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June 1 1955
I have read your letter in the New statesman + Nation + would like to inform you that I am a survivor of the Titanic.
I was about 19 years of age, I remember quite a lot.
I also have letters sent home after I was saved + have also certain items [???] which will help you in your book.
I will please to give you all service possible.
June 10 1955
"Herein I will reply to a few of these questions, but, at a later date, I will give the
detailed full story - as far as my memory serves me, in conjunction with old letters
which I still have in my possession.
Now to your questions: The principal one, which has caused most controversy "Was the band playing when the boat went down?" - Definitely NOT. I can explain in detail about this later. My name was mis-spelled on the list of passengers saved as Morse Code was used forty years ago - and was given as Gust Cohen, my real first name is Gershon, but I have since adopted "Gus".
I was travelling third-class and when I write again I can give you the full story and reply to all your questions. I will also give you my impressions when the 'Titanic' struck the iceberg until it sank."
27th June 1955
Further to my letter of June 10th, I am writing a further letter which will fully answer your questions, contained in your letter of June 4th.
I will aid my impressions from memory, with the letters I wrote home after I was rescued, from the sinking of the "Titanic" on April 14th, 1912.
Of course, you know the tonnage of the boat and those people that were rescued and those who were drowned. I will commence from when the "Titanic" struck the iceberg:-
I travelled third class, and I believe that there were about 8 of us in the cabin. I went into my bunk at 10.30 and an hour later we heard *a terrific crash, as if a boiler has burst down below.* We did not take much notice of this and resumed sleeping. Shortly afterwards, some of the crew woke us again and told us to put on lifebelts, but we were not told to go to the action stations.
Some of us did not trouble to do so, because we never anticipated that the "Titanic" would sink, and it was was supposed to be unsinkable! When I went above, however, I noticed that some of the decks were full of ice, where it struck the iceberg and I then began to think the boat would sink. We all probably thought it would take a long time, being such a huge boat, and we all assumed that there would be quick help if anything did happen. The "Olympic" was supposed to be in the vicinity, and was on its way to England. As it transpired later, it was off its usual routs and they did not even hear the "Titanic's" signals of distress.
To go back to the disaster, at the time I went on deck I was wearing overcoat, trousers, boots and a cap. I proceeded to go back to my cabin for my valuables, but was informed by various people that water was coming through the side of the ship.
I decided to go up again, and find a life-jacket which I did. As I went to see what I could do to save myself, I looked into the dining saloon, where there were quite a number of people praying, presumably Roman Catholics, with rosaries in their hands, and I think most of these people were drowned; and I will tell the reason why. I knew if there was real danger of the boat sinking they would close the bulkheads to keep the boat buoyant. Some people had the same idea and went on deck, and I should think that immediately after that the bulkheads were closed and those inside the boat were caught like rats in a trap and drowned.
When on deck, the order was, of course, "women and children first". As I was a young lad, I had to find my own way about rescuing myself. As I had no encumbrances at the time and was travelling alone, I had my own responsibilities to look after. There was absolutely no panic on board, and, as I stated previously, the people thought they boat would not sink, but after a time, we no longer thought this, as the boat started to list. The whole sinking took about the time stated, but I estimate that the boat had disappeared entirely by two o'clock.
I may be wrong about the actual times - they are approximate.
While the rescuing was proceeding, the fog horns were blowing all the time, Verey lights were sent up to attract other liners, but these efforts were not successful. As stated previously, the only means of communication was by Morse code, and I believe the S.O.S. signal was given out but was not heard. I did notice that, when the lifeboats were lowered, they did not have their full compliment of people, because the rescuing was not properly organized.
I then decided that the best thing I could do was to attempt to rescue myself.
I am now leaving this part of the account to revert to the controversy regarding the band playing "Nearer my God to Thee", as the ship actually disappeared beneath the waves. As I stated previously, everybody was instructed to put on life jackets and when the boat listed we knew it was the end of things.
My last impression of the band (which is very vivid) is that they were standing about with most of their instruments beside them, presumably waiting to be rescued, if possible. Since 1912 I have denied that the band played anything whilst the boat was sinking, and several articles of mine have appeared in the press since then and have been abused by quite a number of people about my statement.
To revert to my actual rescue, I crawled along the lifeboat davit, climbed down a rope and was picked up by a lifeboat shortly afterwards. There were a few people in this lifeboat, having drawn awat [sic] from the sinking "Titanic" to avoid the suction when the ship sank.
