The Boy in the Picture

The story of Ned Parfett: newsboy, soldier and photographic icon

Titanica!

The Boy in the Picture

Perhaps one of the most evocative images of the Titanic disaster is that of the young newsboy outside the White Star Line offices at Oceanic House in Cockspur Street, London, S.W., holding an Evening News poster announcing "Titanic Disaster Great Loss of Life".

That boy was Ned Parfett and his short life was no less spectacular, and his death just as tragic, as that of Titanic. Six and a half years after this poignant photograph was taken, Ned was killed during a German bombardment while serving with the British army in France, just days before the Armistice. He was 22.1

According to his great-nephew Dominic Walsh, young Ned enlisted in the Royal Artillery in 1916, first serving as a dispatch rider before reassignment to reconnaissance duties. Youth did not prevent bravery. He was mentioned in dispatches2 and awarded the Military Medal for his gallant conduct during a series of missions at the front.

The grave of gunner 12898, E. V. Parfett.
© Robert Shotton, France

Ned was one of four brothers from Cornwall Road, Waterloo, to enlist "for King and country". One brother served in the disastrous Dardanelles campaign of 1915, surviving to become part of the occupation army in defeated Germany. Another brother served in the bloody battle of the Somme in 1916, only to be wounded and gassed at the third battle of Ypres in Belgium.3 The third brother also survived. Only Ned failed to see out the war.

He died on 29 October 1918, less than two weeks before the end of the war. Ned was killed near Valenciennes, when a shell landed on the quartermaster's stores, just as he was collecting some clothes before going on leave. After his death, the officer who recommended Ned for special recognition wrote to one of his brothers:

"On many occasions, he accompanied me during severe shelling and I always placed the greatest confidence in him."

Had Ned survived the attack, he would have been home in England when the Armistice was signed. He is buried in the British war cemetery at Verchain-Maugré in France.

Oceanic House
© Gavin Murphy, Canada

Today's Oceanic House

The Oceanic Steam Navigation Company, owners of the White Star Line, has long since departed from Oceanic House4 and gone out of business. Now instead of a red burgee with a white star flying outside the building, you will find a red, white and blue flag with a white star, signifying the state flag of Texas! Oceanic House is home to the Texas Embassy Cantina,5 a lively restaurant serving Tex-Mex food. It appears that the upper floors are no longer offices and are either vacant or only used for storage.

While the haunting image of young Ned on a street corner in Trafalgar Square is etched in the minds of many Titanic researchers, there is no report of Ned Parfett's ghost haunting the cantina's patrons.


[1]Dominic Walsh (1998) Fate of a Titanic Newsboy. The Times (London), 11 November 1998.

[2] This is a commendation in an official report of the British (and Empire/Commonwealth) military. It recognises a man's heroic actions by specifically naming him.

[3] Referred to by many soldiers as "Wipers" due to its difficult pronunciation.

[4] The White Star Line had a second London office located at 38 Leadenhall Street, E.C. The White Star Line headquarters were at 30 James Street, Liverpool. There was a fourth British office in Canute Road, Southampton.

[5] Texas Embassy Cantina, 1 Cockspur Street, London, SW1Y 5DL, tel. 020 7925 0077/0277 or fax on 020 7925 0444.

Related Articles:

A young newsboy and an iconic image

Acknowledgements

Gavin Murphy

Comment and discuss

  1. Colleen Collier said:

    A big thank you goes to Gavin for the article stated above. I must have looked at that photograph a thousand times in the past 10 years and have asked myself every time, "I wonder if any one knows who that boy is." A very sad ending to the man, but at least he is known, been properly remembered and what a great feeling I have inside! Finally there is a name to the face that has been staring at me for so long. Thank you. Colleen

  2. Randy Bryan Bigham said:

    I was much moved by this article as well. Just to know the name of this poor boy who so innocently became a part of history was a joy. I was sorry to learn of his terrible death but comforted to know he left the world a hero. The emotional image of this young man's bewildered face in a crowd, caught unwittingly (and forever suspended) in the vortex of time, is perhaps the most unforgettable in the visual landscape of Titanic as a media event. No photographs capture those moments of initial public shock in the unfolding drama ashore than those of this little boy standing in the street with his... Read full post

  3. Ashley Regan said:

    Ditto Gavin! That was a very rich piece of research that yielded a trully fabulous result. It is sad to see how his life ended. Your paper makes this link nicely between Titanic's tragic loss and this boy's tragic loss in the war. The British PM said when the war started:"the lights were going out all over europe and we won't see them lighted again" (loose quotation). I think the Titanic was the first of those lights that went out and ended an age that was quite wonderful. Your paper has inspired me to research one myself on a Titanic topic that seems to still be uncovered (I hope so... Read full post

  4. Erik Wood said:

    Gavin, This was a great article. It was so moving to hear of the mans later service and unfortunate to hear of his death at such any early stage. This was not only a good read but you did some great research. Thanks for sharing this story, Erik

  5. avatar

    Maureen Zottoli said:

    Gavin, Your articles on Titanic are always a treat and this one was simply an unexpected pleasure. I guess we become accustomed to futher research into crew, a passenger or aspects of the ship. But whatever became of the boy in the picture...we all take time to think it each time we see him, but none of us thought to take the time to check it out. What of others whose faces we have seen and are etched in our brains? Thank you so much Gavin as I know you have been probably busier than me and yet you write. You are truly great! Maureen.

  6. Addison Hart said:

    Excellent article. Just got done reading it myself. There is nothing much that I could say that everyone else has not already covered. Thanks, Gavin. God bless, Addison

  7. Gavin Murphy said:

    Thank you one and all for these kind comments. Ashley, it was actually Foreign Sec. Edward Grey who made this famous comment and not the PM. G

  8. Lynda Franklin said:

    My post is a little late but I have seen the photo a thousand times but never knew his name or what happened to him .Well done research .

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Citation

Encyclopedia Titanica (2003) The Boy in the Picture (Titanica!, ref: #1506, published 28 August 2003, generated 25th September 2020 05:08:17 AM); URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/newspaper-boy-titanic-ned-parfett.html