TITANIC-TITANIC.com | Titanic and Other Ships By Charles Herbert Lightoller

Chapter 35 THE RESCUE

 

However anyone that had sought refuge on that upturned Englehardt survived the night is nothing short of miraculous. If ever human endurance was taxed to the limit, surely it was during those long hours of exposure in a temperature below freezing, standing motionless in our wet clothes. That the majority were still standing when the first faint streaks of dawn appeared is proof that whilst there is life there is still some hope.

Hour by hour the compartments in this collapsible boat were surely filling with water, due, no doubt to the rough and ready treatment she had received when dumped incontinently from the top of our quarters, with a crash on to the boat deck, there to float off of her own sweet will.

The fact remains we were painfully conscious of that icy cold water, slowly but surely creeping up our legs.

Some quietly lost consciousness, subsided into the water, and slipped overboard, there being nothing on the smooth flat bottom of the boat to hold them. No one was in a condition to help, and the fact that a slight but distinct swell had started to roll up, rendered help from the still living an impossibility.

It was only by the grace of being huddled together that most of us didn't add to the many that lost their lives that night.

Another thing, with the rising sea I realised that without concerted action, we were all going to be pitched headlong into the sea, and that would spell finish for everyone. So I made everyone face one way, and then, as I felt the boat under our feet lurch to the sea, one way or the other, I corrected it by the order "Lean to the right," "Stand upright," or "Lean to the left," as the case may be.

In this way we managed to maintain our foothold on the slippery planks by now well under water.

We knew that ships were racing to our rescue, though the chances of our keeping up our efforts of balancing until one came along seemed very, very remote. Phillips, the senior wireless operator, standing new me, told me the different ships that had answered our call. Of these, according to their positions, undoubtedly the Carpathia was nearest and should be up with the position where the Titanic sank, by daylight.

For encouragement, I passed on to those around, my rough calculation and it certainly helped the struggle to keep up. As it turned out, the information from Phillips, and the calculation, were about right, though poor old Phillips did not live to benefit by it. He hung on till daylight came in and we sighted one of the lifeboats in the distance. We were beyond making her hear with our shouting, but I happened to have in my pocket the ordinary whistle which every officer of the Watch carries. This piercing sound carried, and likewise carried the information (for what it was worth) that it was an officer making the call.

Slowly - oh how slow it seemed - she worked her way towards us. Meantime the boat under us showed unmistakable signs of leaving us altogether. I think it must have been the final and terrible anxiety that tipped the beam with Phillips, for he suddenly slipped down, sitting in the water, and though we held his head up, he never recovered. I insisted on taking him into the lifeboat with us, hoping there still might be life, but it was too late. Altogether there were thirty of us boarded the lifeboat, and later on I counted seventy-five living, apart from those lying on the bottom boards. If a sea got up it was going to take all my knowledge of boat-craft to keep her afloat.

As daylight increased we had the thrice welcome sight of the Cunard Liner Carpathia cautiously picking her way through the ice towards us. We saw boat by boat go alongside, but the question was, would she come our way in time? Sea and wind were rising. Every wave threatened to come over the bows of our overloaded lifeboat and swamp us. All were women and children in the boat apart from those of us men from the Englehardt. Fortunately, none of them realised how near we were to being swamped.

I trimmed the boat down a little more by the stern, and raised the bow, keeping her carefully bow on to the sea, and hoping against hope she would continue to rise. Sluggishly, she lifted her bows, but there was no life in her with all that number on board.

Then, at long last, the Carpathia definitely turned her head towards us, rounding to about 100 yards to windward. Now to get her safely alongside! We couldn't last many minutes longer, and round the Carpathia's bows was a scurry of wind and waves that looked like defeating my efforts after all. One sea lopped over the bow, and the next one far worse. The following one she rode, and then, to my unbounded relief, she came through the scurry into calm water under the Carpathia's lee.

