Sinking of the TITANIC - 1912

Ernest St Clair (my paternal grandfather) was a crew member of the S.S. Carpathia, the ship which picked up survivors from the wreck of the Titanic. Below is a transcription from a recording Ernest made in 1980 when donating a life jacket, and other items, from the Titanic to the Merseyside Maritime Museum.

" On the night of the 14th of April 1912, I, Ernest St Clair, was a 19 year old member of the crew of the Cunard liner S.S.Carpathia. We were four days out from New York with a full complement of passengers on a cruise to the sunny Mediterranean. The night was dark, the sea calm and it was very cold, there was ice about. Now this was nearing midnight, I made my way forward to retire. On the midship, on the shelter deck, I was surprised to see Captain, later "Sir", Rostron, the chief engineer and other officers in anxious conference. I learned that our 22 year old "Marconi" wireless operator, Harold Cottam, by sheer chance, had donned his headphone for a few minutes before turning in for the night, when he heard the "CQD" followed immediately by the "SOS" distress signal emanating from Royal Mail's steamer Titanic. She was the flagship of the White Star Line on her maiden voyage to New York. She was the largest and fastest ship in the world and reputedly "unsinkable".

In mid-Atlantic, at 20 minutes to twelve midnight, she had crashed into an iceberg. She was sinking fast and calling for help. She went down, to the bottom of the Atlantic, 2 hours and 40 minutes later.

Carpathia changed course. All steam was closed down from pantries, galleys, kitchens, heating apparatus. Below, the stokers worked like demons crowding on all speed. The old ship shook, she had never travelled so fast since the far-off days of her trials, as she raced to the rescue of the Titanic's survivors.

Men were called for to man the life boats. The crew, of course, volunteered to a man. A list was posted on the main companion way and I was one of those chosen. We carried hundreds of blankets from the store room up to the boat deck. There we broke out the chocks and swung out the life boats, but they were never launched. It would be about 6 o'clock in the morning and in the greying dawn, from afar, we saw the flares of the Titanic's lifeboats. The light of day grew stronger and the Titanic's lifeboats made toward us, guided by the rockets Carpathia sent out. We saw then how pitifully few the lifeboats were.

The first lifeboat alongside contained only 13 survivors; an evil omen tragically borne out.

We took 705 survivors aboard Carpathia. 1503 children, women and men went down with Titanic when she plunged to the bottom of the Atlantic ocean.

The survivors were cared for. The dead were buried with simple, unimpressive, ceremony.

We passed floating deck chairs and other flotsam of wreckage. We passed "growlers", which are minor icebergs, and many ice floes. As we passed over the spot where the Titanic had sunk a short religious service was held. We passed the enormous black-ice iceberg which sealed the Titanic's doom.

So to New York; which we reached four days later. To the tragic welcome. To the court of enquiry at the dock side. To the snarling of the yellow press at "Brute" Ismay, as they dubbed the unfortunate Bruce Ismay, chairman of the White Star Line, owners of the Titanic. The American souvenir hunters besieged the Carpathia's crew members when they went ashore. To the dignified and touching tribute of representatives of the survivors of the Titanic to their rescuers. The presentation of medals inscribed "For gallant and heroic services to the Captain, Officers and crew of S.S. Carpathia from the survivors of S.S. Titanic."

"Such are my recollections of the Titanic disaster. Which in my memory occurred only yesterday"

- Ernest St Clair (July 1980).

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