THE TRAGEDY OF THE TITANIC

North Devon Journal

TALE THAT WILL RANK WITH THAT OF THE BIRKENHEAD

“BE BRITISH.”

“NEARER MY GOD TO THEE.

The liner “Carpathia” reached port on Friday morning, and the truth about the “Titanic” tragedy became known. From the graphic story published by the Daily News we take the following:-

In all the awful story which the “Carpathia” has brought to shore there is but one fact that lightens the dreadful gloom. Never was tragedy more complete; but never was heroism more splendid. The battlefields of history offer no more shining episode than the last hours of the “Titanic.” It will live in history beside the story of the “Birkenhead.”

The incidents of that terrible night now stand out clear and merciless. The bolt fell swift and shattering out of a clear sky. The “Titanic” had left Southampton on her maiden voyage on Thursday, carrying 2,340 passengers and crew. No great liner ever started its life on the waters under happier auspices – the sea calm, the winds light and southerly, the nights brilliant though cold.

No hint of danger, save for a message from a passing French steamer that she had passed through and icefield – a message courteously acknowledged by Captain Smith. Sunday night had come. The dinner hour was well passed, and the decks were thinning under the influence of the cold night wind. Many of the passengers had already retired to their berths; but the saloons and the smoking rooms were still thronged, and the strains of the orchestra were heard through the babel of talk and the rhythmic undertone of the mighty engines.

Through the dark the great ship was ploughing through calm seas at her best speed, making 23 knots, and having her scheduled time well in hand.

It was 11:40 when a slight shock was noticed. Then another. Then the engines stopped. Men left the smoking-room and their berths to go on deck and make inquiries – not fearfully nor anxiously, but curiously. And they came away satisfied that only some trifle was wrong and that soon the ship would resume her voyage. Some had seen an iceberg through the portholes just before the shocks and light-heartedly speculated on the ship having scraped against it. That was all. Those who had been talking returned to their seats and resumed their talk; those who had come from their berths returned to them and to sleep. The game that had been interrupted was resumed; the broken argument taken up. No breath of suspicion had fallen over the doomed ship.

But while the laughter and the talk went on there was another scene down in the bowels of the ship where men were searching – searching with results that filled them with alarm. The captain had gone to the wireless operator, Phillips, to tell him to be ready to send a call for help as the ship had struck an iceberg, and the damage might be serious. Ten minutes later he reappeared, and the first “S.O.S.” message was sent through the night, and picked up far away, here by the “Virginian” there by the “Carpathia” – the latter some sixty or seventy miles. “We are sinking by the head,” was Phillips’ news to the “Carpathia,” and that vessel replied that it had turned about and was making all speed for the imperilled ship.

Meanwhile, the “Titanic” remained moveless upon the waters. The unusual sensation, prolonged, began to tell on the passengers. What did it mean? When would the engines re-start? There was still no alarm, but a certain disquietitude. The decks began to be alive again. The smoke-room was deserted; and those who had returned to sleep reappeared in dressing gowns and rugs. Everywhere there was movement – unrest, the growing sense that something was impending.

Then came the first clear warning of peril. Along the decks and down the great corridors of the vessel rang the cry “All passengers on deck with life belts.” Instantly the whole ship was alive with excitement, and up from below poured to the several decks men, women, and children.

There was no longer any doubt as to the gravity of the situation. Even the untrained eyes of the passengers could see the palpable list of the ship from stern to bow. They did not know the message that was being sent from the wireless room; but the danger now was unconcealed.

But still the full measure of the disaster was unsuspected. The idea that the “Titanic” was sinking in mid-ocean had not penetrated the doomed company. The thing was unthinkable – no sudden and shattering crash, no wild alarms, only a slow anxiety and precautions that a wise officer would take against even small risks.

Then came the complete awakening. The lifeboats were being uncovered, and the order rang out “All men stand back from the boats; all women retire to the next deck below.” Then the vessel was sinking – sinking in mid-Atlantic, with no friendly light visible over the dark face of the waters to offer hope of rescue.

High up in the wireless room Phillips, loyal to his duty, was pouring out his cries of “Help.” Fifty miles away the “Carpathia” was racing under full steam to the rescue. Farther off other vessels had turned their prows towards the doomed ship. But these things were not known – they could only be guessed.

The scenes that followed can only be imagined. Husbands and wives, mothers and children clinging together in the last agonising embraces – the vessel sinking under them, the boats being lowered, around them the dark seas, into which they must soon be plunged. In this last trial of the human soul men and women alike behaved with splendid bravery. There was agony, there was weeping, there were poignant scenes of separation, women forced from their husbands, helpless children crying at some horror they could not apprehend – all this there was, but there was no wild disorder, no panic, no trampling of the weak by the strong. In all that fearful scene there was much for tears; but nothing for shame.

