LAKONIA SURVIVORs STories
"My stepfather jumped into the sea and I thought I'd never see him again."
Carol Woolnoth, English, aged 10 at the time. Carol Shaw was travelling with her mother and stepfather.
"There was chaos among the crew - they unrolled the hoses, attached them, and then when they turned them on, nothing came out. The ship looked fine on the surface, but its faults were covered with a layer of paint; the lifeboats' cables were rusted, but had been painted over. The crew had to hack at them to get the boats down. George Herbert, the Entertainments Director, did a great job of organising the women and children into the boats.
Some of the lifeboats were on fire. The one before ours, one of its cables snapped and all the people fell into the sea. Me and my mother got into a lifeboat - it wasn't even full, but there was so much panic. We left my stepfather behind - he jumped into the sea - and I thought we never would see him again.
We had no rudder on the boat, and there were no officers, just waiting staff - noone knew how to row. We were rescued by the SS Montcalm (a British tanker) after eight hours. Several hours later, my stepfather was fished out of the sea. He had managed to sit in a wicker chair - lots of furniture was thrown off the ship to make it lighter, some of which hit people in the sea - so he stayed afloat without freezing in the water. He still had his wallet in his suit - my mother took the money out of it, and dried and ironed it, so we could pay to send a telegram from the ship to our loved ones.
We were taken to Casablanca, which was two or three days' sailing away, here we were given clothes by the Red Cross, and stayed the night in a hotel. Everyone was in shock, and we were mobbed by reporters from all the national UK dailies as the story had been in the papers for days. They had aerial photos of the ship, but they wanted the human interest angle. Some people stopped to talk to them, but my parents didn't.
I played on the ship with John's younger sister, who was also aged 10, and had often wondered if she made it. She did indeed survive.
I must write my story down - I don't really talk about it with my children, but I should have it down for future grandchildren to know. If you don't write these things down, they disappear."