Titanic Turning 100

April 15: The Titanic went down ninety-nine years ago today. Among the wave of books and events which will mark next year's centennial is a "Memorial Cruise" aboard a luxury ship built by the same company that built the Titanic. The twelve-day replication will feature the same food, music, and route, arriving at the same spot off the Newfoundland coast in time to commemorate the iceberg collision. (If you feel tempted to buy a ticket, you are in luck—there are none left.)

 

Though polished by a century of narratives, the tragedy retains its impact in the eyewitness records. One of the first published was an account dictated to the New York Times by the Titanic's twenty-two-year-old junior wireless operator, Harold Bride. Published on April 19, 1912 under the headline "Thrilling Tale as Told by Titanic's Surviving Wireless Man," Bride's description begins in humor, he and the senior wireless operator cracking jokes about the mishap. Then the bow tilts, the "great scramble aft" begins, and Phillips, the senior man, begins hours of urgent messaging:

He was a brave man. I learned to love him that night, and I suddenly felt for him a great reverence to see him standing there sticking to his work while everybody was raging about….

Bride tucks a greatcoat around his boss to keep off the cold; he slides a lifebelt around him just in case; and while getting his money for him, "something happened I hate to tell about":

…I saw a stoker, or somebody from below decks, leaning over Phillips from behind. He was too busy to notice what the man was doing. The man was slipping the lifebelt off Phillips's back. He was a big man, too. As you can see I am very small. I don't know what it was I got ahold of. I remembered in a flash the way Phillips had clung on—how I had to fix that lifebelt in place because he was too busy to do it. …I suddenly felt a passion not to let that man die a decent sailor's death. I wished he might have stretched rope or walked a plank. I did my duty. I hope I finished him. I don't know.

Then chaos: the Captain giving the "abandon ship," Phillips refusing to leave his post, Bride jumping, eventually being rescued, and helping to hand up from the floor of his life-raft the body of a dead sailor—Phillips.


Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

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