Quickly the bosun's chairs were lowered for those unable to climb the sheer side by a swinging rope ladder, and little enough ceremony was shown in bundling old and young, fat and thin, onto that bit of wood constituting the "Boatswain's Chair."

Once the word was given to "hoist away" and up into the air they went. There were a few screams, but on the whole, they took it well, in fact many were by now in a condition that rendered them barely able to hang on, much less scream.

When all were on board, we counted the cost. There were a round total of 711 saved out of 2,201 on board. Fifteen hundred of all ranks and classes had gone to their last account. Apart from four junior officers (sic) ordered away in charge of boats, I found I was the solitary survivor of over fifty officers and engineers who went down with her. Hardly one amongst the hundreds of surviving passengers, but had lost someone near and dear.

Then there came the torment of being unable to hold out a vestige of hope.

"Could not another ship have picked them up?'

"Could then not possibly be in some boat overlooked by the Carpathia?"

"Was it not possible that he might have climbed on to an iceberg?"

After serious consideration it seemed the kindest way to be perfectly frank and give the one reply possible. What kindness was there in holding out a hope, knowing full well that there was not even the shadow of hope. Cold comfort, and possibly cruel, but I could see no help for it.

Countess Rothes was one of the foremost amongst those trying to carry comfort to others, and through that sad trip to New York, there were very many quiet acts of self-denial.

Everybody's hope, so far as the crew were concerned was that we might arrive in New York in time to catch the Celtic back to Liverpool and so escape the inquisition that would otherwise be awaiting us. Our luck was distinctly out. We were served with Warrants, immediately on arrival. It was a colossal piece of impertinence that served no useful purpose and elicited only a garbled and disjointed account of the disaster; due in the main to a total lack of co-ordination in the questioning with an abysmal ignorance of the sea.

In Washington our men were herded into a second-rate boarding house, which might have suited some, but certainly not such men as formed the crew of the Titanic. In the end they point blank refused to have anything more to do with either the enquiry or the people, whose only achievement was to make our Seamen, Quartermasters and Petty Officers look utterly ridiculous. It was only with the greatest difficulty I was able to bring peace into the camp - mainly due to the tact exhibited by the British Ambassador, Lord Percy, and Mr. P.A. Franklyn (sic), President of the International Mercantile Marine Co.

With all the goodwill in the world, the "Enquiry" could be called nothing but a complete farce, wherein all the traditions and customs of the sea were continuously and persistently flouted.

Such a contrast to the dignity and decorum of the Court held by Lord Mersey in London, where the guiding spirit was a sailor in essence, and who insisted that any cross questioner should at any rate be familiar with at least the rudiments of the sea. Sir Rufus Isaacs--as he was then - had started his career as a sailor. One didn't need to explain that "going down by the bow," and "going down by the head" was one and the same thing. Nor, that water-tight compartments, dividing the ship, were not necessarily places of refuge in which passengers could safely ensconce themselves, whilst the ship went to the bottom of the Atlantic, to be rescued later, as convenient. Neither was it necessary to waste precious time on lengthy explanations as to how and why a sailor was not an officer, though an officer was a sailor.

In Washington it was of little consequence, but in London it was very necessary to keep one's hand on the whitewash brush. Sharp questions tht needed careful answers if one was to avoid a pitfall, carefully and subtly dug, leading to a pinning down of blame on to someone's luckless shoulders. How hard Mr. Scanlan and the legal luminary representing the interests of the Seamen and Firemen, tried to prove there were not enough seamen to launch and man the boats. The same applied to the passengers, and quite truly. But it was inadvisable to admit it then and there, hence the hard fought legal duels between us. Mr. Scanlan's conquest of the higher legal spheres of recent years proves he was no mean antagonist to face. His aim was to forth the admission that I had not sufficient seamen to give adequate help with the boats, and consequently that the ship was undermanned. How many men did I consider necessary to launch a lifeboat?

"What size lifeboat?'

