Sydney Daniels was an 18 year old 3rd class steward on the Titanic. This interview was conducted by Southampton City historians on 17th November 1982. Comments by the interviewer and the questions put to Daniels are in italics; comments (such as interruptions or background noise) are in brackets.
What I shall do to begin with is put on the tape that Dan Chadwick, 17th November 1982 interviewing Mr.Sydney Daniels about his experiences earlier this century on the Titanic and other vessels.
I was born in Bolton Road, Portsmouth on the 19th November 1893. At the time I was 18 when the ship sank but I joined the Olympic in 1911 on her maiden voyage and after five voyages we were in collision with the Hawke in the Solent so were put back again. Well I did about five voyages and I was transferred, selected I might say, to be conceited, selected to go to the Titanic so they were picking out the best of the crew, pat my back will you (laughs). Best of the crew to go to the Titanic. Well we went there, went to Belfast to fit her out and eventually fitted out and left on the 8th, oh really, I've forgotten the dates now. April the 15th wasn't it. Well anyway I joined and we sailed on the 8th April on the Titanic, until the Sunday evening everything went all smooth and quiet and about half past 11 or 20 past 11, I was in my bunk sleeping. The night watchman came down, said, "All hands on deck and lifebelts on". We thought it was an emergency boat drill. We weren't very pleased with it so anyway, we eventually went up on deck and were stood by our boats. We were alloted certain boats to go to and mine was number 13 by the way and to get, well, we were just stood around waiting for orders, dancing around to the musicians because the musicians were on board, playing the different tunes on deck and eventually they got orders to get all the women and children up to their lifeboats. I don't know what the time was but it was getting on. Anyway, we got them all up, well as many as we could and we got them into the boats. We had to forfeit our seat on the boat of course, with the passengers. Well we got away from that and got all the boats away and excepting the last boat, which was a collapsible boat, secured to the top of the wireless room and it was lashed down with different lashings and a crowd were up there unlashing it. Someone shouted out, "Anyone got a pocket knife?" I said, "Yes I have, here you are", passed my pocket knife up and I think they cut the last lashings to the upturned boat. By that time the ship was getting well down and all our lifeboats were away excepting this one. I was wandering around, well I went up on, near the bridge. I stood, walked from the portside over to the starboard side (coughs). I could see the water coming up the bridge like that so I thought well, it's time to leave so I had to, well I was standing up to my knees in water then, I jumped up on the rail and dived into the water out into the dark.
This was, what position where [sic] you standing in when you dived?
Well, I was standing in the water of course but I climbed up on to the davits, the taffrail by the davits on the ship and in the end the water was around my knees and so I jumped into it. I had nowhere to swin to but I just had to get away from the suction, that's what I feared. The suction of the vessel would take me down. Well I swam away and by sheer good luck I came across a lifebuoy, one of the big lifebuoys and another man clinging to it. Well I looked around and I said to this fellow, I said, "We're too near for suction, she'll suck us down". I turned and swam away again, no objective, just swam away. This other fellow, well he never answered me. He may have been a foreigner, I don't know who he was but I think he apparently followed me and eventually I came across some (inaudible) and, in the distance, well in the darkness I could see something black so I swam to that and it was an upturned lifeboat with the crowd on there.
Why was it upturned?
Why was it upturned?
It was, well that's the one I cut away from the ...
Oh I see.
It was the last boat on there, the one I helped cut adrift, so I climbed on there. Well the other fellow apparently followed me, he tried to climb on too but he was too exhausted to get fully on there. I managed to sit up on the keel of the lifeboat but he just laid across there. He eventually died of exposure. Well we sat there, about 20 of us, right through the night. Nothing to do, just living in hopes. Well, someone started to curse and swear farther down on the ship but someone said, "This is no time for swearing, it's time to say your prayers", which we did, so we all said our prayers there, The Lord's Prayer.
What communally, all together?
All together, yes, in a group but I said to a fellow that was sitting back to me, my back to me, I said, "I'm tired, I'm going to sleep", he said, "For God's sake son, don't go to sleep". Of course fortunately I didn't, if I had gone to sleep I'd have never woken up again, it would have been so cold.
Anyway, we sat there through the night and as the ... well coming towards the dawn more or less (coughs), the lights, a ship came in sight. "There's a ship" I said, "There's two". It turned out that one was the ship, the other was the iceberg (laughs), they were on the side of each other. It was the Carpathia came up to take us off. Well our own lifeboats by that time were able to see, the ones that were afloat proper were able to see any survivors around and came and took us off, the 20 of us in the two different boats and they took us to the Carpathia. That was the first time I ever tasted coffee in my life. Well they hauled me aboard the Carpathia, they gave me something hot to drink. I used to hate coffee but I didn't care what it was then, it was something to warm me up, which I did. They took me down to the sick bay in the hospital and put me in a bed, shivering of course with the cold and, well there I stopped for a while. They had a roll call but they missed me and I was never on the survivors list. I still never was. I'm still missing.
