Somerset Survivor of the Titanic : His Views on the Film

Somerset County Herald

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One of the two surviving officers of the Titanic, the “unsinkable” White Star liner, which went down in April, 1912, with the loss of 1,502 lives, is Mr. Herbert J. Pitman, who lives at Pitcombe, near Bruton. His memories of the disaster, given to one of our representatives, is of topical interest with the showing of the film “A Night to Remember” at the Gaumont, Taunton, this week.

Last Month, Mr. Pitman was a guest of the Rank Film Organisation, Ltd., at the world premiere in London of “A Night to Remember” – the story of the disaster. “The film is an excellent representation of what happened, and I cannot recall a single technical mistake” he said.

Our correspondent writes: When I called on Mr. Pitman with a view to probing his recollections of that April night in mid-Atlantic 46 years ago, I was met with a civil yet determined: “Oh, surely there is nothing more to tell.”

Gradually, however, the story came out – the story of how he first knew about the liner hitting an iceberg, of how he was ordered to leave the ship on the fourth boat to be launched from the port side, and of how he watched the Titanic sink from half a mile away.

Mr Ptiman was Third Officer on the maiden trip of the Titanic from Southampton to New York. For him the impact with the iceberg came as a rude wakening – he was sleeping in his cabin – and his first rather drowsy thoughts were that the liner had anchored.

Gaping Hole

Realising within a very few seconds that this could not be the case, he hurriedly dressed and went up on deck where to his surprise everything seemed perfectly normal.

The ship was still on an even keel, even though the blow had caused a gaping hole in her side, and it was not until about ten minutes later when the task of distributing lifebelts began, that the passengers began to realise that something was wrong.

No Panic at All

It was then Mr. Pitman’s job to supervise the lowering of boats, and he says that there was not the slightest suggestion of panic. The fourth boat from the port side was about to be lowered when the First Officer told Mr. Pitman to get in. “Three boats are already away without an officer so you can be the first to leave” were the instructions he received.

Was Doomed

As the lifeboat, with its 40 passengers, drifted further away from the stricken liner, Mr. Pitman himself still did not realise that the Titanic was going to sink.

“I had no idea she was doomed” he said, “I thought she would take in a certain amount of water, yet manage to stay afloat. But the damage was too much”

                  The thousands of lights on board illuminated the Titanic in her desperate fight to remain afloat until just ten minutes before the actual sinking. This Mr. Pitman watched from the lifeboat about half a mile away, and the next few minutes were the most horrifying he has ever experienced.

Final Plunge

The screams of more than 1,000 people still on board, as the liner made its final plunge to the sea bed, seemed to last an age, but, in actual fact, the waters were very quickly silent again.

About five hours later, Mr. Pitman and the other survivors were picked up by a passing British ship, which took them to New York.

Stamp Collector

Now Mr. Pitman is enjoying his retirement at the home of his nephew and niece, Mr. And Mrs. A. Mainstone, and one of his main hobbies is stamp collecting.

Although not belonging, by tradition, to a seafaring family, Mr. Pitman left his home at Rimpton at the age of 16 to begin a four-year apprenticeship with a London firm of ship owners. On sailing ships he visited many parts of the world but most of his trips were between the West Indies and Calcutta.

After gaining his Second Mate’s ticket, he “went into steam” and, on completion of about nine years at sea, he was grated his Master’s ticket. During the 1914-18 war, he served on H.M.S. Teutonic and throughout the last war was engaged on trooping duties. A 51-year association with the sea came to an end with his retirement 10 years ago.

FOOTNOTE – The other surviving officer of the Titanic is Commander Joseph G. Boxall, 11, Walcott Avenue, Christchurch, Hants.

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Herbert John Pitman


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Encyclopedia Titanica (2013) Somerset Survivor of the Titanic : His Views on the Film (Somerset County Herald, Saturday 2nd August 1958, ref: #19560, published 12 September 2013, generated 22nd July 2021 07:03:06 PM); URL :