Li: ritual, propriety, etiquette. Hsiao: love within the family (parents for children and children for parents. Yi: righteousness--the noblest way to act in a situation. Xin: honesty and trustworthiness. Jen: benevolence, humaneness towards others. Chung: loyalty to the state and authority. --Confucius (Kong Fuzi)

All articles appear in reverse chronological order [newest first].

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I believe the past is relevant, sometimes more than others of course. In most cases we are seeing history being repeated, so it is most relevant.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Did You Know… That US Postal Workers died trying to save the mail aboard the Titanic.

“I urged them to leave their work. They shook their heads and continued at their work.  It might have been an inrush of water later that cut off their escape, or it may have been the explosion.  I saw them no more.”
                                                                             Albert Theissinger
                                                                             Steward aboard R.M.S. Titanic 
image

As months of celebration recognize the 100th Anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic on April 15, 1912 few realize that U. S. Postal Workers were among those who perished that night.

Although the drama of one of the greatest maritime disasters -- the sinking of R.M.S. Titanic -- was played out over the course of just a few hours, the tragic event has captivated our imaginations for decades. What few remember, however, is that Titanic was more than the largest and most luxurious vessel of her time. She was also an “R.M.S.,” a “Royal Mail Ship.”

During Titanic’s frantic final hours on April 15, 1912, Titanic’s Postal Clerks, along with steward Albert Theissinger and several others desperately tried to save the 200 sacks of registered mail by dragging them to the upper decks and possible safety. Theissinger was the only survivor to recall seeing the mail clerks alive. When he finally abandoned the seemingly suicidal task, the five mail clerks -- Americans Oscar Scott Woody, John Starr March, and William Logan Gwinn and British postal workers James Bertram Williamson and John Richard Jago Smith -- were still frantically at work, sloshing waist-deep in freezing water.

None of the sea post clerks survived Titanic’s fatal collision with the iceberg.

GAVE LIVES FOR THE MAILS
New York Times
Sunday 21 April 1912
Postal Clerks Worked in Two Feet of Water---Hitchcock Aids Kinsmen
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Special to The New York Times
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WASHINGTON, April 20---Postmaster General Hitchcock to-day addressed a communication to Chairman John A. Moon of the Postal Committee of the House of Representatives, recommending that a provision be inserted in the pending Post Office Appropriation bill authorizing the payment of $2,000, the maximum amount prescribed by law for payment to the representatives of railway postal clerks killed while on duty, to the families of each of the three American sea post clerks who lost their lives on the Titanic.

"The bravery exhibited by these men," Mr. Hitchcock said, "in their efforts to safeguard under such trying conditions the valuable mail entrusted to them should be a source of pride to the entire Postal Service, and deserves some marked expression of appreciation from the Government."

When last seen by those who survived the disaster these three clerks, John S. Marsh, William L. Gwynn, and Oscar S. Woody, were on duty and engaged with the two British clerks, Jago Smith and E. D. Williamson, in transferring the 200 bags of registered mail containing 400,000 letters from the ship's Post Office to the upper deck. An officer of the Titanic stated to-day that when he last saw these men they were working in two feet of water.

 

The five postal clerks were celebrating Oscar Scott Woody’s forty-fourth birthday when their festivities came to an abrupt end. Realizing that something was terribly wrong when Titanic crashed into the iceberg, they rushed to the mail sorting room. Finding the starboard hold already beginning to flood, the clerks opened the registered mail cage and began removing the registered mailbags. Pressing whomever else they could find into service, they began hauling as many of the 200 registered mail sacks as possible to the upper decks. There is no way of knowing how many of the precious registered mailbags were removed from the mailroom before it became completely submerged. Video footage of the mailroom reveals that the registered mail cage was left open, a serious violation of regulations no doubt resulting from the water’s swift advance.

JOHN S. MARCH ONE OF THE HEROES
Newark Evening News
Saturday 20 April 1912
Newarker Died with Others Clerks on Titanic, After Effort to Save Mails.
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REPORT MADE BY HITCHCOCK
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Special Service of the NEWS
WASHINGTON, April 20---In a report received by Postmaster-General Hitchcock today, it was stated that the five postal clerks aboard the ill-fated Titanic died like heroes.
After the crash came, disregarding all opportunities to be saved, they began carrying bags of registered mail to the upper deck, where it might be rescued. 
The crew of postal workers was made up of five men, Oscar Woody, of Washington, D. C.; John S. March, of Newark, N. J.; W. L. Wynne, of Brooklyn, and Iago Smith, and E. D. Williamson, of England.
While the passengers were being rescued these men continued their work of transferring the mail to the upper deck, and when they discovered that the situation was becoming dangerous they appealed to the steward to detail men to assist in bringing up the balance.
The Titanic carried 3,460 bags of mail, approximating 7,000,000 pieces, of which there were 200 bags of registered mail containing about 400,000 pieces.image
Washington Man Mail Clerk on the Ill-Fated Steamer
Washington Times
Tuesday 16 April 1912
O. S. Woody, a former Washingtonian, and two other post office clerks, composed the mail crew of the Titanic. Their names were received today by the office of the Second Assistant Postmaster General. J. S. March, of the Second division of the Railway Mail Service, and W. L. Gwinn, of the New York Post office, were the other members of the crew. Mr. Woody was from the office of the Third division of the Railway Mail Service, which is at Washington. He left the city to reside in New York about three years ago, when he was put in the marine service.
Mr. Woody married a niece of Central Office Detective Harry Warren about six months ago, and Mrs. Woody is now visiting at the home of her uncle, 29 U street northeast. Mr. and Mrs. Woody have a home at Clifton, Va., a few miles from Washington and have spent much time here when Mr. Woody has been off duty.image