Yes, my father had a letter from the company saying that I was missing but fortunately prior to that, when we got to New York we were transferred to the Lapland, other ship, the crew that is, and the express people from in New York gave us all permission to send out cablegrams to our parents to let them know we were alive, so fortunately my father got the cablegram before he got the letter from the company so you know, all they signed was "Safe, SS Lapland, Sid". Well, that was rather brief to him, he didn't know SS Lapland, he was looking on the map for Lapland, thinking a fishing boat had come along and picked us up. Anyway he knew that I was safe which was the main thing and a couple of days afterwards he got the letter from the company saying that I was missing. Of course that confused him again. He used to keep a public house in Albert Road, dad did, kept a public house in Albert Road.
Which one was that?
The Duke of Devonshire, the corner of Orton Road and, he was taking over there and was rather worried about getting this letter and one of the customers said, "Oh, can't you tell the handwriting on the cablegram?" (Laughs)
So how long were you on board the Carpathia for? How long did it take you to reach New York?
Well, we never did reach New York did we? It was the maiden voyage, it never did make ...
No on the Carpathia.
On the Carpathia?
Well they picked us up on the Monday morning, it was Sunday night or Monday morning and I think it took us three, three days. It was the 19th, 15, four days. It was the 19th when I sent the cablegram.
And you were in New York for how long?
Just the day that's all, while they transferred us to the Lapland and brought us back to Plymouth.
Plymouth. Yes that's right, to Plymouth and then they put us on the train from Plymouth to Southampton, the crew and that's where we had the hectic greeting.
And when you reached Southampton, what happened then?
You can imagine it can't you? You can imagine what it was like on the Falkland business, well there was everyone there to greet us. It was quite an exciting time.
And you went first, what, to the White Star offices?
No, we took the train then, I took the train then back to Pompey here, to come home.
So the company didn't want to see you before you came back?
No, no well they wrote us afterwards and told us to standby for any court hearings, enquiries. I was never called up, some were taken in to be recorded but I wasn't. Thats about all there was to it. I just stopped at home and after a couple of days I went down with quinsey, it was, a reaction had set in apparently and they put me in bed for a week or so with quinsey, but I got over that and of course I was on the dole then, for about six months. I was sort of convalescing and on the dole.
Right, and so you weren't in any case ...
[Temporary hiatus while some visitors were received]
Then I, then I came, home and yes where was I ... oh, my head's getting a bit confused. I came home on the, what did I say to you last? Can you remember? I'm confused now.
You'd got back to Portsmouth.
By train, from Southampton.
From Southampton, that's right.
And you had quinsey and you were in bed for a week and then, once you were convalescing from that.
That's right, I had about six months ...
... convalescing on the dole and I went back to the Olympic again and joined her.
Now, did you mean signing on from scratch again with the White Star?
Oh you signed out every voyage.
Each individual voyage you signed. If you were away for 18 days and were home for three or four days, then you'd sign up again. You sign off and sign on again immediately.
I went back to the Olympic again and stopped there until, see, when was that? Well until the next War broke out. I did roughly 200 voyages on the Olympic.
That was going ...?
Backward and forward to New York each time.
Always to New York?
Yes. Well occasionally I'd have a break but if the ship was laid up or anything I'd have a go on a ship, on the Georgia for a cruise round the West Indies, just by way of a change but eventually, when the Olympic came back I joined her again and I joined, and I was on there until the outbreak of the Second World War [sic] and she went into Belfast and was taken over by the State for a hospital ship [sic] and it put me out of work, so with that I came home. I had no ship to go to, I got a job in the dockyard as a labourer and I stopped there for 20 years, or 23 years.
That was until when?
That was from 19, when did the War finish? What year was it the War, Second World War finished?
1947, that's right. I stopped there until 1962 when I retired, in the dockyard.
And this was HM Dockyard at the Naval Base?
The Naval Dockyard here, yes and, well I was at, got a job in there as wire splicing for about 20 years. That accounts for that finger (laughs), where I sliced it.
I see. Mr. Daniels, could we go back to when you were young? You told me when you were born.
At that time, well, did you have any brothers and sisters?
