How I was saved from the Titanic: A Titanic survivor’s story (1912)

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Charlotte Collyer and daughter - Titanic survivors

Lifeboat from Titanic is lifted aboard rescue vessel Carpathia 1912

Titanic survivor tells of striking the iceberg

The sensation, to me, was as if the ship had been seized by a giant hand and shaken once, twice; then stopped dead in its course. That is to say, there was a long backward jerk, followed by a shorter forward one. I was not thrown out of my berth, and my husband staggered on his feet only slightly.

We heard no strange sounds, no rending of plates and woodwork; but we noticed that the engines had ceased running. They tried to start the engines a few minutes later; but, after some coughing and rumbling, there was silence once more. Our cabin was so situated that we could follow this clearly.

My husband and I were not alarmed. He said that there must have been some slight accident in the engine room, and at first, he did not intend to go on deck. Then he changed his mind, put on his coat and left me. I lay quietly in my berth with my little girl, and almost fell asleep again.

In what seemed a very few moments, my husband returned. He was a bit excited then. “What do you think!” he exclaimed. “We have struck an iceberg, a big one; but there is no danger. An officer just told me so.”

I could hear the footsteps of people on the deck above my head. There was some stamping, and queer noises as if ship’s tackle was being pulled about.

“Are the people frightened?” I asked quietly. “No,” he replied. “I don’t think the shock waked up many in the second cabin, and few of those in the saloons have troubled to go on deck. I saw five professional gamblers playing with some of the passengers as I went by. Their cards had been jerked off the table when the boat struck; but they were gathering them up, and had started their game again before I left the saloon.”

This story reassured me. If those people at their cards were not worried, why should I be? I think my husband would have retired to his berth without asking any more questions about the accident, but suddenly we heard hundreds of people running along the passageway in front of our door. They did not cry out; but the pattering of their feet reminded me of rats scurrying through an empty room.

I could see my face in a mirror opposite, and it had grown very white. My husband, too, was pale; and he stammered when he spoke to me. “We had all better go on deck, and see what’s wrong,” he said.

How a Titanic survivor escaped the ship

I jumped out of bed, and put over my nightdres, a dressing gown and then an ulster. My hair was down; but I hurriedly tied it back with a ribbon. By this time, although the boat had not made any progress, it seemed to have tilted forward a little.

I caught up my daughter, Marjorie, just as she was, in her nightgown, wrapped a White Star cabin blanket around her, and started out of the door. My husband followed immediately behind. Neither of us took any of our belongings from the cabin; and I remember that we even left his watch lying on his pillow. We did not doubt for an instant that we would return.

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When we reached the second-cabin promenade deck, we found a great many people there. Some officers were walking up and down, and shouting: “There is no danger, no danger whatever!” It was a clear starlight night, but very cold. There was not a ripple on the sea. A few of the passengers were standing by the rail, and looking down; but I want to say that, at that time, no one was frightened.

My husband stepped over to an officer — it was either Fifth Officer Harold Lowe or First Officer Murdoch — and asked him a question. I heard him shout back:

“No, we have no searchlight; but we have a few rockets on board. Keep calm! There is no danger!”

Our party of three stood close together. I did not recognize any of the other faces about me, probably because of the excitement. I never went near the first-cabin promenade deck, so did not see any of the prominent people on board.

Danger aboard the Titanic

Suddenly there was a commotion near one of the gangways, and we saw a stoker come climbing up from below. He stopped a few feet away from us. All the fingers of one hand had been cut off. Blood was running from the stumps, and blood was spattered over his face and over his clothes. The red marks showed very clearly against the coal dust with which he was covered.

I started over and spoke to him. I asked him if there was any danger.

“Dynger!” he screamed, at the top of his voice. “I should just sye so! It’s ‘ell down below. Look at me! This boat’ll sink like a log in ten minutes.” [Sic, in a supposed Irish dialect.]

He staggered away, and lay down, fainting, with his head on a coil of rope. And at that moment I got my first grip of fear — awful, sickening fear. That poor man with his bleeding hand and his speckled face, brought up a picture of smashed engines and mangled human bodies.

I hung on to my husband’s arm, and although he was very brave and was not trembling, I saw that his face was as white as paper. We realized that the accident was much worse than we had supposed; but even then I, and all the others about me of whom I have any knowledge, did not believe that the Titanic could go down.

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The officers now were running to and fro, and shouting orders. I have no clear idea of what happened during the next quarter of an hour. The time seemed much shorter; but it must have been between ten and fifteen minutes, I saw First Officer Murdoch place guards by the gangways, to prevent others like the wounded stoker from coming on deck.

How many unhappy men were shut off in that way from their one chance of safety I do not know; but Mr Murdoch was probably right. He was a masterful man, astoundingly brave and cool. I had met him the day before, when he was inspecting the second cabin quarters, and thought him a bull-dog of a man who would not be afraid of anything. This proved to be true; he kept order to the last, and died at his post. They say he shot himself. I do not know.

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Confusion and clamoring

Those in charge must have herded us toward the nearest boat deck; for that is where I presently found myself, still clinging to my husband’s arm, and with little Marjorie beside me. Many women were standing with their husbands, and there was no confusion.

Then, above the clamor of people asking questions of each other, there came the terrible cry: “Lower the boats. Women and children first!” Someone was shouting those last four words over and over again: “Women and children first! Women and children first!”

They struck utter terror into my heart, and now they will ring in my cars until I die. They meant my own safety; but they also meant the greatest loss I have ever suffered — the life of my husband.

The first lifeboat was quickly filled and lowered away. Very few men went in her, only five or six members of the crew, I should say. The male passengers made no attempt to save themselves. I never saw such courage, or believed it possible. How the people in the first cabin and the steerage may have acted, I do not know; but our second-cabin men were heroes. I want to tell that to every reader of this article.

ALSO SEE: Newspaper front pages with the first Titanic disaster stories: April 15, 1912

The lowering of the second boat took more time. I think all those women who were really afraid and eager to go had got into the first. Those who remained were wives who did not want to leave their husbands, or daughters who would not leave their parents. The officer in charge was Harold Lowe. First Officer Murdoch had moved to the other end of the deck. I was never close to him again.

Mr Lowe was very young and boyish-looking; but, somehow, he compelled people to obey him. He rushed among the passengers and ordered the women into the boat. Many of them followed him in a dazed kind of way; but others stayed by their men. I could have had a seat in that second boat; but I refused to go. It was filled at last, and disappeared over the side with a rush.

There were two more lifeboats at that part of the deck. A man in plain clothes was fussing about them and screaming out instructions. I saw Fifth Officer Lowe order him away. I did not recognize him; but from what I have read in the newspapers, it must have been Mr J Bruce Ismay, the managing director of the line.

The third boat was about half full when a sailor caught Marjorie, my daughter, in his arms, tore her away from me and threw her into the boat. She was not even given a chance to tell her father good-bye!

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