Further to B. Enns Titanic story in last the April 18 Daily News, I would like to share my story with your readers.
I grew up in English countryside just outside the village of Lowdham in Nottinghamshire. A few houses down our road lived a man called Harold Cottam.
He was a bit of a recluse; lived in a three-bedroom Victorian house where he only used two rooms — beside the chickens that lived in the front bedroom. The rest of the house was used for the storage of his many “world treasures” — boxes and boxes of exquisite Japanese tea services, vases, carved boxes and swords amongst other things.
I first met Harold when I was about nine or 10. I went to visit him with my neighbour, Chris Payne, who knew him.
It was then that I found out Harold had been involved in the rescue of survivors of the Titanic. He had been the radio operator on RMS Carpathia, the ship that received the Titanic’s distress signal and subsequently went to its rescue.
As a kid, I found Harold extremely interesting and would go to visit him fairly regularly. I’d do yard work and he would pay me in ice cream. There we would sit in his front room or in his garden, me with a bowl of raspberry ripple and he would enthral me with stories of his life.
He had sailed the world more than once. He had been on the RMS Carpathia in Istanbul during the Turko-Italian War and had been on one of the first ships through the Panama Canal. In the First World War, he had been stationed in Scotland working at a secret relay station picking up German radio transmissions.
But it was with his stories of the Titanic (and of his late wife Else) that he always had sadness in his voice.
I don’t know how much your readers know about early radio, but in 1912 when the Titanic sank, radio (or wireless as it was then known) was a very new technology. There were no microphones, this was headphones and a Morse code transmitter.
On the night of April 15, 1912, Harold was getting ready to turn in for the night and was waiting for another ship to reply to a message. While he waited he called up the Cape Cod transmission station and noticed there were several messages waiting for the Titanic and decided to be helpful and pass the messages on to Jack Philips, the wireless operator on the Titanic.
Harold actually missed the Titanic’s first distress call as he had removed his headphones to take off his shoes and hang up his coat. When he got his headphones back on he called up the Titanic to check it had received his message only to receive a CQD signal (the forerunner to the modern SOS signal): “Come at once, we’re sinking!” After receiving confirmation from the Titanic, he went and woke up his captain, who then set course at full steam for the Titanic.
The Carpathia was a steam-side paddlewheeler with a top speed of only 17 knots or 20 mph, so to keep this speed up, the captain ordered all of the ships’ heating and hot water be turned off. It took the Carpathia about four hours to steam the 60 nautical miles to the last known position of the Titanic where it picked up just over 700 survivors.
My friend Harold was born in Southwell, Nottinghamshire, and died in Lowdham, Nottinghamshire, about 15 miles apart. In between, he had been the youngest graduate from the British School of Telegraphy at only 17, had seen the world (several times) and had been a major player in the disaster of the century all by the age of 21.
Harold retired from the sea at the age of 32 to become a traveling salesman for the Mini Max fire extinguisher company. He was married and had four children.
Are there any other Titanic stories out there?