Now, to come to the rescue by "Carpathia". We kept on rowing aimlessly, all through the night, waiting to be picked up by any rescuing boats that might be in the vicinity. At the same time, we same the lights of the "Titanic" getting lower and lower, until it finally sank. Then we heard the cries of the drowning. We picked up a few people and one or two of these died from exposure. Luckily, for us, the water was very calm.
According to the correspondence I retain, the "Carpathia" appeared on the horizon about six hours afterwards and later we were on board on our way to New York.
After we were picked up other liners came along, but too late to rescue anybody.
I do not know whether I have written too long a letter but you can sift most of the true facts from this.
I may add, in conclusion, that my only thoughts were not of actually saving myself, but thinking of my mother who might imagine I had been drowned.
Wishing you every success with your book,
Attached to this typewritten account is a handwritten note:
Please understand that times stated on the letter are a little elastic, but on the whole it is a correct statement of events.
I may also add that I have had a charmed life since I was rescued from drowning.
I came back to join the British Army in first World War. I was wounded in neck + head + have lost the sight of my left eye + I have a disability pension for life. IN 1939 I had rhuematic fever and was actually given up as hopeless, but went back to business after 7 months.
The building I was in control of in the 2nd World War had a direct hit from German bombs and I survived that. I have had several accidents since then, having broken ribs.
At present I am writing with my left hand in plaster having broken my wrist.
Good luck in your venture of writing a book + and would be pleased to accept a book if you are successful.
Yours Sincerely Gus Cohen
Thank you for your letter of June 30 _ I am replying to your questions in sequence.
Forgive me writing instead of typing. With regards to people that were praying these were all third class passengers and they could easily have got on deck, but like
everybody else before the boat started to sink, they thought the "Titanic" was safe.
Everybody could move freely about, except of course when the bulkheads were closed.
As regard the time these people were praying I would put it roughly about an hour after boat struck iceberg.
There were very few people climbing down on ropes and as far as I can recollect I think it was only on one side of the boat only that this happened.
As you wrote a few lifeboats did hang about the vicinity of the Titanic to pick up survivors as it is well known that the lifeboats did not have their full complement of passengers and were able to see very well what was happening, because all lights were on until the boat sank.
You ask what boat picked me up,
I do not understand this part, because the only boat that picked up survivors was the "Carpathia"
If you mean which lifeboat, I am afraid I cannot tell you.
There, I have answered all your questions _ if there are anymore you want put, I will gladly answer this.
I am not likely to change my address yet, I am pretty static now.
I think by writing these episodes my memory is not so bad, being 63 [?] years old next birthday.
Hoping to hear from you in the near future.
I remain yours, Sincerely Gus Cohen.
"Regarding the statement in your last letter to me, that Second Officer Lightoller said that
the Band was playing Ragtime, when the boat struck the iceberg, and after. I do not dispute
What I have always stated was the Band was not playing the Hymn "My God tis to Thee" [crossed out and replaced with "Nearer My God To Thee"] when the boat was actually sinking.
You must realize that Mr.Lightoler took command of the lifeboats when they were in the sea. I was on the Titanic actually after all the lifeboats were manned, and after Mr.Lightoller had keft [sic] the ship, so therefore, he was in no position to judge, what happened when he had gone.
I would state I was not the very last to leave the ship, but I was in a better position to judge what happened regarding the Band than Mr.Lightoller.
I am still repeating the band was not playing at all when the boat was sinking, of course this is only my view."
1. Spelling and punctuation have been preserved, where possible.
2. Cohen's recollection of the band is highly controversial; a letter from Lord to Cohen mentioned that other survivors also disputed the band playing on the deck. As an example, he mentioned Mrs.Jacques Futrelle.
3. In the last letter, Cohen mentioned that he and four other survivors had been interviewed by the BBC for a documentary. This was "The Sinking of the Titanic" broadcast on Tuesday November 27th 1956. This programme also lists contributions from "COTTAM, Harold" "HURST, Walter" "LIGHTELLER" [the radio broadcast from 1 November 1936, perhaps?] "MANNING, mrs" "QUICK" "ROWE, G. T." "RUSSELL, Edith" "WITTER, James" "WEST, Peter". Astonishingly, given the BBC's poor record of preserving its archive this show has survived. I have managed to view a rare documentary from the BBC Archives thanks to the British Film Institute. Details of this show can be found here.