Frederick Dent Ray was born in Southwark, London, England on 20 June 1879 and baptised in The Lady Margaret Church in Walworth on 26 November 1884.
He was the son of Charles Adolphus Hopson Ray (1847-1913), a cooper (barrel maker) and Sarah Newport (1848-1919), both natives of London who had married on 7 November 1874 in Shoreditch.
One of seven children, Ray's siblings were: Charles Basil (1875-1939), Herbert Alfred (1877-1965), Rose (b. 1882), John (b. 1885), William (b. 1888) and Frank (b. 1892).
Ray first appears on the 1881 census living with his family at 33 Darwins Buildings in Newington, Middlesex and by the time of the 1891 census they have shifted to number 35 in the same buildings. The family were living at Baring Street in Shoreditch by the time of the 1901 census but Frederick was absent at that point, having commenced his career away from home.
At age 17 Ray went to sea, working for P&O and the Australian Lines and visited many major ports around the world. During the Second Boer War he enlisted in the Prince of Wales’ Light Horse Infantry and fought in the Transvaal. A bout of enteric fever saw him invalided from service and repatriated to England but his sense of adventure saw him return to South Africa where he joined the Cape Mounted Police, engaging in the last campaign with Lord Methuen and coming away without a scratch.
Ray eventually returned to England and was married in Berkshire in late-1908 to Annie Beatrice Burt (b. 7 September 1885), a native of Earley near Wokingham in Berkshire. She was the only surviving child of Shadrach Burt and the former Mary Moulsdale and she appeared with them on the 1911 census at their home, Wheelers Green in Woodley near Reading; Frederick was absent and presumably at sea. Initially settling in Southampton, husband and wife later settled in Reading and by 1912 were residents of 56 Palmer Park Avenue; they remained childless.
Frederick returned to sea and spent several years working for the White Star Line; he was aboard Olympic in September 1911 when that ship collided with HMS Hawke. When he signed on to the Titanic on 4 April 1912, Ray gave his address as Palmer Park Avenue and his previous ship as the Olympic; as a first class saloon steward he could expect monthly wages of £3, 15s. Among his charges in the saloon were: Major Archibald Butt, Clarence Moore, Frank Millet and Mr and Mrs Walter Miller Clark.
On Sunday 14 April Ray had been on duty in the first class dining saloon up until 9pm, stationed on the starboard side. He waited upon Clarence Moore and Frank Millet who dined together from around 7.30pm to 8.15pm; Major Butt was absent, having dined in the restaurant that evening with the Widener family, as per Ray's recollection. Whilst he recalled seeing Captain Smith at many meals during the voyage he could not recall seeing him present there that evening
Bunked on E deck amidships in room 3—the aft-most saloon waiters' quarters which housed 28 stewards—Ray was asleep at the time of the collision and was awakened by the impact. At first he thought that something had went amiss in the engine rooms and thought nothing about a crash. Waiting for a while he began to go off to sleep again when the saloon steward (William Moss?), followed by second steward George Dodd arrived to tell them to prepare and get to the lifeboats.
Ray dressed and took time to put a lifebelt on. He left his quarters and made his way aft along Scotland Road to a "back stairway" with around 20 others, ascending to C deck where he again encountered second steward Dodd. Dodd asked him to fetch him a lifebelt and Ray searched five empty staterooms before returning to Dodd with the required item. Ray then headed to the boat deck and recalled seeing Clarence Moore leaving the smoking room with a crowd of others he could not identify.
Ray proceeded to boat 9, his assigned boat which was being swung out and readied at the time. At that time there was a small crowd of men around the boat, a few male passengers, four sailors working on swinging out the boat and a few other crew, but he observed no women. Peering out over the side he saw lifeboat 7 being launched further forward and, noticing how cold it was, he returned below to his quarters, empty at the time, and fetched an overcoat, noticing how E-deck forward was now submerged, just managing to get through the doorway leading to the first class cabins on the starboard side. Making a quick investigation of that area and noticing similar flooding he began his ascent via the forward first class stairwell, passing only a few people on the way.
