Nostalgia Sam: The forgotten hero of the night to remember; Bromsgrove's Samuel Ernest Hemming was a Titanic hero but his remarkable tale is one of the many untold stories from that fateful night 106 years ago. JUSTINE HALIFAX reports on his bravery, selflessness and devotion to duty.
Critically acclaimed on its release in 1958, the film tells the story of tragedy predominantly from Lightoller's perspective, a man who works tirelessly to place as many women and children as possible into the few lifeboats.
What it doesn't depict - and what few people may realise more than a century on from the disaster - is that Ligthtoller was "ably assisted" on the night by the ship's oil lamp trimmer, Samuel Ernest Hemming.
And Samuel came from Bromsgrove.
His story, and those of other forgotten links to the Midlands, are now being brought back to the fore by Birmingham historian Andrew Lound, one of the world's leading authorities on the Titanic, in new book Titanic: Made In The Midlands.
The book also sees Lound reveal that 70 per cent of the Titanic's interior was made here in the Midlands, at workshops and factories in the Black Country and Birmingham. Samuel was the son of a coachman, who had worked himself up from errand boy to a landsman with the Royal Navy at the age of 15 and later, at 18, a seaman.
It was after a decade's of service on training ships that Samuel signed on to the Titanic, the most luxurious ocean liner of its time.
That decade with the Navy helped to prepare him for the tragedy of April 14 and 15, 1912 - because it had not been without its own dangers.
Samuel's service saw him climb on board the cruiser Powerful which was deployed to the South African coast during the Boer War, where he played a key part in keeping enemy forces at bay.
As a member of the Naval Brigade, formed to take naval guns converted for field use to assist at the siege of Ladysmith, Samuel took charge of the "big gun" at Wagon Hill that had held off the Boers until relieved.
On leaving the Navy on a pension, he went on to marry Elizabeth Mary Browning in 1903, with whom he had three children. He began working on passenger ships, including the White Star line in 1907, on the Titanic's sister ship, Olympic.
It was just eight days before the Titanic sank that Samuel walked on to the "unsinkable" Titanic's deck for the first time. Tragedy struck in the early morning of April 15 when the Titanic sank on its maiden voyage with the loss of more than 1,500 lives in the icy water of the North Atlantic Ocean after hitting an iceberg.
It's here where we pick up his remarkable story with author Andrew, former curator of the Avery Historical Museum at the famous Soho Foundry.
"It was 7.15pm that Hemming reported to First Officer Murdoch on the Bridge that the lights had been set for the evening," he says. "Murdoch ordered him to close the forward scuttle hatch to prevent a glow of light that might affect the lookouts' ability to see ice.
"Hemming then turned in for the night. He was disturbed from his sleep by the collision with the iceberg and got up, got dressed and went to find out what was happening. He looked out of a porthole but saw nothing. He then heard a loud hissing sound and went to investigate.
"Coming across Storekeeper Frank Prentice, they both went to find the source of the noise. Having found no flooding in a storeroom they continued their search at the Forecastle Head.
"It was here they found air hissing with great force out of a vent pipe, which meant that the Peak Tank - the compartment farthest forward - was flooding rapidly.
"Chief Officer Henry Wilde accompanied by Boatswain's Mate Albert Haines arrived, carrying out their own investigation. Wilde asked Hemming what the hissing was and Hemming told him that the Forepeak was flooding. Wilde left them, at which point both Hemming and Prentice, with nothing to do, went back to their bunks."
ut there was no chance of sleep. It would not be for long.
"A few minutes later, the ship's carpenter, John Hutchinson burst into Hemming's room," says Andrew. "He said 'If I were you, I would turn out, you fellows. She is making water, one-two-three, and the racquet court is getting filled up."
" "No sooner had the carpenter left the room when the boatswain turned up," explains Andrew. "'Turn out you fellows, you haven't half-an-hour to liv',' he tells them. 'That is from Mr Andrews. Keep it to yourselves and let no-one know!' "Hemming jumped up, got dressed and headed for the Boat Deck. His boat station was number 16, but he went to the foremost boat on the Port side where Second Officer Lightoller was preparing boats to be launched. After assisting with boat 8 he began helping with boat 6 on the Port side.
"After being loaded with women and children, Lightoller ordered Hemming into the boat. Along with him were Quartermaster Robert Hitchens, who had been at the wheel when the Titanic had struck the iceberg, and Lookout Frederick Fleet, who was the first to see the iceberg.
"Lightoller prepared to lower away. However, due to a shortage of men, no-one was on the aft davit. Realising this, Lightoller called out for a seaman on the after-fall. Hemming was aware that there was no-one available so he called out 'Aye aye Sir', got out of the boat and manned the davit himself.
"Hemming was then ordered by Captain Smith to ensure that the lifeboats were fitted with lights, so he left the Boat Deck, started to light the lamps and distribute them to the boats. Later on top of the Bridge, either side of the forward funnel, were the two remaining collapsible lifeboats A and B. "Lightoller called out for some hands to help get these boats off the roof. The call was answered by a number of men including Marconi operator Harold Bride and our own Samuel Hemming. Lightoller was surprised to see Hemming because he thought he had gone off in boat 6. "Why he hadn't gone? he asked. Hemming replied 'Oh, plenty of time yet, sir'. In fact, Hemming had been helping Lightoller all night."
Andrew concludes: "The spirit and enterprise of Hemming had helped launch at least four lifeboats, and he had sorted the lamps for even more, but now he was involved in probably the hardest task in getting the two collapsible boats off the roof.
"Lightoller and the crew managed to free one of the collapsible lifeboats from the top of the Bridge, but it fell on the deck upturned so they concentrated on the other one. Captain Smith entered the Bridge for the last time. Some say that he picked up a megaphone and called 'Abandon ship!' before entering the bridge, but nothing is certain except that soon after he entered the Bridge was engulfed and Titanic began her death throes.
"As the Bridge went under, the men trying to free the collapsible found the ship disappear from beneath them. Lightoller found himself pressed against a ventilator before a rush of air from deep inside the ship threw him clear.
"Hemming dropped down a set of falls and swam towards lifeboat 4, grabbing hold of one of the boat's lifelines. He pulled himself up above the gunwale and saw his friend Jack Foley standing in the boat. He called to him to give him a hand and Hemming was taken on board." The Bromsgrove hero was called as a witness at the US Inquiry into the sinking and his evidence was given with great confidence.
He then returned to Britain and he continued with the rest of his life going back to sea. He died on April 12, in 1928 in Southampton. He is the forgotten hero of the night to remember. | | Andrew Lound's book RMS Titanic Made in the Midlands, is available from The History Press at www.thehistorypress.co.uk, priced PS17.99.