BODIES RECOVERED BY THE OCEANIC
A letter has been received in Birmingham from Mr Harry C.Church, of Moseley, who was on board the Oceanic on May 16, in which he describes the finding of one of the Titanic’s rafts with three bodies in it. He writes:-
About 12.30 on Tuesday we were playing shuffle board on deck when we noticed our boat making a sharp turning movement. We could not make it out, and thought at first a derelict was in front, but after a few minutes we sighted the lifeboat in the water on our starboard. We passed within 50 yards of it. By then the engines had been stopped, so we could plainly see the three men in it. It was the most pathetic sight I have ever witnessed. One man was lying under the bow and the other two in the stern. Their legs were under the thwarts, and this no doubt held them in the boat. They all had lifebelts on, and we could see their faces were almost black.
As quickly as possible a boat was lowered. They rowed out, and than after few minutes came back to report. They then took tarpaulins and big iron weights, and the doctor also went out and read the burial service over them and they were then buried in the sea. I have never seen anything so impressive in my life and there was hardly a dry eye on the ship whilst this was taking place. I sat next to the doctor at table, and he told us the three men consisted of a seaman, a fireman and a first-class passenger. They found the latter’s name in a pocket book. He was in evening dress. His name was Thomas Beattie, of Chicago. They also found a fur overcoat, some hairpins, a comb, and some ladies rings, so it proved there were other people in it, including ladies. His theory is that the boat was never launched, but floated off the Titanic just before she sank, and no doubt the oars floated off at the same time, leaving them absolutely helpless.
The boat was very flat bottomed and is called a raft. It has collapsible sides, which they had tried to pull up but evidently were unable to do so, and only the front part was up, so that you can imagine the suffering, as the seats are almost level with the water, and no doubt many were washed overboard. The marvellous thing about it is they were never picked up, as they must have drifted right in the track of the liners, and you can imagine the terrible scenes when they could not attract attention. The first officer told me the boat must have drifted about 330 miles before we picked her up, as she would drift due south and then get into the Gulf Stream and drift eastward. The doctor thinks the fireman died first, and the others had not sufficient strength to throw him overboard, so they crawled to the other end of the boat and died there.
There was no water, and evidently no food, as the doctor told me he saw some small bits of cork which had been chewed. Fancy, it was just a month before this boat was picked up. It seems almost incredible on such a busy route as the North Atlantic. I got one or two snapshots of the lifeboat as they were towing her to the ship, but was so upset I do not know how they will turn out. I had a good look at the boat. She has copper air-tight compartments all over the bottom, and is practically unsinkable in any sea, as the water rushes out as fast as it washes over her. When the sides are pulled up properly she would give protection for 47 people and they would be all right if picked up pretty quickly.