, had he wished. No fireman came ashore from the Mail Boat, with his pay in his pocket but “chalked one up for Ned.” Even a Chicago gangster might have envied the cortège that finally followed “Old Ned” after signing his last ship.
With the Oceanic’s comfortable quarters, and bathrooms, there was no call for the tough element, in fact it did not exist in Southampton, where the mail boats were now running from. Again, she introduced a reserve of power that enabled a steady speed to be kept. In fact, the Oceanic’s records for steady and consistent running have never been equalled. Two consecutive runs of over three thousand miles and not one minute of difference. Three consecutive voyages and only one minute of difference between the times of leaving Sandy Hook, New York, and passing the Wolf Rock off the Scillies.
We were bound home on that fateful August 4, 1914, when we got the brief message that hostilities had broken out and were advised to “deviate from the recognised tracks.” We did deviate, too, for we saw no fun in being captured in a fine ship like the Oceanic, right at the outbreak of war. Judge our anxiety when nearing the Irish Coast, on seeing the masts and funnels of two ships coming above the horizon— ships obviously of the cruiser variety. The only question was whose cruisers? Well, anyway, we had to get in sometime, and the chances were they were not Germans—so we’d better risk it. All the same, it was undoubted relief when at last the white ensign also came above the rim of the sea.