A hundred years ago, the Titanic was in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, three days into its maiden voyage bound for New York.
These are the actual words of Charlotte Collyer, one of the passengers on board the Titanic as it headed for its date with destiny. She recalled a conversation with a stewardess on the evening of 14 April, who had informed her that they were heading into dangerous waters; curiously, this had a reassuring effect as she assumed the crew would be all the more vigilant for icebergs.
‘As far as I can tell we had not slackened our speed in the least. It must have been a little after ten o’clock when my husband came in and woke me up. He sat and talked to me for how long I do not know, before he began to make ready to go to bed. And then the crash! The sensation to me was 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 one. I was not thrown out of my berth and my husband staggered on his feet slightly. We heard no strange sounds, no rending of plates and woodwork, but we noticed that the engines had stopped running. They tried to start the engines a few minutes later but after some coughing and rumbling there was silence once more.’
They eventually made for the decks where the seriousness of the situation was soon clear.
‘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 went over and spoke to him. I asked him if there was any danger. ‘Danger’, he screamed at the top of his voice, ‘I should say so! It’s hell down below, look at me. This boat will sink like a stone in ten minutes.’ He staggered away and lay down fainting with his head on a coil of rope. At this moment I got my first grip of fear – awful, sickening feat. 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 not trembling, I saw that his face was as white as paper. We realised 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 would go down.’
Yet the call was made for women and children to enter the lifeboats; but men were not permitted to board.
‘The third boat was about half full when a sailor caught Marjorie in his arms and tore her away from me and threw her into the boat. She was not even given a chance to tell her father goodbye! ‘You too!’ a man yelled close to my ear. ‘You’re a woman, take a seat in that boat or it will be too late’. The deck seemed to be slipping under my feet. It was leaning at a sharp angle for the ship was then sinking fast, bows down. I clung desperately to my husband. I do not know what I said but I shall always be glad to think that I did not want to leave him. A man seized me by the arm then another threw both his arms about my waist and dragged my away by main strength. I heard my husband say ‘Go, Lotty, for God’s sake be brave and go! I’ll get a seat in another boat.’ The men who held me rushed me across the deck and hurled me bodily into the lifeboat. I landed on one shoulder and bruised it badly. Other women were crowding behind me, but I stumbled to my feet and saw over their heads my husband’s back as he walked steadily down the deck and disappeared among the men. His face was turned away so that I never saw it again but I know that he went unafraid to his death.’
Charlotte ’s tale will resume tomorrow.
To read the full collection of stories from the doomed vessel, you can order a signed copy of ‘Lost Voices from the Titanic’ for £10 including postage and package (£5 P&P overseas)