Third Officer Pitman

Date of birth: 20th November 1877
Place of birth: Sutton Montis, Castle Cary, Somerset, England
Marital status: Married
Spouse: Mimi Kalman
Crew position: Titanic's Third Officer
Date of death: December 7, 1961
Cause of death: Subarachnoid haemorrhage, aged 84

Third Officer Herbert Pitman's 1954 Article

A photograph of Pitman that accompanied The Shepton
Mallet Journal, City of Wells Reporter, and County
newspaper article published on the
27th August 1954. (Click to enlarge)

On the 27th of August 1954 a newspaper article was published based on an interview with Titanic's Third Officer Herbert Pitman. He was then turning 77 years old - four years before he attended the premiere of the 1958 film "A Night to Remember" and there was a resurgence of interest in the subject in England. It was however at about the same time the Hollywood film "Titanic" starring Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck arrived in cinemas in 1953. Did this perhaps reignite an interest in telling his story?

The article appeared in two newspapers on the same day - The Shepton Mallet Journal, City of Wells Reporter, and County Advertiser, as well as the Central Somerset Gazette. It does contain some inaccuracies - he calls himself the only surviving officer - when Fourth Officer Joseph Boxhall was actually still alive, but perhaps they had lost contact. Indeed, Pitman would pass away 6 years before Boxhall. He also gets the number of casualties and survivors incorrect.

But otherwise the article is a fascinating insight into his life and a rare almost autobiographical account from the second senior surviving officer. Of particular note:

-The story of his leaving home in 1895 and having difficulty getting the correct train to Liverpool

-He suffered from “malade au mer” or seasickness throughout his life

-His experiences visiting exotics ports of the Far East, West Indies, South Africa and Calcutta

-He described an unnamed White Star ship on which he served that "floundered on a lighthouse rock in the Atlantic just off the coast of North America and sugar by the ton had to be jettisoned."

-In the Titanic disaster he lost, all his personal belongings, including a comprehensive collection of stamps; the only thing he still retains is his officers whistle

-He had colour blindness in one eye (not both)

- He retired to Somerset, the county of his birth, in a property named "Redhouse”, with a "spacious garden on top of Sunnyhill".

-He has never been to the Channel Islands and was intending to visit at the time of writing but was worried about sea travel.

Pitman would pass away in 1961 - seven years after the publication of this article. It is known that he wrote a private handwritten manuscript, a short excerpt of which was released during a segment on the Antiques Roadshow in 2016. But to date this has remained unpublished. So this newspaper article is a valuable asset to anyone wanting to know the story of Herbert Pitman in his own words.

The following is a full transcript of the article:

Bruton man was in Titanic disaster

Whenever Mr. H. J. Pitman of "Redhouse” Sunnyhill passes through Marston Magna Station, his mind goes back to the time 59 years ago when he was seen off by his step-father- on his trip to Liverpool to join the Merchant Service. It was the first time that he was leaving Somerset and his people to embark on a life of adventure that was to begin on sailing vessels plying the Indian Ocean and ended as a purser on troopships during the last war. taking in the dreadful disaster of the White Star Liner “Titanic " on its maiden voyage in 1912.

Adventure was the key-word to Herbert John Pitman’s decision to take to the sea. Although born in an inland village—Sutton Montis to be precise— the call did not go unheard. Not only did he have to get from Marston Magna to Liverpool at a time when railway companies operated rather confusingly and when the G.W.R. got him to Birkenhead, the wrong side of the Mersey, when he should have caught the London and North Western train, but to this day he still suffers from “malade au mer” even on the relative calm of the Bristol Channel.

Even today one’s mind can capture the grace of line of a sailing ship and pictures can be conjured of the long, pointed bows easing through calm stretches of water like a knife slicing its way through ham. There is that gentle swaying motion as the vessel is caught by the tides and currents of the ocean, the creaking of the spars and rigging as the tropic breezes change and veer from different points of the compass. But there is also the other side, and more true picture, of strong nor’-westerly gales thrashing at the very joints of the timbers, when the stinging salty spume hurts the eyes as they peer out into the cold reaches of the Atlantic, the battling rage of the Bay of Biscay as if in torment; of the meals of salt beef and biscuits, black tea and hash.

It was in this atmosphere of sailing ships that Mr. Pitman served his apprenticeship and for some years he sailed extensively in the Far East. There were calls at Calcutta, the thriving, fly-ridden port where the smell of betel-nut and curried rice, the clamour of merchants and boys hit the senses for the first time but gradually emerge as being a cameo of the East. From Calcutta his ship used to take emigrants to the West Indies. From Liverpool, particularly, and from other ports in the United Kingdom the vessels would sail with a ballast of salt, more precious than gold dust. Some weeks later they would be crossing the line west of Africa and at 16 degrees south would pass the Isle of St. Helena where Napoleon spent his exile. From the South Atlantic, the ship would round the Cape of Good Hope and steer nor’-east to India, the land of prosperous princes and abject poverty.

In 1906 Mr. Pitman joined the White Star Line and served on steamers. One ship on which he served floundered on a lighthouse rock in the Atlantic just off the coast of North America and sugar by the ton had to be jettisoned. But by far the worst marine disaster ever to strike at the heart of any nation occurred on the night of April 14th-15th, 1912, when the Titanic, on its maiden voyage, struck an iceberg and sank within a few hours.

The night was clear and, above the stars were shining like tiny jewels on black velvet, but the horizon was inky black und the sea was without a ripple. Then came the grinding of steel against mountainous ice and out of a total of 2,207 passengers and crew, only 690 were saved. Mr. Pitman was serving as 3rd Officer (Navigational) aboard the Titanic and of the officers he is the remaining survivor.

He says that if there had been sufficient life-saving equipment and if there had been a breeze that night off the Newfoundland coast the disaster might not have happened.

In the disaster he lost, all his personal belongings, including a comprehensive collection of stamps, and the only thing he still retains from that fatal night is a whistle which had to be carried by all navigational officers.

Little more than two years later the Nation was involved in the first of its modern struggles of survival and it was then the call from the other service that Mr. Pitman answered. He joined the Royal Navy but soon after the war was again walking the decks of liners.

Colour blindness in one eye affected his career when war broke out again in 1939, but he stayed afloat as purser aboard a troopship. On his retirement some years ago he came back to Somerset, the county of his birth. pottering about his spacious garden on top of Sunnyhill.

Last week he was looking forward to taking a trip to the Channel Islands as somewhere he had never been before but he seemed to be in some trepidation about the nature of the sea that he loves so much.

(Click image to enlarge)