Today I want to write about an event that began just before midnight on the 14th April 1912 that changed the course of history.
This event was so low-key that the people concerned had no idea anything untoward had even happened. But there was one person in particular who instinctively knew something was wrong. He was the 2nd Officer Charles Lightcoller, preparing to go to bed at the time.
Of course, I am talking about the great ocean liner “TITANIC” that had hit an iceberg on its maiden voyage from Southampton England to New York USA. How could such a scrape that few people noticed, cause such a huge disaster? None of us will know for sure although the engineers of such a vessel could probably explain it quite well.
Geoff and I had learned all of this from watching the documentary entitled “WORDS of the Titanic“. The documentary made use of actors and even descendents of those rescued to re-enact the words, taken from letters that were sent by passengers arriving safely in New York on the ship ‘The Carpathia.’
The ship finally sank in the early hours of the morning of the 15th April 1912. One hundred years ago today, over 1500 went down that fateful night with the ship that was considered ‘unsinkable.’ Those in the life boats watched in horror as they saw the ship slowly sinking, some of them counting the row of lights indicating the decks, as they became less and less visible.
And then, according to the letters of people rescued, the lights suddenly went out and all was dark. All that could then be heard was a roaring noise like that of a train, as the ship slid into the depth and disappeared from sight. Soon after, all that could be heard was the painful cry of people in the freezing temperatures of the ocean calling out to be rescued from the cruel sea by those in the lifeboats … but to no avail.
Not long afterwards, there was total silence as one by one, those left in the water succumbed to the freezing conditions and died.
There were however, some remarkable rescue stories and we watched in amazement as these were told. One in particular bears repeating. One man the American, Colonial Archibald Gracie, went down with the ship. He wrote: “I was in a whirlpool of water swimming round and round as I still tried to cling to the railing of the ship.” He felt his lungs filling with water as he fought to survive. At that moment, he cried out with an urgent prayer and losing hope prepared to die.
Meanwhile, his wife was sleeping back in New York and was awakened with a sense of panic. She felt it was connected to her husband so she reached out for her Prayer Book which was beside her bed. She opened it at “Prayers for those at Sea” and began to pray for her husband in case he was in danger.
The husband, preparing to die, saw a light above him and realised he must have been close to the surface and found the strength to pull himself toward it. He survived! He was reunited with his wife in New York but unfortunately, eight months later, he succumbed to an illness and died.
I couldn’t help but feel it was a shame that, after being rescued, he had died anyway. The 2nd Officer Charles Lightcoller, who heard the “sudden vibrating jar” when the iceberg scraped the side of the ship, also survived the sinking. He had found an upturned lifeboat with a few men on it and he too was rescued.
Charles Lightcoller wrote, knowing that Titanic had a near miss on leaving Southampton: “A ship can hate her men and she frequently becomes known as a killer.” He felt this previous incident had set Titanic up for disaster. An interesting thought perhaps?
Today folks, let us remember those who lost their lives aboard the Titanic but also let us spare a thought for those who survived and lived to tell the tale. Their lives were never quite the same again. And so many were made widows by this tragic event and had to face their life alone and often with children. We salute you!