Third Officer Herbert Pitman
- Post Titanic
Despite the harrowing experiences with the sinking of the Titanic, Pitman intended to continue his career at sea. On the 28th May 1912 in, Southampton, his Masters certificate was reissued, as it had been lost in the Titanic disaster. Then on the 10th of July, 1912, he became Third Officer for the Oceanic on which he had served just prior to the Titanic. However his time aboard her was cut short by an interesting turn of events.
On June 24, 1912, a Board of Trade report was issued regarding colour-blindness, a disorder which affected Pitman (as well as up to 8% of the male population) and subsequently announced in July 1912 that "no person who is liable to fail to detect the presence or to confuse the colours of average ships‘ sidelights at a distance of one mile is competent to discharge the duties of an Officer of the Watch."
Pitman had passed seven vision tests previously, but now he would need to be tested once again under the new Board of Trade rules. Pitman did not pass his test in September of 1912, even though his defect was not extreme and he was subsequently stripped of his duties as Third Officer.
As pointed out in the article "Pitman's Own Private Iceberg" on Encyclopedia Titanic, by Senan Molony, in May 1913 Pitman's test failure appeared in the news. In a letter to the editor by the secretary of the Imperial Merchant Service Guild, Pitman is described as "one of the finest specimens of British Mercantile Marine officer":
MERCANTILE MARINE SIGHT TESTS
The Case of an Officer of the Titanic
To the Editor of The Times
With regard to the cruel case of an Allan Line officer, who was one of the victims of the Board of Trade sight tests, which is furnished in your columns by that well-known ship owner Mr John Glynn, allow me to put a parallel case, that of the surviving Third Officer of the Titanic, one of the finest specimens of British Mercantile Marine officer that I have come across - and I know many.
Prior to going to see 17 years ago he passed the Board of Trade sight tests. But he took the precaution of guaranteeing as far as possible his safety in this respect for the professional career upon which he was embarking. During his career he has passed the Board of Trade sight tests in both colour and form vision seven times. Since the loss of the Titanic he presented himself for a further test under the then prevailing instructions of the White Star Line that their Captains and Officers should go through these tests periodically. He was then failed, and has now been invited by the Board of Trade voluntarily to surrender his certificate.
We have at present in hand 26 cases of our members similar to this, where fine young officers have been robbed of their livelihoods. The ex-Third Officer of the Titanic was, I should say, most sympathetically treated by the White Star Line, who have now appointed him as an assistant purser on one of their biggest vessels.
These eyesight tests are impractical and unfair, and a gross imposition on a most worthy class of the community. Furthermore, they are of great national moment in diminishing the supply of officers of the Merchant Service.
May I venture to hope that, with the publicity you have so kindly ventured to give to this matter, we shall soon see the Board of Trade substantially modifying their present attitude - that is, by throwing off the present tests as hopeless and unjust, and adopting some reasonable and practical tests in accordance with actual seafaring conditions.
I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
T. W. Moores
Secretary, the Imperial Merchant Service Guild,
Lord Street, Liverpool.
(The Times, Tuesday May 13, 1913. p.3)
Senan Molony describes the situation as being entirely unfair on Pitman, but resulting in a rebellion among officers that led to a change in the tests:
"The point is that Pitman's eyesight did not slowly fail until he voluntarily reconciled himself to a less stressful occupation. Within months of the Titanic disaster he had seen his certificate ordered surrendered by the Board of Trade when his eyesight was just as good as it had always been.
It seemed the Pitman case may have sparked a small rebellion among officers at White Star, because the company announced pay and watch improvements in April 1913, and also that:
"The officers will not, as hitherto, be required to undergo the sight tests at the Board of Trade, but will be examined by the company's own doctor."
It was too late for Pitman, as it was in May 1915, when the rules for eyesight and teeth were relaxed by the Admiralty and Board of Trade simultaneously in light of the exigencies of national survival.
"Candidates who have been rejected for bad teeth or defective vision may present themselves again," declared the Board of Trade nobly.
Wisely, it never reimposed the same standards on the cessation of hostilities.
But perhaps some would see a rough justice in the case of Herbert Pitman.
The officer who had taken his cue from passengers in April 1912 remained taking orders from passengers for the rest of his career."
- Senan Molony, Encyclopedia Titanica, "Pitman's Own Private Iceberg"
Assistant Purser and World War One
In Walter Lord's "The Night Lives On" he describes the situation rather inaccurately by saying that "Third Officer Pitman decided his eyes weren't good enough for a deck officer, and shifted to the Purser's Section, and spent the rest of his seagoing days shuffling paper." (From page 226 of The Night Lives On). As seen above, this was not Pitman's decision. However it is true that the White Star Line transferred him from deck officer duties and made him an Assistant Purser instead, firstly aboard the Oceanic and then later aboard the Olympic. At present the exact dates are not known.
During the war years - between 1914 and 1918 - Pitman served aboard the Teutonic, a White Star liner converted into a troop transport duty. In 1916 he received a commission as a Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Reserve (RNR) and saw out the First World War as a Stores Officer on board a destroyer. By the end of the war, he was a Lieutenant-Commander. There is a postcard, sent from Pitman which is handwritten and signed "Love Bert" to his sister, dated 24th January 1919 in which he writes: "Will be demobilised in a few days".