One by one the boats were filled and lowered. The operation was one of enormous difficulty; but it was carried out with perfect order, and with, so far as the evidence goes, entire fairness. Women and children were placed in them – weeping, often struggling to get back to the loved ones they were leaving behind to their fate. There was no respect to persons – only persons to weakness and helplessness. Wealth was no passport, and it is to the credit of wealth that it seems to have realised in this dread moment that it had no claims with which to challenge the rights of humanity. The millionaires stood by with the rest nd saw the boats filled and felt the great ship sagging beneath them into the deep – not all the gold of the Rand able to snatch for them one more hour of life.

And meanwhile the band played on heroically defying death, breathing courage into the hearts of the desolated hearers. They played cheerful tunes through that awful disembarkation; but ere the end came they faced the realities that encompassed them, and played “Nearer my God, to Thee.” The strains of that great hymn were the last that were wafted over the waters before the final plunge came.

Soon the sea around the vessel was alive with the lifeboats, each manned by seamen, each crowded to its utmost with women and children. When the latter had been got away men filled the remnant of the boats. Of these there were sixteen, together with two rafts. In all 705 passengers and crew had escaped from the ship. The rest remained on the decks, awaiting the end, their lifebelts on, their minds, we may guess, filled with thoughts that left no room for speech.

The boats moved away through the floating ice – away from the circuit of that awful plunge that was now approaching; but not so distant as to be out of easy sight of the dark, doomed hull.

Its position on the water was now visible. The dip of the bows was steadily deepening: but the end did not come instantly. The last of the boats had been lowered, and got away soon after one o’clock. It was nearly an hour before the final scene of the tremendous tragedy.

About quarter past two the straining eyes that looked from the crowded lifeboats saw the great ship move visibly. It dipped deeper towards the bows, and for a time, calculated at five minutes, it stood silhouetted against the deep-blue of the sky like a duck dipping into the water. There was a roar of machinery, a cry of horror from a thousand throats, and then, with one movement, the “Titanic” sank majestically to its grave. The sea was a vast vacancy. The movement was so gradual that practically there was no suction from the final submergence. Around the water was strewn with men swimming, floating, struggling. Some few were rescued by the boats, but for the vast majority there was no hope, and around the grave of the “Titanic” over sixteen hundred found their last resting place.

When the dawn broke over the sea the “Carpathia” was visible nearing the scene of the tragedy, and the survivors saw rescue at hand. The task of transhipment was carried out without disaster, and having satisfied himself that no further life was to be saved the captain of the “Carpathia” resumed his journey to New York with his burden of sorrow.

Out of the total of 2233, only 705 were saved, and many of these aare seriously affected, bodily or mentally, by their terrible experiences.

Captain Smith was on the bridge immediately after the disaster. He remained at his post throughout, issuing orders with perfect composure and talking every measure for the safety of those committed to his care. After the boats had cleared the ship he gave a brief order to the waiting multitude on board :-

“Men, you have done you full duty. You can do no more. It’s every man for himself.

As the ship sank lower in the water, as the tilt of the bows increased, as the moment of death approached, Captain Smith took his megaphone and shouted: “Be British.” And still there was perfect order in that dying ship.

At the final moment Captain Smith climbed down from the bridge and committed himself to the water. A boat offered aid, but with a noble magnanimity he refused it as the price of risk to others and chose for himself the lot of death. British to the last.

In the ship a great number of men struggled for a raft which floated among the wreckage and escaped being drawn down by the swirl when the “Titanic” sank. Some thirty-five men gained the raft, among them Mr. Bride, the second wireless operator. The hero, Phillips, lay upon it – dead. Colonel Gracie, of the United States Army, tells a moving story which will ever redound to the glory of man. When the full complement that the raft would bear had been reached other men in the water forbore to fight for a place upon it, and, shouting their blessings and their farewell, threw up their hands and went down.

Mr. Bruce Ismay, giving evidence before the Senatorial Commission, declared that at no time during the trip was the “Titanic” put at full speed. He was asleep at the time of her impact with the iceberg, but he rose and went up to the bridge, where he learned from Capt. Smith that the damage was serious.

When the order was given, he helped to launch the boats. He believed the ship’s speed on Saturday last was 21 knots. He saw three boats lowered. The women and children being taken first.

Questioned as to his departure from the sinking vessel, Mr. Ismay said an officer asked the question, “Are there any more women or children?” There being no response, witness got into the boat. He did not see the “Titanic” sink and heard no explosions. He was rowing at the time and had his back to the vessel, as he did not wish to see the end.

The “Titanic” had her full complement of boats. She could have floated with two compartments full of water if the impact had been head on, and in all probability would have been in port today. As it was, he understoon that the blow was a glancing one between the forecastle and the captain’s bridge.

Capt. Rostron, of the “Carpathia,” who followed, declared that the “Titanic” was on the right course – i.e. she was on the course which was the proved one for this time of year.

The “Carpathia’s” wireless operator was in his cabin at the time of the picking up of the S.O.S. signal on purely unofficial business, and was only listening by accident. In another ten minutes he would have been in bed and the ship would have known nothing of the disaster.
 

Acknowledgements

Michael Poirier, Gordon Steadwood

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Michael Poirier

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