SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. — It’s a horror story Grainne Howman’s great-grandfather spoke little about.
The Prince Edward Island woman is referring to the sinking of the Titanic and the heroics of her great-grandfather, Sir Arthur Henry Rostron.
Rostron captained the Carpathia, the ship that rescued hundreds of passengers left adrift in the icy cold waters of the Atlantic on that fateful night in April 1912.
Thanks to efforts of he and his crew, 710 lives were saved.
“To him, from what I’ve read and heard and, in talking to my dad, it was just in the line of duty. There was no option. Once they heard the distress call they were going to rescue those people and that was it,” said Howman.
“To him, it was a job. It was all sort of matter of fact.”
The Cornwall woman knew little of her great-grandfather’s role in the rescue until recently.
Her paternal grandmother, Margaret, was Rostron’s youngest child and only daughter.
Howman’s father, Michael, was months away from being born when Rostron died in 1940, at age 71.
“He did this wonderful, heroic deed but there wasn’t a lot said about him,” said Rowman, who was born in England and grew up in Ireland.
It was after being approached to speak about her Titanic connection that Rowman began quizzing her father about that night. He was able to fill in a few blanks while Internet searches and newspaper clippings helped fill other gaps.
But it was Rostron’s own words that provided the clearest picture of the night of April 15, 1912.
The words were contained in one simple chapter in his autobiography.
“That rescue almost never happened,” revealed Howman. “On his ship … there was only one wireless operator. He used to keep his headphones on just before he would retire. He would normally retire around 12 (midnight).”
But, as fate would have it, the wireless operator was behind schedule that night.
“It was about 12:35 and he had his headphones on and was undressing, leaning down to unlace his boots, when he heard the call,” recounted Howman.
“If he actually logged off when he should have…they would never have heard the call.”
The wireless operator barged into Rostron’s quarters, which was unusual since the captain was known as a strict man whom his men feared.
“Who is this cheeky begger who has come in my door without knocking,” is what Rostron writes of his reaction.
But when he learned of the Titanic’s distress call, he quickly jumped into action.
“He said turn ’the ship around, we’re going to go help them.’ That was it,” said Howman. “They turned up and basically saved everybody that was left to save.”
For his heroics, Rostron was knighted by King George V, was a guest of President Taft at the White House and presented with a Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honour the United States Congress could confer on him.
The officers and crew of the Carpathia were awarded medals by the survivors, with crew receiving bronze, officers silver and Rostron gold.
“Nobody was screaming or roaring. Nobody was walling. They were just in complete shock when they came on board,” said Howman. “This was the unsinkable Titanic and it went down.”