I had four brothers and two sisters, lived. There were two sisters died when I was young, otherwise there was quite a (someone sneezes!). I lost one brother at the Jutland Battle and another brother was brought down from an aeroplane in the First World War, this is both First World War, another brother was brought down in an aeroplane, he was invalided from the Navy, from the consumption they said.
And your parents, you said your father, did he always keep a pub?
Yes. When I was a kiddie, about four years old my father retired from the police, he was a Sergeant in the police, he retired and took a public house in Besant Road for several years, then mother's health became bad and he wanted to get out more to the countryside so we went to Twyford Avenue, which was more countryside then, right at the top, into a greengrocer's shop and he didn't pay so he came back and took this pub in Albert Road, corner of Bolton Road and was there until he died. Mother died first, then 10 years afterwards father died, the year we were married, 1920.
And how did you two meet each other?
Well, we were, that's strange too. We were walking round on the pier of a Sunday night, which was a favourite rendezvous, at South Parade Pier and a pal of mine that lives in Eastfield Road, we were in the Army together, he said, "Here, I know these two girls coming along here, they live in Eastfield Road, let's have a chat with them" and I met her and started to have a chat. Well, we've been chatting ever since but the girl she was with, she travelled three times out to New Zealand to see her son who's out there. She came back and her brother bought a house right next door to us in Wycliffe Avenue so they are still pals and she comes to see us here. She's known her for over 60 odd years and they're still pals.
The best pal we ever had (someone coughs), yes she's very nice.
And, where did you go to school? We're dotting around a bit, I'm sorry.
I first went to school in Penhall Road at an Infant and then at five years old, four or five years old I went to Besant Road school for a few years, then I went to St Luke's, St Luke's until I was about 13 and a half and a job fell vacant that my brother had held, page boy at the Royal Albert Yacht Club in Southsea so mother heard about it and said, "I'll take you out and see about it".
Were you looking for a job at the time?
No, I was at school. I went to school in the morning, mother took me out in the afternoon to this job and I stopped there and I was on that job. I was at school in the morning, I was working in the afternoon as a pageboy.
I see and they provided you with a uniform?
Yes, a Naval uniform, a little sailor's uniform.
A yacht club, where all the yachts, members had yachts and all that so, I was there for (someone sneezes!) about two years and then, there were four of us, three of us together, pageboys, we were sky-larking about one night and pillow fighting. Well outside the building there's a big iron ladder near a fire escape so we climbed down this and went in through a bedroom window and it turned out there was an old general in there and he reported us and we both got the sack (laughs)
And then what happened to you?
And then what happened?
You must have been...?
What, I don't know, what year was it about? I'm getting confused in the head now with so much talking. I've really forgotten. It's gone completely out of my mind now, where I was.
Did you move straight over to the Olympic?
I joined the Olmypic in 1911 as I said, when she first came out on her maiden voyage.
And that was as ...?
That, what sort of job was it on the Olympic?
I was plate washing for the first two voyages, yes the most onerous job on the ship. Well I did that for two voyages, then I transferred to third class but I was third class until the outbreak of War was it? Yes it must have been, the outbreak of War and the ship came back and we rescued the Audacious (someone coughs) which was sinking. It's a sucker mine and we saved the crew from there. It was a wonderful experience, going down the lifeboats and the seas were up and down like that and being young and adventurous myself, I went down with the lifeboats and had a really enjoyable time. I was young and fit at the time. We brought those back to Belfast and the ship laid up.
This was Short Brothers?
Yes that was, that's the Second World War now [sic], I'm talking about, aren't I?
I think so, yes.
Yes, that's right, the ship laid up there and of course that's where, that's when it finished. I was out of work and eventually got a docking job in the dockyard.
But when you transferred from the Olympic to the Titanic ...?
You transferred as a steward?
Oh yes, yes, third class steward
A third class steward's job involved, I mean what did you do?
Third class cabin boy, I've got a little ...
If we could go back to what being a steward involved, I mean how did you spend your time as a steward in third class?
Well I was waiting on third class passengers. In thos days they were travelling across by the thousands from Italy, well all parts of the country, to America when America was building up and we used to have as many as five or six hundred third class people to look after.
And that would be how many of you? How many third class stewards would that be?
I couldn't tell you how many.
Quite a lot?
I suppose about 25 or 30 of us. Actually there was 500 of the crew that were stewards. Was it 500? I'm getting mixed up with the numbers that were saved, from the, saved from the Titanic there were 217 crew, that counted in sailors and engineers, all the engineers were drowned and the firemen and all that and stewards. Well out of the 500 stewards there were, I don't know how many, how many were left. There weren't very many of us because the sailors of course, they manned the lifeboats, on the oars but the remainder of the crew were lost so there were 900 crew and there were 700 all together saved. No, what am I talking? 200 saved, 200 of the crew saved, 700, including the passengers were saved and 1517 were drowned, passengers and crew.
