TITANIC: How my grandfather survived

Titanic
Titanic

AT about 2.20am on Sunday, April 15, 1912, Lawrence Beesley was sat in a White Star Line lifeboat witnessing the unthinkable.

Merely hours before jumping into the lifeboat, the 35-year-old Wirksworth man had been on board Titanic, experiencing her world-class grandeur.

Now he was watching the giant liner break up and sink into her watery grave, leading to the loss of hundreds of men, women and children, rich and poor, young and old.

On the eve of the 100th anniversary of the sinking of Titanic, Lawrence’s grandson, Nicholas Wade, said: “My grandfather was an ordinary individual caught up in the throes of a historic event.”

Born in Wirksworth in 1877, Lawrence – who taught science at Anthony Gell School – boarded Titanic in Southampton on Wednesday, April 10, 1912.

Bound for New York, the widower – who was photographed alongside a smiling mystery woman in Titanic’s state-of-the-art gymnasium just days before the disaster – had paid £13 for a second class ticket.

Lawrence was in his cabin reading when Titanic smashed into an iceberg at 11.40pm four days after leaving England.

When the propellers stopped moving, he rushed to the top deck to assess the worrying situation.

Just after midnight, Captain Edward Smith ordered the lifeboats to be uncovered and the passengers to be mustered.

“Women and children first!” cried the tragic captain, who would go on to kill himself later that night.

In his vivid memoirs on the tragedy, Lawrence told how – although he couldn’t fully explain why – he decided to stay on the starboard side of Titanic while throngs of men rushed to the port side amid rumours they would be evacuated there.

As Lawrence watched a lifeboat descend into the freezing waters, a crew member looked up, saw him and asked: “Any more ladies on your deck?”

When he said “no”, the crew member replied: “Then you had better jump.”

And with that, Lawrence leapt off the stricken liner and landed in lifeboat number 13.

So what made Lawrence stay on the starboard side of Titanic, a shrewd decision which led to his survival?

Nicholas, a science journalist at the New York Times, speculated Lawrence may have thought he stood a better chance of surviving if he was away from all the other men as they frantically tried to get into Titanic’s scant lifeboats.

Seven hundred and six survivors – including Lawrence – were rescued by RMS Carpathia at about 4am, more than two hours after Titanic succumbed to the Atlantic Ocean.

Nicholas said: “My grandfather didn’t talk about Titanic when I was younger.

“It was a horrific event in his life and I think he wanted to forget about it,” he added.

Lawrence died aged 89 in 1967.

Looking ahead to this Sunday’s centenary, Nicholas reflected: “I will be thinking about my grandfather and how he made a decision which led to his escape, not least because I owe my existence to his survival.”

l Do you have any Titanic stories or pictures? Email comment@derbyshiretimes.co.uk.