"Take one of the Titanic's lifeboats."

"Well," I pointed out, "it would depend greatly on weather conditions."

"Make your own conditions," replied by legal opponent impatiently.

I suggested, as an example, we should take the wind as force six Beaufort's scale.

"Yes," he agreed.

"Then," I added, "there would be an accompanying sea, or course."

"Yes, yes," he again agreed, and fell into the trip which Lord Mersey proceeded to spring, by informing Mr. Scanlan that in the circumstances described it would be impossible to launch any boat.

So the legal battle went on.

Still, I think we parted very good friends.

A washing of dirty linen would help no one. The B.O.T. had passed that ship as in all respects fit for sea in every sense of the word, with sufficient margin of safety for everyone on board. Now the B.O.T. was holding an enquiry in to the loss of that ship - hence the whitewash brush. Personally, I had no desire that blame should be attributed either to the B.O.T. or the White Star Line, though in all conscience it was a difficult task, when handled by some of the cleverest legal minds in England, striving tooth and nail to prove the inadequacy here, the lack there, when one had known, full well, and for many years, the ever-present possibility of just such a disaster. I think in the end the B.O.T. and the White Star Line won.

The very point, namely the utter inadequacy of the life-saving equipment then prevailing, which Mr. Scanlan and his confrères had been fighting tooth and nail to prove has since been wholly, frankly, and fully admitted by the stringent rules now governing British ships, "Going Foreign."

No longer is the Boat-Deck almost wholly set aside as a recreation ground for passengers, with the smallest number of boats relegated to the least possible space.

In fact, the pendulum has swing to the other extreme and the margin of safety reached the ridiculous.

Be that as it may, I am never likely to forget that long drawn out battle of wits, where it seemed that I must hold that unenviable position of whipping boy to the whole lot of them. Pull devil, pull baker, till it looked as if they would pretty well succeed in pulling my hide off completely, each seemed to want his bit. I know when it was all over I felt more like a legal doormat than a Mail Boat Officer.

Perhaps the heads of the White Star Line didn't quite realise just what an endless strain it had all been, falling on one man's luckless shoulders, as it needs must, being the sole survivor out of so many departments--fortunately they were broad.

Still, just that word of thanks which was lacking, which when the Titanic Enquiry was all over would have been very much appreciated. It must have been a curious psychology that governed the managers of that magnificent Line. Promotion and service in their Western Ocean Mail Boats was the mark of their highest approval. Both these tokens came my way, and fifteen of my twenty years under the red Burgee with its silver star, were spent in the Atlantic Mail. Yet, when after twenty years of service I came to bury my anchor, and awaited their pleasure at headquarters, for the last time, there was a brief,

"Oh, you are leaving us, are you. Well, Good-bye."

A curious people!

However, that was not to be for some years, and I was yet to see another of the Line, my old favourite, the Oceanic, swallowed up by the insatiable sea.

Having at last finished with the "Titanic Enquiry," I again set about picking up the threads and found myself once more signing Articles on the Oceanic with many that had survived the Titanic. One well-known figure was missing from the Shipping Office about this time and that was "Old Ned", known to all and sundry as just "Ned." Actually, he was responsible for the stokehold crowd, and a tougher bunch than the firemen on a Western Ocean Mail boat it would be impossible to find. Bootle seemed to specialise in the Liverpool Irishman, who was accounted to be the toughest of the tough, and prominent amongst the few that could stand up to the life, where life below consisted of one endless drive. Even the engineers seemed to get tainted with that unqualified "toughness," for they must be able to hold their own with the worst. This type reached its peak in the days of the old Majestic and Teutonic. The conditions under which firemen laboured in these boats, were inhuman. Little blame if the men did become brutes. The heat of the stokehold alone, when driving under the last ounce of steam, was terrible. Added to this, when in the Gulf Stream, was the intense humidity.

