[Left: Mr. Harold Godfrey Lowe, Fifth Officer aboard RMS Titanic. Right: Ioan Gruffudd as Fifth Officer Lowe in Titanic (1997)]
Fifth Officer Lowe: Heroic… and Yet Human
Harold Godfrey Lowe was only 29 years old when RMS Titanic sank, 100 years ago today. Lowe, a Welshman, ran away from home at the age of 14 rather than complete an apprenticeship under his father, and, after five years of service along the West African coast, joined The White Star Line a mere 15 months before joining Titanic. Lowe is often evoked as one of the few brave figures from that fateful night; he filled his boat with 58 passengers, and had his crew row off about 150 yards, somewhere between 1:20 and 1:30 a.m. according to evidence presented by his latest biographer, Inger Shiel. He lashed a group of boats together, transferred the passengers in his boat to others, and in the end was the only officer to return to seek survivors in the icy water.
Lowe waited for the screams of the passengers in the water to die down; he is reported to have thought “it would have been suicide” to go back before he did. “What are you going to do with a boat of 65 where 1,600 people are drowning?” he reportedly asked. However, according to Lowe’s son, his father forever regretted not returning sooner.
Some crew members say Lowe was ready to go back much earlier. He asked the passengers if they would be willing to return not long after departing the sinking ship, supposedly saying to his crew, “Well, boys, I’m prepared to row nearer and take my chance… Are the rest prepared to go?”
The rest were not prepared to go, fearing the suction caused by the sinking vessel. This cost time, but Lowe eventually managed to override the aversion to returning. However, Lowe was only human; he seemed to have miscalculated how long it would take to transfer his passengers to the other lifeboats, as well as how long the human body could withstand the bitter cold of the Atlantic waters. He had no idea whether a rescue ship was on its way, and one can only imagine the overwhelming situation the young officer found himself in.
Nevertheless, somewhere between the time Lowe left the ship and 4:10 a.m. when RMS Carpathia arrived, Lowe returned and retrieved anywhere from three to six passengers from the water, according to various reports. 1,514 people died in the sinking ofTitanic; only 710 were saved. Regardless of how few he was able to save, or how haunted he was by his decision to wait to return, Fifth Officer Lowe deserves to be remembered.