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Sunday, April 15, 2012

History Minute: Two Titanic Crew Members Survived Multiple Dunkings!

Unsinkable! Truth Stranger Than Fiction!

Titanic Survivor stories frequently marvel that anyone survived the sinking,but two Titanic crew members, rarely mentioned, have a remarkable history of being on the wrong boat at the wrong time. In today's History Minute, Mike Gray reveals the amazing stories of Violet,and William -stories that are truly stranger than fiction!

History Minute:Titanic - Two Remarkable Crew Members

By Mike Gray

Was the Titanic the Worst Maritime Disastor? NO!

By now, most of us are aware of the 100th Anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, April 14-15, 1912, whether from movies, documentaries, or even just learning or hearing about it when we were younger. Though not the worst maritime disaster in history, the Titanic certainly has become the most famous. For the record, the worst maritime disaster occured during World War Ii. On the evening of January 30, 1945, in the Baltic Sea, the Soviet submarine S-13 put three torpedoes into the German ship 'Wilhelm Gustloff'. She quickly turned to side and went under by the bow. Over 9,400 women, children, wounded and crew went to the bottom in less than 45 minutes.
As for Titanic, and the recent upsurge of interest, we look at two interesting unusual individuals who were both on board and survived: Ms. Violet Jessop and Mr. William Clark. Overlooked, their stories and fates are fascinating.

Titanic: Violet Jessup - Survives Three White Star Line Sister Ships!


1911 Olympic Collision!


Violet Jessop, a truly beautiful young woman, born in Argentina, served in the employ of the White Star Line, a shipping company operating the largest ocean going liners in the world at that time. As a stewardess, her first brush with fate occurred on her first posting to R.M.S. Olympic in 1910, the largest civilian liner at that time and sister ship to the Titanic. On September 20, 1911, Olympic collided with the cruiser H.M.S. Hawke off the Isle of Wight. Both ships suffered severe damage, and Olympic managed to limp back to a safe port.Violet had survived her first marine disastor!


1912 Titanic- What Do You Wear to a Sinking?


Pursuant to this, Violet's next assignment at the age of 24, was to the Titanic on April 10, 1912.Aboard the Titanic, Violet attended to the whims and needs of the passengers. On the evening of April 14, after striking the iceberg, Violet recalls returning to her cabin firstly. Being a socially conscious young woman, and keeping with the conventions of the time, Violet dithered over which was the most appropriate dress to put on for the sinking. On the deck, as Titanic began going down, she watched and assisted as the lifeboats were loaded. Ordered into lifeboat #16, Violet and the other women aboard the lifeboat were eventually rescued by the S.S. Carpathia.

1916 H.M.H.S. Britannic Narrow Escape!


Violet, still not done with challenging fate, joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment during the First World War, serving as a nurse with the British Red Cross. Incredibly, Violet was posted aboard the H.M.H.S. Britannic, the other sister ship to the Titanic, and which was now in service as a hospital ship. In the Aegean Sea, Britannic struck a mine on November 21, 1916 and began to sink. Sucked under as the big ship began to go down Violet struck her head on the ship's keel, but she managed to re-surface, and was rescued by a life-boat. Again!
Violet eventually retired from sea-going service, a remarkable career and series of events, for a remarkable woman. Violet Jessop passed away in 1971 at age 83.

Titanic:William Clark Resurfaces - Again, and Again

1912 Titanic Fireman Survives


We now meet one William Clark, perhaps a.k.a. Frank Tower, perhaps a.k.a. Frank Toner.
From Liverpool, William Clark signed on to Titanic crew as a fireman/coal stoker. Mr. Clark was one of the 710 survivors rescued from an icy end on that fateful night of April 14-15, 1912, as the great ship went under.

1914 Fireman Survives Canada's Worst Maritime Disastor - Empress of Ireland


It is now the early morning hours of May 29, 1914. In a heavy fog the collier S.S. Storstad crashes into the side of the R.M.S. Empress of Ireland in the St. Lawrence River. The damage is fatal. In less than 15 minutes Empress of Ireland turns to her side, then goes bow down, sinking out of sight. 1,012 passengers and crew are lost, making it Canada's worst maritime disaster in history. Of the only 465 rescued from the near freezing waters was one William Clark from Liverpool, a fireman/stoker aboard. Records, documents and signatures indicate that it was indeed the same individual who survived the Titanic sinking two years previously.

1915 Lusitania Fireman Narrowly Escapes


Now, one year later, May 7, 1915. R.M.S. Lusitania is torpedoed by the German submarine U-20 off the coast of Ireland. The Germans believe Lusitania is secretly transporting munitions in her holds to support the British war effort. She goes to the bottom in 18 minutes. Of the 1,959 aboard only 761 are rescued. One of the survivors is a fireman/stoker listed as Frank Toner, of Liverpool. Newspaper articles of the time refer to this person in their interviews as Frank Tower.

Titanic researchers, scrutinizing documents, photographs and signatures believe there is a high probability that William Clark and Frank Toner may, in fact, be one in the same person. Signing onto crew under false names was not uncommon at the time, whether for one reason or another. Perhaps as not to be labelled as a 'Jonah' may have been motivation. William Clark had deserted a ship previously in his sea-going career, only to turn up in a cavalry uniform, fighting the Boers in South Africa with Brabant'sH Horse.

We leave this for the readers to speculate upon.

Certainly, these two - Violet and Wiiliam are well beyond the fictional Jack and Rose characters created by James Cameron for the movie Titanic. Their fates are much more interesting, and almost entwined. One wonders if they had ever, even by chance, met.
Truth can be, at times, considerably more interesting than fiction.

For History Minute,

Mike Gray

About the Author:

image Omemee Ontario Historian Mike Gray
Mike Gray
Omemee Military Historian
Mike Gray, long-standing Omemee Legion member, is an active military history curator whose efforts have been recognized locally, provincially, nationally, and internationally. Mike enjoys ferreting out historic details,and bringing history to life. Mike says: 'I have been a lot of places, met some remarkable,wonderful, unusual, famous and not so famous people.Nothing surprises me anymore.' Have a history question? Leave a comment below, or ask Mike by email at mdgray AT xplornet DOT ca

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