It was no uncommon sight to see a man, sometimes two, three or even four in a watch, hoisted up the ash-shoot with the bucket chain hooked roughly round their arm=pits, to be dumped on deck unconscious. A few buckets of water over them and then they were left to recover. Neither must they be long about it, or up comes the Leading Fireman, who, with strict impartiality, will apply both boot and fist to drive his dogs of war below again.

The instructions were to keep up that "arrow," indicating the steam pressure, al all costs, regardless of body or bones. Small wonder at the tales that used to creep about, of men gone missing after a free fight, when sharp shovels are used as flails.

"So and so missing, He must have gone overboard during the night. Caught with the heat, poor beggar."

Yes, caught, all right, but perhaps with the sharp edge of a shovel.

An engineer at one time was seen to go into the stokehold, and never seen to come out, nor yet seen on deck. He was a particularly powerful type of man and brutal withal, who hazed his watch to the limit in the demand for steam, till the stokehold was Bedlam let loose. From that day till this--though never mentioned ashore--his disappearance was frankly attributed to the swift cut of a shovel from behind, and his body shot into a furnace. The truth will never be known, but from then on, an engineer never went into the stokehold unaccompanied by his leading hand.

These were the type of men "Old Ned" was called upon to supply and handle. Originally a fireman himself, he knew all the tricks, and feared none. Tall, keen, alert. Perfect athletic build. A hawk-like eye, and monstrous aquiline nose, that had been broken more times than even he could remember. Slow of movement and quiet of speech, with a voice that came rumbling from way down in his chest.

A couple of hundred toughs, crowing and jostling together, waiting to sign on. "Ned," towering above the tallest, comes through the doorway and makes his way with hardly a check, surging through, and throwing aside the Bootle toughs like a ship contemptuously flinging off the little waves that would hold her. A shoulder here, an elbow there. Nor would he hesitate to put the flat of that huge hand of his on the flat of some more than usually objectionable face, with the base of his wrist tucked neatly under the chin. If the man was sensible, he stepped back, quickly and sharply, regardless of the curses of those behind him, or how they might retaliate. Arriving at the table, "Ned" quickly says, "Stand back" to those who would crowd in with their Discharge books held out. For be it known that there will be a ful score and more eager to accept every single vacancy. Even "Brutal Bootle" looks with respect at a man who has gained that giddy height, and been chosen by "Ned" for "The Mail Boat" A vicious and resentful crowd they were, and though master of the situation at the pay table, it was a different matter when turning a dark corner in Dockland, as old "Ned" had known to his cost, many a time and often. On the other hand, there was not a pub within a mile or more radius, that he could not walk into and call for enough beer to drown a man, had he wished. No fireman came ashore from the Mail Boat, with his pay in his pocket but "chalked one up for Ned." Even a Chicago gangster might have envied the cortège that finally followed "Old Ned" after signing his last ship.

With the Oceanic's comfortable quarters, and bathrooms, there was no call for the tough element, in fact it did not exist in Southampton, where the mail boats were now running from. Again, she introduced a reserve of power that enabled a steady speed to be kept. In fact, the Oceanic's records for steady and consistent running have never been equalled. Two consecutive runs of over three thousand miles and not one minute of difference. Three consecutive voyages and only one minute of difference between the times of leaving Sandy Hook, New York, and passing the Wolf Rock off the Scillies.

We were bound home on that fateful August 4, 1914, when we got the brief message that hostilities had broken out and were advised to "deviate from the recognised tracks." We did deviate, too, for we saw no fun in being captured in a fine ship like the Oceanic, right at the outbreak of war. Judge our anxiety when nearing the Irish Coast, on seeing the masts and funnels of two ships coming above the horizon--ships obviously of the cruiser variety. The only question was whose cruisers? Well, anyway, we had to get in sometime, and the chances were they were not Germans--so we'd better risk it. All the same, it was undoubted relief when at last the white ensign also came above the rim of the sea.


Chapter 36

 

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