UNSUNG HEROES OF THE ENGINE ROOM
Chief Bell’s Men Kept Titanic’s Lights Burning Until She Went Down.
KNEW HER WOUND WAS FATAL
Yet All Stuck to Their Posts and Perished to the Last Man—Builders’ Engineers with Them.
“The lights were burning all over the ship until shortly before she went down.”This is the testimony of the survivors of the Titanic. It was her engineers who kept the lights burning, and in the list of heroes who went down with the vessel the names of the men of the engineering force will have a high place. Not one of them was saved, although many of them were off duty, and these had some chance of climbing to the deck. While it will never be known just what happened, it is believed that every one went back to his post instead of to the decks.
Engineers stand small chance for life in a sea disaster, and they know it. It is a tradition that when the engineers on a sinking vessel have done their duty to the last they gather in the engine room, clasping hands while standing about the engines, and so go down with their vessel.
The Titanic’s engineers have been overlooked in the bestowal of praise. Besides the engineers of the regular ship’s force there were on board twenty guarantee engineers, representing the builders and holders of engineering contracts, and so called because they make the first few trips on a new vessel to see that the machinery comes up to the guarantee. All these were the first to know the desperate nature of the damage to the Titanic.
They must have worked at high tension, for they were the first to note that rising of the water, the uselessness of the pumps, and the impossibility of keeping afloat. They had little time for thought, however, for they had to keep the dynamos going, the pumps working, look after the bulkhead doors, and keep the stoke hole force at work. Most of them probably died at that last explosion which tore the Titanic asunder as she went down.
The men were assigned each to his own task. There are hydraulic, electrical, pumps, and steam packing men, and besides the regulars the guarantee men were there to lend a hand. It was not a duty call that kept the guarantee men below, for they were in no sense part of the crew. The duty of the guarantee engineers is to watch the working of the great engines, see that they are tuned up and in working order. They also watch the workings of each part of the machinery, which has nothing to do with the electrical light dynamos and the refrigerating plant.
The conduct of one man stands out conspicuously, according to the stories told by members of the crew. Archie Frost, builder’s chief engineer, representing Harland & Wolff, was not in the engine room when the crash came, but he climbed down the steep iron ladders to the engines and death. When last seen he was there. With him was Thomas Andrews, designer of the Titanic. When the collision came there was no call of duty to keep him from the deck and the only chance of escape, but he would not take that chance. The last time Andrews was seen by any one alive was in the engine room with Frost and Bell, the Titanic’s Chief, and all were working too hard, perhaps, to think much of the slowly gaining waters.
Every man in the White Star Line is to-day mourning the loss of bluff, genial Joseph Bell, Chief Engineer of the Titanic and Senior Engineer of the line. Bell was about 50 years old, and he had spent thirty-six years in the service of the company. He was married, and lived in Liverpool. Some of his children are now attending school in Glasgow. It is said of him that he was the best marine engineer in Great Britain, and knew more about steam vessels than any other man in his profession. Under him were two second engineers, three third, and twelve junior engineers.
Second Senior Engineer Farquarson had been with the company fourteen years, and Second Engineer Harrison had served sixteen years. Although a young man. Intermediate Second Engineer Harry Hesketh had seen nineteen years of service. He began the practice of his profession with the White Star Line, and had never served in any other. The junior engineers, “the kids” they called them on shipboard, each one a mere lad, proved themselves men indeed, for they stuck to their work and went down with the ship.
Engineers Rarely Saved.”The engineers were not deceived by false hope. They were in a position to know how badly the vessel was injured. Then they worked in an uncertainty which must have been maddening. On deck the crew and passengers could see what was going on. Down in the engine room they could not tell how the work of lowering the boats was progressing. They had no chance and they must have known it.
They did not hear the Captain’s last word as the vessel began to sink that duty done, every man must take care of himself. Even if they had they would never have been able to climb up steep iron ladders before they could reach the deck. It was ninety feet from the water line to the boat deck, and they were thirty-two feet below that.
“They died like men,” said Mr. Hunter, (Secretary of the American Seamen’s Friend Society) “and their bravery seems to have been overlooked. It can be said of them that, like the higher officers, they stuck to their posts until death.”
Report from The New York Times, New York, NY 23 Apr 1912.