Master Philip Aks,1 also known as Frank or Filly, was born in London, England on 7 June 1911.
He was the son of Polish immigrants, Sam Aks (1891-1970), a tailor, and Leah Rosen (1891-1967), natives of Łódź and Warsaw, respectively who had married the year before his birth before resettling in England.
In the months prior to Aks' birth his parents appeared on the 1911 census as residents of 198 St George Street, St George in the East, London and his father was described as a trouser machinist.
His father Sam left England in January 1912, sailing from Liverpool to New York aboard Cymric. He worked as a tailor, eventually saving enough money to send back for his wife and son to join him in Norfolk, Virginia. Leah and her son boarded Titanic as third class passengers (ticket number 392091 which cost £9, 7s) at Southampton on 10 April 1912.
Whilst accounts vary as to the events at the time after the collision, Leah and her infant son became separated during the confusion and ended up in different lifeboats. One version of events is that Frank was taken from Leah's arms during the ascent from the third class areas to the lifeboats whilst another version states that Frank was pulled from her arms and tossed into a lifeboat which was lowered without her. In any event, Frank is believed to have been rescued in lifeboat 11 and his mother in lifeboat 13 and is believed to have been the "German" lady who had lost her child and who was consoled by Ruth Becker, who offered to help her find him once rescued.
Aboard the Carpathia Frank's mother searched frantically for her son and was comforted by other passengers, including Selena Cook. Whilst out on deck one day she heard a baby cry and, recognising the cry as belonging to her son ran up to a lady who was carrying baby Frank in her arms. The woman, described as "Italian" reportedly refused to give up the child and only through the intervention of Captain Rostron was Frank returned to Leah after she was able to describe a birthmark under his left breast.
Upon hearing of the news of the sinking, Sam Aks fell off his porch and received a concussion. He was eventually reunited with his wife and son.
In America Frank gained two siblings: Sarah Carpathia (b. 1913) and Harry (b. 1915). His father later worked as an auto salesman and later managed his own garage. The 1920 census shows Frank and his family living at 552 Church Street, Norfolk whilst the 1930 shows the family living at 1021 Weston Avenue, also in Norfolk. Frank never completed high school and that time he was working as an auto mechanic, later to be a salesman like his father and owning the Eastern Salvage Company before his retirement in 1974.
He met his future wife aged 18; she was Marie Miller (b. 24 January 1914), a native of Portsmouth, Virginia. The couple enjoyed a long and happy marriage which they put down to the fact that they were married twice, by a justice of the peace in South Mills, North Carolina, and by a rabbi in Alexandria, Virginia. The marriage produced two daughters, Barbara Jean (b. 1930 later Morris) and Joyce Fern (1933-1996, later Rosenfeld).
Active in his local community, Aks was a member of Beth El Temple, Khedive Shrine Temple and Jewish Community Centre. A freemason, he was a member of Masonic Lodge I and spent his last years living at 900 Block of Armfield Circle, Norfolk.
The last two decades of Aks' life revolved around Titanic and he owned a large personal collection of Titanic memorabilia; his collection was on display in the Mariner's Museum in Newport News until 1996. A member of the Titanic Historical Society, he attended several conventions in the 1980s and during the 1950s with the renewal in interest in the ship he was a special guest alongside his mother at showings of Fox's Titanic and A Night to Remember.
Frank Aks in 1988
(© Michael A. Findlay, USA)
Frank Aks died of heart failure on 15 July 1991 aged 80 and he was later buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery, Norfolk. He was survived by his wife Marie who later passed away on 27 January 2003.