Mr Walter Thomas Brice (Able seaman) was born in Lenham, Kent, England on 29 December 1869, later being baptised on 15 January the following year.
He was the son of Thomas Brice (1850-1929), an agricultural labourer, and Annie Maria Payne (1851-1902), natives of Lenham who had married in late-1869. He had one known sibling, Katie Annie (b. 1872).
He appears as an infant on the 1871 census living at Forstal Cottage in Lenham. The following year, however, his father abandoned the family and resettled in the USA. He was remarried twice over and had more children, firstly to Lavinia Cane (b. 1848) with whom he had two daughters. Following Lavinia's death in 1900 he remarried a widow, Hannah Hecox (b. 1856). He later worked in the hotel business in Richfield, Ostego, New York up until his death on 20 December 1929.
His mother was remarried in 1880 to Richard James Beck (b. 1850 in Selling, Kent), affording Walter several half-siblings: Frederick (b. 1877), Mabel (b. 1879), Maud (b. 1880), Florence (b. 1884), Herbert (b. 1886), Alfred (b. 1889) and Alice (b. 1890). Walter and his family appear on the 1881 census living at 12 North Lane, Faversham, Kent.
Walter apparently went to sea at a young age; he joined the Royal Navy on 14 January 1890, his first ship being the Pembroke. After four years of service he was discharged on 6 April 1894, finally serving aboard Victory II. He was described as standing at 5' 6" with light hair, grey eyes and a fresh complexion and had exemplary conduct. He later worked on sail and steam ships and joined the merchant service and prior to Titanic served on Majestic and Oceanic for the White Star Line.
Walter was married in Southampton on 21 May 1907 to Sarah McKenna (b. 1881), a native of Renfrewshire, Scotland. The couple would have no children and the 1911 census shows Sarah Brice living with her widowed mother, also called Sarah, at 36 Edward Street, Hebburn on Tyne, South Shields, Durham. Walter was absent and likely at sea.
When he signed on to the Titanic, on 6 April 1912, Walter gave his address as 11 Lower Canal Walk, (Southampton). As a seaman he could expect monthly wages of £5. He gave his previous ship as the Thames.
On the night of the disaster Brice had been on watch since 8pm and was outside the seaman's mess on C-deck forward at the time of the collision. He heard the impact which he described as a rumbling and felt the ship vibrate but not violently, this lasting for around ten seconds. He immediately went out to the forward well deck and saw ice that had fallen from the berg.
It may be surmised that after this Brice assisted in preparing the lifeboats. He lowered boats 9 and 11 to A-deck to be filled from there and assisted in launching boat 9 before moving aft to his own boat, number 11. An officer, who Brice was unable to identify, called out for a sailor in the boat and Brice, then on the boat deck, jumped out to the forwards falls and lowered himself into boat 11's bow where he made preparations for launch, including shipping the rudder.
Boat 11, under the command of seaman Humphreys, was overloaded with an estimated 70 persons aboard and had difficulty releasing itself from the falls once it hit the water. There was also the threat of it being swamped from the pump discharge and the large number of people made it difficult to row and those at the oars found it almost impossible to pull a stroke.
Brice watched the ship sinking from about a quarter of a mile away, stating she was almost perpendicular in the final plunge but was unable to state whether she had broken apart. Before sinking Brice also reported hearing two loud rumblings spaced 8 to 10 minutes apart.
With no lantern in the boat Brice fashioned torches out of rope and those rowing tested on the oars for a couple of hours before being rescued by Carpathia.
Brice survived the disaster and was a witness at the US Senate Inquiry.
Brice returned to working at sea and for the duration of WWI. What became of his wife Sarah is not clear but he was remarried in Thanet, Kent in July 1919 to Caroline Rose Hannah Garwood, née Gard (b. 1875 in Ramsgate, Kent), the childless widower of Alfred Garwood (b. 1874), a fisherman. The couple remained in Thanet where Walter was made a widower in 1926. He passed away two years later in 1928 aged 58.
References and SourcesDonald Hyslop, Alastair Forsyth and Sheila Jemima (1997) Titanic Voices: Memories from the Fateful Voyage, Sutton Publishing, Southampton City Council. ISBN 0 7509 1436 X
Wyn Craig Wade (1979, 1986) The Titanic: End of a Dream. London, Penguin
United States Senate, Washington 1912. n° 806, Crew List