Second Officer David Blair
- Majestic Hero


A very happy looking David Blair (left), Second Officer of the Majestic, holding a pipe, along with chief officer Harry Dyke, photographed on Wednesday 29th May 1912. (Photograph: lot0260-6, Henry Aldridge & Son Ltd)
(Click image to enlarge)

Blair's White Star Line records tell us that he signed off Titanic on the 10th of April, 1912 and on the same day signed back on to the Majestic, in the same capacity as previously- the Second Officer. And there he stayed for the remainder of the year, until the 7th of January 1913.

During this time he reconnected with the officer that had replaced him on Titanic - on the 23rd of July 1912, Lightoller joined as First Officer, until the 5th of November. It is inconceivable to think that Blair and Lightoller would not have discussed Titanic, seeing that they were back in their original roles prior to Titanic's 10th of April departure. Lightoller was fresh from his US and British Inquiry roles and during this time Lightoller wrote an account for the The Christian Science Journal for October, 1912. Lightoller was also photographed proudly standing aboard the Majestic in August 1912 and in a similar time frame to when Blair was also photographed aboard the same ship.

Lightoller biographer Patrick Stenson wrote in his book "Titanic Voyager" that Lightoller gave Blair a "secret grilling... over a certain pair of binoculars that mysteriously disappeared from the Titanic's crow's nest. But the two never fell out over it and always remained friends." But Stenson provides no reference for this.

Another photograph of Second Officer Blair (right) with
Chief Officer Dyke on the Majestic, 29 May 1912.

During the end of his time aboard the Majestic his White Star record notes that Blair took holiday leave from 26/11/12 - 17/12/12 returning briefly to the Majestic but then moving on to join the Teutonic on the 7th of January 1913 for a few days until the 11th of January. It seems his time was cut short due to sickness as his records also note sick leave at this time for a period of almost a month - 11/1/13 - 12/2/13.

On his return to the Teutonic, on the 12th of February 1913 he was promoted to First Officer aboard the Teutonic, destination Portland, which he had worked aboard two times previously in the capacity of Second Officer. This promotion stayed with him when he returned to the Majestic on the 12th of March, a position he held for the next four months (12/3/13 - 28/7/13)

It was during this time First Officer Blair appeared in the media as something of a hero. On the morning of the 6th of May 1913, a 27 year old coal trimmer, William Keon jumped overboard into the North Atlantic and Blair dived in to rescue him:

The New York Times
Friday 9th May 1913

Majestic's First Officer Dived Overboard after Coal Trimmer Who Attempted Suicide
---
BUT LIFEBOAT MADE RESCUE
---
Gift from Passengers for Officer's Deed--Another of Crew who Sought Death Successful
---
The White Star Liner Majestic arrived yesterday with 764 passengers and mails from Southampton, via Cherboug and Queenstown, after an eventful voyage, during which one member of the crew committed suicide and a shipmate, who attempted to follow his example, was rescued as he was about to drown.

On Saturday morning early, two days out of Queenstown, Edward Turner, a fireman, disappeared, and was presumed to have jumped overboard. He trimmed his fires at 2:45 A.M. in the second engineer's watch, and that was the last time his shipmates saw him.

On Tuesday, when the ship was steaming along in a dense fog about four bells, in the fornoon watch, William Keoun, a coal trimmer, 27 years old, suddenly appeared on deck, and jumped over the port side aft, striking the water with a loud splash and emitting a yell that was heard by Capt. John B. Kelk on the bridge, as well as the passengers on deck, who all ran to the side to see what the matter was.

An officer and two seamen on deck immediately seized lifebouys and threw them overboard for the man, who appeared to have repented of his act, and was swimming toward the ship.

The starboard emergency lifeboat, which was swinging in the davits, was manned in charge of Second Officer Simpson, all ready for the word to lower away. Capt Kelk, after stopping his engines, went astern and manouvered so skillfully that the Majestic practically retraced her wake and got to within two ship lengths of the struggling coal trimmer.

David Blair, the first officer, who was lying down in his cabin, hastily jumped into his uniform and rush on deck to see what had happened. As the fog lifted the officer saw Keoun, apparently very weak, bobbing up and down on the swell, and without a moment's heistation he dived from the rail of the promenade deck into the water. He got hold of the lifebouy and started to push it ahead in the direction of the drowning man.

While Mr. Blair was swimming toward him the lifeboat, pulled by eight stalwart seamen and steered by Mr. Simpson, passed and grabbed Keoun as he was sinking. Then the first officer was hauled into the boat. When they arrived alongside the Majestic the passengers gave a hearty cheer for the gallant attempt made by the first officer.

The temperature of the water was 44 degrees, and both the first officer and the coal trimmer showed effects of their immersion. The reason for Keoun's attempted suicide was not been discovered, as the man has not recovered his senses and has been kept under guard in the ship's hospital.

To mark their appreciation of his bravery, the passengers on the Majestic made up a purse of $50, which they handed to Purser Evans to purchase a pair of marine glasses to present Mr Blair as a momento of the occasion.


