LAKONIA SURVIVORs STories
"I felt I was going to go under, when I heard a voice saying, "My name's Tony, what's yours?"
Joseph Benveniste, Greek-English, aged 21 at the time, was the hairdresser on board the ship. The fire started in the hairdressing salon (though nothing to do with Joseph - it was caused by an electrical fault).
"I was advised to work on the ship, as I was depressed - I was told to get away and see the world! A friend who was a photographer got me a job on the ship, by arranging with the man who had the hairdressing concession on the sister ship, the Arkadia; he had a salon in Knightsbridge.
My cabin was like my home - I was there for nine months. I had more of my stuff there than my place in London! My boss had told me I could have Christmas off, but he said he'd take my phone number, just in case he needed me. In the end, I was on the Lakonia Christmas cruise.
At the time of the fire, I was in the cinema watching a film, and we were told to go down to the ballroom. There, they told us to go our lifeboat stations, but mine was burnt out.
I watched one of the lifeboats being launched, and it fell sideways. I had no life jacket, so a Greek officer went below to get me one from his cabin, but it had been looted.
I remember the ship was very hot underfoot. We could see rescue ships on the horizon, so when the order was given to abandon ship, we weren't too worried as we knew the rescue ships were nearby.
I went down the rope ladder, and I could hear clunks as people at the bottom let go to jump into the sea. I jumped out from higher up, as far out as I could to clear the undertow, and started to swim towards the ships, which were about a mile and a half away. The current was so strong I had to zig-zag. I got groggy and started losing my strength. I felt I was going to go under, when I heard a voice saying, "My name's Tony, what's yours?" He was using a Lilo as a pillow.
When the rescue ships arrived, they picked up the people who were obviously alive first, before collecting the bodies. If I hadn't been with Tony, I might not have been spotted in time. We were picked up by the Montcalm, which was on its way to South American. I never managed to find out who Tony was.
The ship ran out of food after one day. They carried on collecting survivors - they picked up one woman after 24 hours. I met a man who had been on the Titanic!
We were taken to Casablanca and flown home on 24 December.