by Terri Bey
"JUST THROW THEM IN!" That is what I am shouting at the screen when I am watching any film or documentary about the story of the RMS Titanic. Here are these passengers on a ship that I, the viewer, know is sinking and the passengers don't want to get into the lifeboats, until it becomes obvious to them that they have to get it. There are times where I wish I could have teleported myself via a time machine and could have just grabbed those people and thrown them into the lifeboats. Then again, if I had a time machine, I would have developed super-human strength and shoved that iceberg out of the RMS Titanic's path and the tragedy would never have happened in the first place, but unfortunately, history is what it is and I can't change it.
Of course, there were some understandable reasons why at first, many didn't want to go into the lifeboats and if I were in their place, I could not blame them. The RMS Titanic was built in an era of confidence in the new technology. People back in 1912 thought that the new technology and modern-day shipbuilding for that period had conquered nature, therefore Titanic was labeled "unsinkable." The passengers certainly bought into the idea of the ship being unsinkable. It was a very cold night with the temperature around freezing and the liner was warm. The ship was huge, compared to those tiny lifeboats. Besides, when the Stewards told the passengers to put their lifejackets on and to dress warmly, the Stewards just told the passengers that it was a "precaution." I certainly can not blame the passengers for being reluctant to get into the lifeboats, especially the married women who didn't want to leave their husbands.
As we know, 712 survived the disaster and the officers and crew were only able to get all 16 lifeboats and two of the collapsible boats away. Many of the early lifeboats had been sent away with less than their full capacity, in part due to the reluctance of the passengers for the reason stated. I also think there is another reason and that is the ship's captain, Captain Edward J. Smith's failure to get the word out to the majority of the passengers, for fear of starting a panic.
Captain Smith's failure to spread the word to tell the passengers that the liner was doomed was a huge mistake. No wonder when passengers were confused when asked by the Stewards to put on warm clothing and to get up on deck with lifejackets on. Passengers were told there wasn't any danger. If I put myself in a passenger's place, I would wonder myself. The only passengers who knew the ship was going to sink were those in Third Class since some of their Cabins were closer to the bow of the ship, where the collision took place and some Cabins took on water.
I realize that I should not be questioning actions that happened in 1912, as hindsight is always 20/20. I just think there had to have been some way for the Stewards to be able to tell the passengers the truth about the Titanic's condition without starting a panic. The Stewards could have explained that the ship was seriously damaged or something along those lines.
If the Stewards were allowed to tell the passengers something closer to the truth, I think that more passengers would have understood why they had to get up on deck and dress warmly with lifejackets on, at the very least. Would this have translated to more people getting into the lifeboats, especially the lifeboats which left the sinking RMS Titanic early in the evening? I would like to think the answer would be, "Yes." However, this is hypothetical and history does not give alternatives. The panic that Captain Smith so wanted to avoid happened when the ship really started to list badly, so I didn't understand why he could not have found a way to get the truth to the passengers in the first place. Smith and the rest of the ship's officers, White Star Line Managing Director J. Bruce Ismay, and ship designer Thomas Andrews all knew that Titanic did not have enough lifeboats to save everyone on board, thanks to the lifeboat regulations set by the British Board of Inquiry at that time, so why not tell people the truth that the ship was sinking? I certainly would have been more likely to have gotten into a lifeboat, even if I had to leave my husband behind.
I realize that what is done is done. There is a scene in "A Night to Remember" (1958) where Second Officer Charles Herbert Lightoller (Kenneth More) tells this Steward, "Water's up to E Deck." "There's no time left." "If they don't get in." "Chuck'em in." The following scene is where you see First Officer William McMaster Murdoch (Richard Leech) wrangling with this old First Class lady who is screaming her head off. She says, "I've never been in an open boat in my life." "Oh. No. I should fall." "OH. NO." Murdoch says, "You've got to go, Madam, so you may as well keep quiet."* As much as I revere all the passengers and crew, both who survived and perished, every time I think of this bungled evacuation, and think of these scenes, I always wished that the officers would have just "chucked in" as many passengers who could have fit int he boats from the very beginning. While people still would have died, at least the lifeboats would have been filled.
Thank you for reading my rant.
*Video from "A Night To Remember" (1958) Uploaded by the YouTube Account of "Scenes from A Night to Remember"