Another article in the New York Tribune inaccurately reports Blair as being the Chief Officer, but adds some interesting details, noting that the water was "was as cold as when the Titanic victims perished in that vicinity a year ago." and that "everybody on board except Blair himself, wanted to tell about the rescue."

MAJESTIC IN WITH CHIEF OFFICER A HERO

New-York Tribune
Friday 9th May 1913

Passengers Cheer David Blair, Who Risked Life in Fog to Save Fireman
---
DIVED IN MIDOCEAN
---
Women Weep as Gallant Sailor and Man for Whom He Jumped Are Helped Over Side
---
"The he is now, off your starboard bow, Captain Kelk. I think he's sinking."


Having shouted those words to the master of the White Star liner Majestic, at 10:10 a.m Tuesday, David Blair, chief officer pulled off his trousers and coat and dived into the Atlantic The Majestic was then about eight hundred miles east of Sandy Hook, and the water was as cold as when the Titanic victims perished in that vicinity a year ago.

William Keoun, a fireman, crazed by the heat of the stoke hole, had jumped overboard and Blair plunged from the promenade deck, a height of forty feet, to save him.

Everybody on board except Blair himself, wanted to tell about the rescue yesterday, and  Captain Kelk said he felt mighty proud of his chief officer.

Keoun lost his wife a month ago,and brooded over her death.  Worry, augmented by the heat of the fire room, affected his mind temporarily, and on Tuesday he ran up to the main deck and jumped.

Sought Victim in Mist

Hardly had his body hit the surface when the cry of "Man overboard!" rang throughout the ship.  Captain Kelk stopped his engines, and soon had his propellers turning full speed astern, but for all his promptness the Majestic's momentum had carried her a half-mile ahead.  Everybody rushed to the starboard side.  Passengers and crew alike peered into a hazy atmosphere in the hope of seeing the fireman.

Captain Kelk put the liner astern over the same course he had come, dropping a few hundred feet to the south to avoid hitting the fireman with the propellers.

The starboard emergency lifeboat was ready with men to be dropped the moment the fireman was sighted.

Mr. Blair, who had been roused from sleep by the cry of "Man overboard!" pulled his trousers over his pajamas and grasping his binoculars rushed forward to a place on the promenade deck just under the bridge.  He never took his eyes from the sea until he shouted to the skipper that he saw the helpless fireman.

The passengers said Blair made a perfect dive.  When he came to the surface he looked to the bridge, and seeing Kelk pointing in the direction of the fireman, got his bearings and struck out for the man he could not then see.

Once he got a glimpse of the unconscious Keoun as the  fireman was tossed up on a wave, and from that tie until he himself was rescued Blair saw nothing but sea and mist.

Thought of Fireman First

He kept bravely on, with nothing to guide him, until the lifeboat came by in search of the fireman.  Those in the boat called to Blair to climb in, but he shouted: "I'm all right.  Get that fireman first.  He should be somewhere about here."

Presently the fog patch passed and the rescuers saw Keoun floating face downward.  He was hauled in, not a moment too soon, for when the lifeboat picked up Blair the chief officer was chilled and exhausted.

Cheers attended the hauling up of the boat and its drenched occupants. Women passengers wept as Blair was helped to the deck and men crowded about him with words of praise.  Keoun was in a bad way and only the persistent efforts of the ship's surgeon restored him to consciousness.

Before Blair had time to doff his wet togs a subscription was under way among the passengers, and when the vesel [sic] docked yesterday $250 had been collected.  It will be used for the purchase of a medal and a pair of binoculars commemorative of his bravery.

Saturday a trimmer named Turner disappeared from the Majestic.  It is thought he jumped into the sea in the night.




Postcard of Majestic, after her 1902 refit.
(Click image to enlarge)



MADMAN LEAPS FROM BIG LINER; RESCUED IN A FOG
The World Evening Edition (New York)
Thursday 8th May 1913

First Officer Blair of Majestic Narrowly Escapes Death in Saving Drowning Man
---
LOST TO SIGHT IN MIST
---
Shouts Directions From the Water to the Crew of a Lifeboat
---
The sound of the fourth bell announcing 10 o'clock in the morning had scarcely died away aboard the White Star liner Majestic---the one time "Queen of the Sea"---poking her way through a thick fog 1,000 miles from Sandy Hook, when there rose from the vessel's depths the shrill scream of a man and the sound of scuffling. Robe-muffled passengers lounging in deck chairs glanced at one another as the uproar below continued, and then sprang up as the noise sounded clearer and nearer.

From a hatchway emerged the contorted face, eyes bloodshot, of a half-naked fireman to whose waist and legs were clinging half a dozen other firemen and stewards. The man gained the deck by an effort which flung him and those who clung to him headlong on the boards. He was up in an instant. Possessed apparently of the strength of a giant, he threw off the grip of those who would have held him and darted to the starboard rail.

DIVES HEADLONG OVER THE SHIP'S RAIL

Women passengers screamed, shrank back against the deckhouse structure and covered their eyes with their hands. Those men who did not stand irresolute with surprise, jumped forward toward the fireman, but the man dived headlong over the rail.