Yes, that's right. As a steward did you tidy up the passenger's cabins?
Eventually I worked through that, sort of promotion. I started in the, as I say, the plate washing. I transferred to the third class and after the War I came back and went to the second class and then to the first class and from first class waiter, a steward, we were waiting at tables, I got promoted to bedroom steward, cabin steward looking after all the first class cabins.
Which was, I was selected to look after the Prince of Wales, the Duke of York, when he was Prince of Wales. There were three of us looking after him but I was selected to help with it, so patting myself on the back I was quite pleased, promoted to it, so we looked after him.
But as a steward you didn't look after cabins at all?
I did, I looked after the cabins, I was cabin steward, a first class bedroom steward.
Yes but the normal third class steward, you didn't look after ...?
Yes you do, what they call a section. You had a section of rooms to look after them, after all these third class people, the Dagos we used to call them and they were the scum of the earth you might say from Italy and all different countries then, coming across to America to work. Irish by the hundreds, and Italians. So we used to have to look after them and clean out their cabins. It was so different, they were in cabins, about 20 each.
The third class passengers, yes so we had to look after a section there.
And that would be clearing it up?
Well just brushing it up and washing, cleaning it out. Well you only used to wash out in Port but you used to have to brush up and just tidy up their beds, that's all but it was an all-day job. We started at six o'clock in the morning and we were lucky to get two hours off in the afternoon and finished up at about nine, one night and ten the next, on watches
And how long were you in port between ...?
Well we used to arrive back on the Saturday and we sailed again on the Wednesday so we were only in three days you might say.
And when you were in port in Southampton, you came back to Pompey did you?
I came back home, yes then. Well before we were married I used to stop in Southampton at the Sailor's Home there but after we were married of course I came back here. My home being here. I spent most of the time here.
Right. Can you remember what your pay was?
It was £3.50 a month.
That was as third class steward?
All the same, we were all, first, second and third were all the same rate of pay, £3.15 a month. Now that's one of the documents I gave to you people.
Oh yes, right.
You've got it all there.
Yes, but I wanted it on tape too.
Yes, I see, yes, £3.15 a month, seven days a week. No afternoon off (laughs) until we got into Dock and then, we only used to get the Saturday afternoon off then and Sunday, both in New York and in Portsmouth, in Southampton. I joined the Army in 1914 on the 11th November, remember the date?
Exactly four years and I was on coast defence work for quite a long while and, on searchlights, you know, anti aircraft lights and searchlights. Then they transferred me to day work (inaudible). I went out to France and I was out there, I forget exacttly how long but I got wounded. Now I'll tell you how I was wounded. I was sitting down in a trench like that and we were during the second battle of Oman, we were being driven back and our job, the engineer's job was to dig the trenches for our troops to fall back into. Well we'd just finished digging a trench so I was sitting down having, just finished lunch and an anti-aircraft shell, it must have been an anti-aircraft shell, I'm not sure, fell down and struck my leg, it ook it, it's taken all the muscle of this leg away and it didn't touch a sinew or bone which was very fortunate. The shell (someone coughs) buried itself in the ground and of course, didn't explode so when our mates in the trench came to see me and told me what it was I said, "For so and so's sake, take me out of here quick" so my trousers were torn right off, course smothered in blood, they just lifted me out, took me to a trench and I was in hospital for six months, wounded.
Did you go back to the Front at all?
No, no I was too badly, I had no leg left. Well that happened in the, June the 6th when I was wounded and I was discharged from Netley hospital on December the 6th, 1918.
Right, so the War was over?
The War was over then.
It was a month after it was over?
Yes, the War finished on the 11th November, the very day I joined up, the 11th November, it's exactly four years (laughs)
The book "Titanic Voices" features extracts from the above interview, but with some notable differences. The date of sailing is corrected to April 10th for the book; also in that book, Daniels said he saw something "flash" but above, he says "black" - this turned out to be the overturned collapsible boat. "Taffrail" (correct) is replaced with "tap rail" (incorrect) and in the interview "It would have been so cold" becomes "It being so cold." The book was produced over a decade before the above interview was transcribed (December 2008) so presumably the book's extracts was based on the original tape.
The Southampton City Archives has a copy of a newspaper interview with Daniels; it is dated April 4th 1979 and was printed in the Southampton Evening Echo. It includes many details not present in the interview above. The newspaper article can be found here and here. Because of the size of the clipping, and the fact that the fold obscured some of the text, it is presented here in two portions.
To return to my Titanic page, click here