 

MAIL CLERK GWINN DIED AT HIS POST
Asbury Park Evening Press
Monday 22 April 1912
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Continued to Work Till Explosion Rent Titanic---Wife is Critically Ill
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Among the five postal clerks who stuck to their mail to the last and sank with it when the ill-fated Titanic went down to its watery grave off the Banks of Newfoundland was one Asbury Park man. He was W. L. Gwinn, 38 years old, who until the first of this month lived with his wife and two small children at 794 Washington avenue, Brooklyn. His wife had been in ill-health for some time past, and on April 1 the family moved to this city where it was believed the bracing sea air might [sic] restore her strength.
She lies grief stricken today in their apartment at 1215 Kingsley street. Her last letter to her husband had told of rapid improvement in her health, but the shock of the news of her husband’s tragic death at his post of duty was more than her frail constitution could withstand. She took to her bed on the same day that she learned the truth, and grave fears are entertained regarding her recovery.
Fourth Officer of Titanic Tells of Gwinn’s Bravery
Fourth officer Boxhall of the Titanic and a steward on board the same boat were the only two who have given any definite information as to what happened among the mail clerks. Both agree that they acted with the utmost bravery and stood by their posts till the last. One of the English clerks reported to Fourth Officer Boxhall that the water was coming in the mail room on deck E. Boxhall went down. He told the government officials that all was in perfect order there. The steward says that he saw Gwinn, and that he recognized him, having met him on the Majestic, an old-time liner of the White Star Line, which has since been put out of commission.
Gwinn seemed cheerful, he said, and while the last lifeboat was being launched, he, with the other clerks, was busily carrying mail---registered parcels and letters first---from the mailing room on deck E up to deck C, from which they thought it might be carried off and saved. When it became apparent that the ship was sinking they only worked more quickly and enlisted the services of the stewards still left aboard to aid them that the work might be hastened.
Gwinn had long held a reputation for bravery. He was a veteran of the Spanish-American War and was at the front in Cuba with the Seventy-first New York militia. His reputation went unsullied with him to the grave.
Worked Over Mail Bags While Ship Was Sinking
The steward was taken off in lifeboat No. 15, and the last he saw of Gwinn, he says, was while the lifeboat crawled away into the night. The Asbury Pak mail clerk was then on Deck C with the four other clerks, Oscar S. Woody of Washington, D.C., John S. Marsh of Newark, N. J., Jago S. Smith and E. D. Williamson of England. They were still working over their mail bags, cool and self-contained until the explosion came, and the darkness, and the ocean swallowed them up. Not once did they waver or blanch from their duty. No one can say that they attempted to get into the lifeboats or thought of themselves for a single instant. They stuck to that which their governments had entrusted to their care, and with it they died.
Gwinn had been connected with the sea post service of the United States government since 1909 and had never been in a disaster at sea before. Previous to his assignment to ocean duty he had been a clerk in the Manhattan post office since 1895.
There were 200 sacks of registered mail containing 400,000 pieces aboard the Titanic, according to the report of Postmaster General Hitchcock. He has nothing but praise for the bravery of the mail clerks in charge…
image
(artist rendering National Postal Museum)
Body not recovered.
 

Mail was considered a precious cargo and most shipping lines relied upon the revenues generated by sea post contracts to survive.  The Titanic carried 3,364 mailbags.  Sea post clerks typically sorted over 60,000 letters a day, making few, if any errors in the process, and were expected to protect the mail at any cost, including their lives if necessary. During Titanic’s sinking, the five clerks fought desperately to save the mail ultimately forfeiting any chance to escape the ship.

The American Sea Post Service suffered its first fatalities in 1894 when the steamer Elbe sank in the North Sea. The glory days of the Sea Post Service ended after World War I, fading away with the great ships that once housed such shipboard post offices.


by Glenn Littrell
re-posted from 4-15-2012

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