Thursday, November 15, 2012

"You go first. You have children waiting at home."

Having offered words of appreciation for the movie version of A Night to Remember let me recommend the 1955 book it's based on. Author Walter Lord had the benefit of being able to interview many Titanic survivors. Memory being what it is he encountered differing versions of events, but by stitching them all together, and allowing as many voices as possible to be heard, he delivered what is the closest we'll ever get to experiencing what it was like to be there on the night of April 15, 1912.

A Night to Remember is full of vignettes that stick in the reader's mind, all delivered in a matter-of-fact documentary style. One of the reasons the film adaptation is so effective is that it too eschews florid melodrama.

Much has been written about the stoic resolve of the first-class male passengers to see their wives and children loaded into lifeboats and lowered into the freezing North Atlantic not knowing if they would ever see them again. Among this group were some of the scions of New York and Philadelphia society. With a few rare exceptions the crew's policy of only allowing women and children into the limited number of lifeboats was accepted without complaint, though toward the end enforcing it got to be a bit dicey and the unselfish code of conduct wasn't limited to the men. This from chapter five. . .

Only one boat left. Collapsible D had now been fitted into the davits used by No. 2 and was ready for loading. There was no time to spare. The lights were beginning to glow red. Chinaware was breaking somewhere below. Jack Thayer saw a man lurch by with a full bottle of Gordon's gin. He put it to his mouth and drained it. "If I ever get out of this," Thayer said to himself, "there is one man I'll never see again," (Actually, he was one of the first survivors Thayer met.)
[Second Officer Charles] Lightoller took no chances. Most of the passengers had moved aft, but still—one boat . . . 47 seats . . . 1,600 people. He had the crew lock arms in a wide ring around Boat D. Only the women could come through.
Two baby boys were brought by their father to the edge of the ring, handed through, and placed in the boat. The father stepped back into the crowd. He called himself "Mr. Hoffman" and told people he was taking the boys to visit relatives in America. His name really was Navatril and he was kidnapping the children from his estranged wife.
Henry B. Harris, the theatrical producer, escorted Mrs. Harris to the ring, was told he couldn't go any further. He sighed, "Yes, I know. I will stay."
Colonel Gracie rushed up with Mrs. John Murray Brown and Miss Edith Evans, two of the five "unprotected ladies" to whom he had offered his services on the trip. He was stopped by the line but saw the women through. They reached Boat D just as it was starting down the falls. Miss Evans turned to Mrs. Brown: "You go first. You have children waiting at home."
Quickly she helped Mrs. Brown over the rail. Then someone yelled to lower away, and at 2:05 Collapsible D—the last boat of all—started down toward the sea—without Edith Evans.

Whether she realized it or not Edith Evans had given up her chance of survival. She turned out to be one of only four female first class passengers to perish in one of the singular events of history.

Quote from this edition

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