According to Ellis Island immigration records Pitman visited New York aboard the Adriatic on the 27th of May, 1921. He is listed as Purser, aged 43, 5ft 10 inches and 185lbs. Then on the 2nd of November 1921, he also listed as aboard the Titanic's sister ship, the Olympic, aged 44, 5ft 9 inches and 168lbs.
Then in the early 1920s he changed lines, still employed in the role of a purser but now for the Shaw, Savill and Albion Company Ltd. In 1925 he received the Reserve Decoration for his work during the war.
World War Two and retirement
During World War II Lieutenant-Commander Pitman served aboard the SS Mataroa, still acting as purser and meeting the needs of troops being transported on the ship. During the war years, the SS Mataroa was involved in the following action:
1940 - Carried the British Post Office censorship unit to Bermuda
1940 November - Mataroa became a troopship mainly to South Africa and was then used to carry meat cargoes from the River Plate ports of South America to the UK.
1944 - Transported US troops to Northern Ireland in preparation for the Normandy Invasion. Irish pressure in Southern Ireland and the USA decreed that no Americans of Irish descent should go to the North in case of cross border friction, so the US Army sent all black troops to Ireland.
1945 - Jewish Brigade soldiers arranged for the legal immigration of certain groups of survivors to Palestine. The survivors were taken from the train station to the British ship Mataroa, which sailed to Palestine.
- Source: The New Zealand Maritime Record, by the NZ National Maritime Museum (http://www.nzmaritime.co.nz/mataroa.htm)
Pitman ultimately served in the role of a pursuer for more than twenty years with the Shaw, Savill and Albion Company who went on to say ‘in transporting large numbers of troops during the war he at all times proved conscientious and capable, giving loyal and dedicated service’.
According to the Encyclopedia Titanica, Pitman was involved in another, unknown, shipwreck (which he described as a minor affair).
Altogether Pitman served more than 50 years at sea, and although he never received his own command, his length of time at sea is an impressive accomplishment in itself, finally retiring in 1946.
In recognition of his many years with the merchant marine, Lieutenant-Commander Herbert John Pitman, RD, RNR, was created a Member of The Order Of The British Empire (MBE) in 1948, considered a well-deserved tribute for “long and meritorious service at sea and in dangerous waters during the war.”
In London in April of 1998, seven medals belonging to Pitman were auctioned by Sotheby's for $7,300. According to the [Reuter's] release at the time, the medals were not related to his role in the Titanic disaster, but military medals awarded for service in WW I & WW II. One of the particularly special items handled by Onslows Auction was his MBE warrant certificate, along with the letter that had accompanied it.
A Night to Remember - Book and film
In 1955 Walter Lord reached out to Pitman while he was researching his book, to be titled "A Night to Remember". Pitman wrote a short letter in reply. It confirms most of the key points in his original Senate and Board of Trade Inquiry statements, but notably does not reference his not returning in boat no.5 for survivors:
Re: your letter of June 4th I am afraid there is little or nothing I can tell you relating to the "Titanic" affair other than which came out at the various enquiries.
The jar of the collision did awaken me, for a moment or so I thought we have come to an anchor, but in a matter of a couple of seconds I realized that could not be so. I immediately got up, dressed and come [?] on deck, met [?] Lightoller. At that time we were informed we had struck an iceberg and doubt very much if Lightoller went back to bed, if it states so in his evidence, it must be correct.
I realized we had struck an iceberg when I saw ice on the forward well deck.
I did not hear any squabble between Lowe and Bruce Ismay, Ismay did not get in my way whilst at work at the boats, did not see him until he arrived alongside the "Carpathia."
I did not realize the gravity of the situation when Murdock [sic] wished me luck in leaving the ship. I did not hear the band playing.
I retired from the sea some 6 years ago.
Herbert J. Pitman
On the 3rd of July 1958 Pitman attended the world premiere of the movie based on Lord's book, also entitled A Night to Remember. Fourth officer Boxhall had been an advsior to the film and they were both photographed attending. Reportedly he found the film to be “an excellent representation of what happened, and I cannot recall a single technical mistake.” Newsmen pressed him for additional details, and the 80-year-old survivor initially replied, “Oh, surely there is nothing more to tell.” Eventually he shared a few of his recollections.
However, according to Eardley Bryan, of Poole, Dorset, and a relative by marriage to the Pitman family ("Third Officer Herbert John Pitman is my wife's great uncle") he writes on the Encyclopedia Titanica message board: "We have several of his letters written to her parents during the secondworld war, but nothing about Titanic. He was not very impressed by the film 'A Night to Remember'"
Pitman and Boxhall stayed in touch. According to a letter written by Fourth officer Boxhal to Joe Carvalho, on the 18th of March 1961 Pitman visited him in Bournemouth and they had lunch together.
"Herbert James [sic] Pitman who was 3rd officer, I was 4th officer, being the only one of four who was on duty at the time of the crash. Well, on 18th March I was very surprised in the forenoon by a visit quite unexpected by Pitman, he with his nephew and wife had come to Bournemouth for the weekend and my wife and I were invited to luncheon with them the next day. Pitman is a widower and lives at The Red House, Pitcombe. Bruton. Somerset. England." (letter written by Joseph Boxhall, Monday, 24 April 1961, courtesy of Joe Carvalho & Shelley Dziedzic, Encyclopedia Titanica)