Arriving on C-deck he witnessed the pursers and the clerks in their office busying themselves by removing items from the safe and placing them in bags. Whilst here Mr Rothschild left his cabin and Ray remained behind to assist him, recognising him from having previously waited for him aboard Olympic. Rothschild had just seen his wife away in a lifeboat and remarked to Ray about how serious the situation was. Ray dismissed any danger and walked with Rothschild up the staircase to A-deck where the aft starboard boats were being filled from. He assisted at boats 9 and 11 which he saw away safely before moving aft to boat 13 which was then half-filled with women and children. Observing Dr Washington Dodge nearby and asking of his wife and child, he Dodge replied that they had left in an earlier boat. Ray then told him "you had better get in here then..." and pushed him toward and into the boat, with Ray following. Whilst in the boat Ray recalled a large lady crying and making a scene as she was being loaded, stating "Don't put me in the boat; I don't want to go in the boat; I have never been in an open boat in my life. Don't let me stay in." Ray retorted "You have to go and you may as well keep quiet."
Shortly after that scene a small child wrapped in a blanket was thrown into the boat, Ray catching the small bundle and with the mother climbing into the boat shortly after. The boat then began to lower and Ray observed a group of 3 or 4 men left behind at the rail who moved after and got into boat 15.
Troubles were far from over though; before touching down on the water Ray and other crewmen noticed the large discharge of water coming from the ship's side, which he estimated as 2' wide by 1' deep. Fearing they would be swamped, they shouted out to stop lowering and the crew aboard responded and did so, with the crew in boat 13 breaking loose the oars to use them to push the lifeboat away from the side of the ship. The lifeboat managed to touch the water safely but Ray recalled that a seemingly inexperienced crew had trouble releasing the falls; coupled with that, the discharge from the ship caused boat 13 to drift under lifeboat 15 which was by then beginning a hasty descent immediately above boat 13. With shouts and cries for knives to cut the boat from its bondage, lifeboat 15 stopped lowering after further cries to the crew above who responded with perhaps only seconds to spare when boat 15 was within touching distance of the occupants of boat 13.
With lifeboat 13 finally free, Ray recalled no-one in particular being in charge and a fireman being given command. Not wanting to move away from the side of the ship, he recalled refusing to row several times before eventually giving in but finding difficulty when doing so as the boat as so full.
Ray survived the sinking and made it to New York aboard Carpathia. He was a witness for the US Inquiry into the sinking on day 9 but was not required to testify for the British Inquiry.
Fred’s wife Annie had been spending time in north Wales at the time of the disaster, recuperating from a spell of ill health and she and the rest of his family had given up all hope of his survival until they received a telegram stating:
“Safe: coming home on Lapland.”
Although ecstatic at the news of his salvation, Fred’s family believed that they would not learn much from him about his escape as he was “a retiring and modest fellow.”
It is not clear how long Ray remained at sea following the disaster; sometime after the early 1920s he and his wife took up poultry farming, making their home at Willowray Farm in Newton Abbot, Devon.
Fred became a widower when his wife Annie died in mid-1952; he remarried only a few months later to the widow of his brother Charles, Rose Mary Ray, née Lawrence (b. 4 December 1890), a native of Croydon and daughter of postmaster Alfred Lawrence and his wife Kate. In her youth Rose worked as a post office clerk before marrying Charles Ray in 1914 and raising a family.
Frederick and Rose spent time living in Maidstone, Kent before finally settling at 43 West Park Crescent in Billericay, Essex where Ray would spend the rest of his life. During the 1950s he corresponded with Walter Lord whilst the latter was researching his book-turned film A Night to Remember.
Frederick died in Basildon Hospital on 15 January 1977 following complications from fracturing his hip; he was cremated at South Essex Crematorium and his ashes were scattered in Lawn 37 in the North Rose Garden. At 97 years, 6 months and 26 days, he was the oldest crew member at death as one of the longest lived among the surviving crew and his death left only two remaining crewmen, Frank Prentice and Sidney Daniels.
His widow Rose continued to live in Billericay and she died on 8 May 1979. At the time of her death she left an estate valued at £96,335.1