Club hears of officer's Titanic experience

Morpeth Rotary Club

Saturday, 28th January 2017, 10:34 am
Captain Stephen Healy, of the Collingwood Society, and Morpeth Rotary Club President Paul Crook at a recent meeting.

Captain Stephen Healy, of the Collingwood Society, returned to Morpeth Rotary to talk about the Welshman who was Fifth Officer on Titanic.

Harold Godfrey Lowe was brought up in Barmouth, the third of seven children. He was given secondary education, which was unusual, and his father expected him to start a business apprenticeship in Liverpool. Instead, he joined a schooner, became an Ordinary Seaman, an Able Seaman, and in 1905 joined the Royal Naval Reserve (RNR).

On a trip with the Blue Funnel Line he jumped in to save a Chinese sailor who had fallen overboard. He sat his Second Mate’s exams in 1906, passing six months later. He failed and passed his First Mate’s Certificate, and his Master’s Certificate. He had a good reputation.

In 1911 he was offered a job with the White Star Line. His first ship was the steamer Tropic, on the Australia run. On return he was instructed to join the RMS Titanic at Belfast as Fifth Officer. There were sea trials at Southampton on April 2, from which Lowe posted home the menu for the first meal on board.

His main responsibility was the telephone system of the ship. Lowe was on watch when ice was expected to be sighted, but none was seen by the time he stood down at 8pm. He woke early and the deck was tilting. They had hit an iceberg 960 miles from New York.

Lowe was told to load lifeboat 5. It was women and children only, but two men jumped in, injuring a woman. Lowe got his Browning revolver to enforce orders.

Many passengers did not know to go to the lifeboats as officers down-played the situation. Lowe moved to lifeboat 3, but it was hard to find people to fill it. He then went to load boats 12, 14 and 16. Passengers in this part of the ship were mostly foreign language speakers and were difficult to organise.

Boat 16 was sent off. Sixth Officer Moody and Lowe agreed they would go with the next boats. Moody later drowned.

Lowe began to load 14. Two men jumped in. One was made to leave, the other, a 19-year-old, stayed. Lowe prevented more from jumping with his revolver. One of the tackles on the boat jammed. Lowe ordered both tackles to be cast off and the boat dropped, but stayed upright.

They met boats 10 and 12 and two others with no officers. Lowe wanted to go back to rescue people and transferred passengers to other boats. There were around 1,000 people in the water, but only four were pulled out alive and one died. His was the only boat to return.

SS Carpathia arrived to give assistance. Lowe, in boat 14, had the sail raised. This scene was recorded in a photo.

The crew expected a Board of Trade inquiry, but the Americans insisted on their own. There were problems for the crew at the inquiry, but Lowe was commended.

He returned to sea as an officer on the Australia run, became a lieutenant in the RNR in 1914, served in the war and returned home in May 1919. He was First Officer on the first post-war transatlantic passenger run. In 1923 he became a Commander RNR. He retired from the White Star Line in 1931.

He was an air raid warden in World War II, but had a stroke and died in May 1944, aged 61. That first Titanic menu he sent home made £52,000 at auction in 2004.

Rotarian Captain Ray Nelson gave the vote of thanks.