Above the shouts and cries which rose from men and women sounded the alarm of "Man Overboard!" On the bridge Capt. John B. Kelk swung his telegraph, communicating with the engine room, over to "Full speed astern!" The mighty frame of the Majestic quivered as though shaken with the ague as the order was obeyed, the engines shut down for an instant and were then sent racing backward.

In his bunk first officer David Blair was awakened by the terrible racking. Throwing coat and trousers over his pajamas he hurried to the bridge. There Capt. Kelk was peering through the fog striving for a glimpse of the man in the water. Suddenly the fog lifted for a fraction of a minute and Blair sighted a dark object off the port bow of the steamship. The Majestic, travelling at full speed, had backed past the fireman.

At Blair's shout of alarm, Capt. Kelk hurried an order for half speed ahead, and as the Majestic started slowly ahead, Blair bounded down the ladder from the bridge and rushed to the port rail of the boat deck. Passengers had flocked to the rail also. While they gazed excitedly, Blair flung off his coat and trousers and, clad in pajamas only, dived over the side.

LIFEBOAT HURRIES TO THE RESCUE

A lifeboat swung on the davits on the starboard side, its keel brushing the water, its crew ready at the oars. At Capt Kelk's order the halyard ran through the blocks and the lifeboat dropped into the sea. But it was many yard from Blair. As its crew pulled desperately to round the intervening bulk of the ship the fog closed down again like a pall and the first officer and the object toward which he swam were shut from view.

The rescuers had had a good glimpse of his position, and they pulled toward the spot where they had seen him lost. One minute---two, and then five and ten passed, without sight of the swimmer. Then there came a hail from the fog-hidden water.

"Ahoy," called Blair and as his ship mates answered, he shouted back.

"Keep off," he said. "I'm all right. The other chap's a dozen yards ahead. Straight on the way you're going. Don't mind me. I can keep up."

Those in the life boat sighted the officer as he shouted and saw in the direction of his guiding finger pointing straight ahead of him. They followed his command and an instant later saw the fireman floundering about a few yards ahead.

A few strokes brought them alongside the demented man---crazed, they learned afterward, from the heat of the stokehole. He fought desperately to keep them from dragging him into the boat. But dragged in he was and held down by two big sailors, while the others pulled back to where Blair was treading water and shouting at the top of his lungs to let them know his position. He was pulled into the boat almost frozen, for he had been fifteen minutes in the water. The fireman had been submerged for three-quarters of an hour, and any but an insane man would have died of the exposure.

PASSENGERS CHEER BLAIR FOR GALLANT WORK

Aboard the ship, where the passengers lined the rail cheering heartily for Blair, the men were hustled into the sick bay. Ship's Surgeon C. E. Milnes-Hey took them in hand. A hot drink and an alcohol rub made Blair as good as new. In a few minutes, clad in garments more presentable than his pajamas, he was striving to dodge the congratulations of the passengers and reach his cabin. The fireman, William Kelwen, was put to bed under a guard, for his experience in the water had completed the mental derangement which the intense boat of the stokehole had started.

The Majestic arrived here to-day, the passengers still gossiping of the thrilling rescue two days ago and telling each other where they had stood when Blair dived overboard, how they had seen Kelwen rush from the stoke hole and how they had felt as they waited for the return of the rescuers.

For two days the rescue has been the only topic of conversation, and as a result of it Blair will receive the finest pair of binoculars that money can buy. A purse of $250 was taken up by the admiring passengers, and the glasses, suitably inscribed, will be presented to the first officer just as soon as they can be selected and delivered.



Admiral Sir George Digby Morant presented
Blair with a bronze medal of The Royal
Humane Society.

In addition to a gift of a pair of binoculars - the possible irony of the gift unlikely realised by many - Blair was also awarded a King's Medal on his return to England. The Times of the 12th of July 1913 printed the following:

AWARD OF THE KING'S MEDALS
The King has been pleased, on the recommendation of the President of the Board of Trade, to award medals for gallantry in saving life at sea to the folowing persons:

A silver medal to Lieutenant David Blair, R.N.R., first officer of the steamship Majestic, of Liverpool, in recognition of his services in attempting to rescue a trimmer of that vessel who jumped overboard in the North Atlantic on May 6, 1913. 12 July 1913, The Times

The Royal Humane Society citation also mentions that David Blair, first officer, was awarded a "bronze medal of the Society" on the 10th of June 1913 by Admiral Sir George Digby Morant. The society's Bronze Medal: introduced in 1837, was awarded to those who have put their own lives at risk to save the life of another.

Royal Humane Society citation for the bronze medal awarded to Blair for his bravery in rescuing a passenger who went overboard onboard R.M.S. Majestic in 1913.
(Click image to enlarge)

Blair's Royal Humane Society bronze medal (right) along with the Liverpool Shipwreck medal. Image: Lot 1454 - The ‘Titanic Interest’ O.B.E. Group of 9 awarded to Second Officer David Blair, Morton & Eden, July 4, 2019.
(Click image to enlarge)