The day was April 10th 1912. It had finally arrived. Not only was I embarking on a journey on the sea, but also on a new stage in my life. Only my mother had known the real reason why I had wanted to go to America – to be a singer. Everyone else had just assumed that I was going to become a governess. That was what my mother had been, and so had her mother. I was quite good with children and so it seemed like the perfect job for me. But I wanted to do something different. Something more interesting and challenging. There were so many opportunities in America – not in England. That was why I wanted to leave Southampton.
It had been hard to say goodbye to my family. My dad, who never seemed to show any emotions, had been in tears when the time had come for me to leave for the dock. They knew that the ship was deemed to be unsinkable; they weren’t worried about my safety. Obviously they had just felt sad to see me go. After all I was only a young girl at the time with the vast unexplored world ahead of me.
The price of a third-class seat on the Titanic had cost five weeks of our family’s income. Therefore I wanted to show my parents that I could do something with their hard-earned money. I would prove to them that I was reliable and that they could depend on me. It would be a great disappointment in their eyes if I returned empty-handed.
It was two p.m. that day when the grand vessel entered the harbour with an air of majesty. She was like those hotels that my brother Paddy had always been talking about in his stories of places that he had travelled to. No, they could not have possibly been as fine as the RMS Titanic was. In the brochures she had looked amazing; seeing her in front of my very eyes was something else. She was undoubtedly twice as big as any ship I had ever seen. There were about a million people watching the whole event. I felt truly lucky that I was going to be experiencing the real thing itself very soon.
The minute I stepped into the ship, it felt somewhat bizarre. I didn’t know what it was, but something did not feel right. I guessed it was the whole notion of leaving my hometown and ending up in a country I had never been to, all by myself. I had often wondered privately if I would manage. Of course I would: I was a grown up adult of 19 years of age at the time. After all, I did not have another option.
The floors were made of expensive white marble and the staircases were carved out of beautiful darkly polished mahogany decorated with intricate patterns on the handrails. The crystal chandeliers hung from the high ceilings. Everything looked so surreal. For a second I thought I was in a dream. Well, it seemed that way.
I followed the other third-class into our cabins. Was I going to live here for the next few weeks? I thought. There was a gymnasium, a reading and writing room, a library, smoking rooms, barbershops and several restaurant and cafï¿½s. I didn’t deserve such luxury – my father must have made a big mistake. Was this the way rich people way lived? But this was only third class! How would first class be? All this was too much for me – I wasn’t used to living in such lavish conditions.
The band had started to play my favourite ragtime piece “Maple Leaf Rag” and I hummed to the music while I thought about my parents and Paddy and George. Suddenly the floorboards started vibrating: the engines must have been turned on. Eventually I fell asleep to the soft humming of the turning turbines. I woke up the next morning at about eight a.m. and went to the upper deck to take a breath of the fresh salty air.
I hurried to the lounge as I was craving for food – I had not eaten since lunch the previous day – and the smell of sausages and bacon and half-fried eggs was particularly inviting. However I mistook the first-class lounge for third-class. Consequently, a middle-aged woman dressed in animal fur and her hair styled fashionably glared at me and complained to the maï¿½tre d’: “What is SHE doing here?”
Was this the way first-class passengers treated other passengers?
The next few days were not particularly eventful. The routine was the same, although I carefully made sure that I did not run into other first-class passengers.
Then April 14th came. The day I would never forget for the rest of my life. I was unable to sleep that night. I checked the bedside clock. 11.30 it read. I was tired, yet I could not turn in. Tossing and turning in my bed, I tried to drift off, but to no avail. Soon I gave up and walked out of the cabin and onto deck. My eyes were not accustomed to the bright lights so they were still closed. Unexpectedly, I felt something cold on my arm. I opened my eyes and I saw drops of water on my skin. I then looked up and a spray of the cold Atlantic showered violently into my face and big chunks of ice fell onto the deck. I turned around and I could see a few boys throwing the chunks at each other and chuckling to themselves. Nothing seemed to be wrong, yet deep down I felt that this was no laughing matter.
All of a sudden, I felt the turbines stop. Dead silence. About half an hour later, reports came in that we had hit an iceberg, but we were to be on our way soon. I felt glad that my premonition had been unfounded. But soon the captains ordered us to put on our lifejackets. Lifejackets? What for? Were we going to sink? But the Titanic was unsinkable! These questions ran in my mind. What was going on?
To be on the safe side, I put my lifejacket on, and climbed to upper deck. It was there and then that I learnt the sickening truth: an iceberg had hit the Titanic and we weren’t going to stay afloat much longer.
What? No, there must be a mistake! She couldn’t sink! Didn’t everyone know? The Titanic was unsinkable!
But it was true – the Titanic was going to sink. The captain had given her ninety minutes at most. I didn’t want to die. I was only 19! I still had the whole world ahead of me! I couldn’t die now! Would I ever see my beloved family again? Images of my parents and brothers flashed through my head.
An officer on the deck shouted: “Women and children first! Women and children first!” What was this for? Lifeboats? Oh my God! I had to get onto one of those! I rushed to the lifeboats and begged the officer to let me in. He ignored my plea; instead he allowed the first-class passengers into the boat. Why? What made them so much more important than us? Just because they had more wealth?
The tumult in the air rose; in contrast, the soft pieces played by the band calmed the people down. Finally the officer pushed me into one of the lifeboats and quickly lowered it into the freezing water, and the seamen started rowing immediately. By now, there had been a noticeable tilt in the bow. She was being pulled lower and lower into the menacing seas beneath.
The same arrogant woman I had encountered at the lounge incident was in the lifeboat. And in the exact same voice she had complained: “Why is SHE here?” I looked back at the once-splendid vessel now nearly perpendicular in the water. To add to our sorrow, the lights blinked and then went out for good, leaving everyone in the bitter water and the darkness, giving up hope.
The hollow screams of pain and for help faded slowly away as we rowed further and further away from the wreckage. We weren’t able to see anything – I just hoped we were going in the right direction. I drifted off into an anguished sleep.
My eyes opened later to the warmth and comfort of another ship, which I later learnt to be the Carpathia, which had rescued us at dawn. Then the only thing that I could think of doing at the time was to cry. Hot wet tears fell from my cheeks. Tears that I was so lucky to be rescued from the sinking Titanic. And tears for the hundreds of people who had eventually plunged to their deaths…