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Jim Witter, 2nd Class Smoke Room Steward

9/7/55

"It was a beautiful, clear but very cold evening, the sea was like a sheet of glass. While I, duty smoke room steward was clearing up the 2nd. class smoke room (11-40) ready for closing at midnight. All was very quiet, the orchestra on that evening was playing the 1st class room. There were about 40 people in the room, many of them just talking, but there were about three tables of passengers playing cards. This was very unusual as it had been the rule of the White Star Line that the should be no card playing on Sundays, and that the smoke room should be closed at 11 o clock. On that particular Sunday I had been instructed by the Chief Steward to allow them to play cards and to close the smoke room at Midnight. Then suddenly there was a jar, the ship shuddered slightly and then everything seemed normal , my first impressions were that we had shipped a heavy sea , but , knowing the condition of the weather at the time I immediately dismissed the idea. Several of the passengers enquired of me the cause of the jar, and I explained that it may be due to the fact that she had dropped a blade (I had had a similar experience in my previous ship) To enlighten them I said I would go below and find out the real cause of the trouble. I went below and returned some fifteen to twenty minutes later and informed the passengers that we had hit an iceberg. At that time there were still two groups of passengers playing cards, but on hearing my explanation they immediately got up and left the smoke room without any sign of panic whatsoever. After they had all departed I locked up the smoke room and no one returned to it.

I then proceeded to my quarters encountering several groups of people talking in the working alleyway, discussing the accident. As I was about to turn in to my cabin, I met the carpenter, Mr Hutchinson, who remarked " The bloody mail room is full" I knowing there the mail room was situated (Nearlly f'ward) decided it was time to do something. Before I could proceed any further I encountered Steward Moss, who was going around the glory holes calling out the staff; he remarked. "It's serious Jim." Eventually I got to my cabin where there were about thirtytwo men turned in, in there bunks, I told them all to get out as the situation was serious, but they all ridiculed me. Not taking any more notice of them I opened my trunk and filled my pockets with cigarettes, and also taking the cowl from my first child which I always carried with me.

As I left the men were beginning to scramble out of there bunks, I saw none of them again. On my way to the upper deck I met the 2nd purser, who told me to clear the cabins of passengers and ensure that they all had lifebelts, this I did then carried on to the upper deck and stood by no. 11 boat where I assisted the women and children to get on board. As the boat was about to be lowered a hysterical woman tried to clamber in to the boat, so I stood on the guard rail to assist her in, as she half fell in to the boat I went in with her, the boat was then being lowered.

We were instructed to lay off but not to pull away. The boat was very full with 50 women, 9 babies in arms, 4 male passengers and the rest of the crew a total of 71 persons, as we could be of no more assistace, and thought it unecessary to sacrifice 71 more live we did pull a short way from the ship.

The boat was hushed except for the occasional whimper of one of the babies in arms, there was really very little sign that the people were witnessing on of the greatest tragedies of the sea.

It was about two o clock in the morning when the Titanic finally sank, there were two terrific explosions and several loud screams as she down bows first. As she sank the lights gradually faded as if someone was slowly turning of the current. There was a deathly silence in the boat, and then no one realised the great loss of life. We pulled away in silence. The moral[e] of the people in the boat was excellent at all times, and was greatly assisted by the endeavours of a Mrs Brown, who sang and joked with everyone, she carried with her a little Toy Pig which played a little melody when it's tail was turned, this amused the passengers immensely.

We pulled around hopefully when, with a great feeling of elation we sighted a ship at about six o clock, at first we all thought that it was the Olympic, but when she finally closed on is we distinguished her as the Carpathia, with thanks to God we boarded her. We were saved.


Notes:


1. Witter mentions Mrs.Brown carrying a toy pig (it was actually Edith Russel).
2. Witter provided Lord with a copy of his paying off sheet, it details:
Date of discharge 15 April
Rate of wages 3 15/
Wages for 6 days Amount 15
Bonus13 [??] 1 12 6 [BonusB - Bonus Balance?]
------
2 7 6

Balance due 2 7 6

Dated at the port of Southampton 30 Apr 1912

This shows, as researcher Dave Gittins notes in his ebook, that Witter, like others, was paid for a full 6 days at sea; April 10th to 15th. Their pay did not end at 2.20am when their ship sank!
3. Some more of Witter's recollections can be found here


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