Touraine - from then until now!

This blog is an attempt to show some of the vast history of Man's prescence in the Southern Touraine.... from first footfall to the present....
especially in and around le Grand Pressigny area.... with special emphasis on life at and around le Moulin de la Forge.
There will also be occasional entries about time before man was here and when the area was at the bottom of a warm, shallow sea...

Monday, 20 February 2017

A fire at sea, Part 2: the survivors

Here is the rest of my translation of the article about the disastrous fire aboard the Volturno from Le Petit Journal, 18 October 1913.  You can find part 1 here. The rescued are still in a state of shock on arrival at le Havre. They have nothing but the clothes they are wearing; precious life savings, tools, household goods all gone. The haunted faces are grim with exhaustion.

Of the list of survivors on board la Touraine, only three passenger are mentioned by name. Rafaele Ranelli and Francesco Olivieri, two young Italian emigrants, sound remarkably perky. By contrast, Mrs Refki Weisseg is in great distress.  She is described as a mother of four, two of whom were picked up by La Touraine. Their story, along with that of many of Volturno's passengers and crew, can be found on the Volturno Data Pages, Page 21. This Russian-Jewish family (under the name Weissbrod, Weissburd, Weissberg or Weissbard)  is listed as case 303 - see the case notes here. It appears that there were only two Weisseg children, not four. La Touraine rescued Refki and her three-year-old son Itzig. Mother (who was heavily pregnant) and son were reunited with father Welwel (or Wolf) and daughter Blume in New York. Could Refki be the lady on the right in this picture, with Itzig in her arms?
The survivors - from Le Petit Journal, 15 October 1913, author's own copy
Le Petit Journal also interviews two Volturno crewmen. Cooks Hendrik Mermena (Mennema) and Adam De Bruin were Dutch and spoke good English. The Wreck Report draws particular attention to the courage of the ship's cooks who kept a supply of hot drinks, fresh bread and sausages going to all who were capable of eating, almost to the last.  The third crewman is listed in Jan Daaman's database as a seaman by the name of Hans Mognousky.


42 survivors arrived yesterday in Le Havre on la "Touraine".

—Text of the report from sea of the captain of the French liner.

 Le Havre, 14 October
La Touraine, having on board 42 survivors of the Volturno, docked this morning, at 8 o'clock.

When she moors, all the passengers of la Touraine are on the decks, and all the survivors from the Volturno are in cabins placed at their disposal by Captain Caussin, commander of La Touraine.

The unfortunates still do not yet dare to come on deck; the ship's personnel have to make them understand that they have arrived.

Only the three crewmen of the lost ship are able to communicate properly in English; none of the rescued passengers speaks French.

The saddest spectacle is that of eight children taken aboard without their parents.

They are huddled close to the female passengers of La Touraine who have made a fuss of them and tried to make them forget the grim moments they had spent during the day and night of Thursday. They call, weeping, for daddy and mommy.

While the ship manœuvres to pass through the narrows, photographers are positioning the survivors on the deck and are taking numerous photos. The features of Volturno's passengers seem now calmer, the women however appear still to be in a state of shock.

These unfortunates are for the most part in clothing donated by the passengers of La Touraine. They make a disparate group and rather picturesque. Some have kept costumes belonging to them, a few wearing boots, or broad hats,  and, covered with their fur coats; they have the appearance of the inhabitants of Poland.

Among the number of the survivors of the disaster is a Russian passenger, Mme Weisseg Refki, whose situation is particularly lamentable. The unhappy woman, who communicates with great difficulties in French, has succeeded in making herself understood; that she went aboard the Volturno with her husband and her four [sic] children. She has with her only two [sic] of the children. What has become of the others? What has become of her husband? Despite all the pathos of her circumstances, this unfortunate lady has had enough energy, on board La Touraine, to forget her pain, and gather together, in her cabin, the children whose parents are missing in the shipwreck.

After the interview which they have had with the representative of the Uranium Company, seventeen of the survivors from the Volturno have asked to be sent on to New York.

The others will be repatriated to their respective countries; the injured will remain in treatment in hospital.

The rescued, from l'Illustration, 18 October 1913, author's own copy


Le Havre, 14 October.
Two or three of the Volturno survivors are in good health, in spite of the bath they took in throwing themselves into the lifeboats. Two cooks from Valturno, MM. Mennema and Debruin, are in the ship's sick bay. The former has a broken leg and the latter has pneumonia. A two-year-old toddler is likewise a patient, but his condition is not thought to be serious; it is in bed with his leg in traction that Mr. Mennema receives us and gives us the following version of the fire:
<<It was about seven o'clock in the morning of Thursday when the fire alarm was raised on board. I believe it was at the result of the imprudence of a smoker who must have thrown a lit cigarette into one of the holds before the fire broke out. Despite all the precautions taken, it spread rapidly and soon holds number 1 and 2 were in flames.

<<The captain got every passenger to put on their lifebelt. It was believed that the fire would soon be brought under control. We realised later that this was far from the case.

<<The sail locker, the stowage where some barrels were stored, was soon prey to the flames. All the passengers, terrified, gripped by a mad panic, were crowded together in the stern, but there was no act of indiscipline and all obeyed the officers' orders. The danger was increasing and the passengers throwing themselves overboard, two dinghies were launched but, alas! they were smashed before touching the waves and their occupants were killed on the spot or drowned.
Two Italian emigrants, Raphaël Ranella and François Oliveri, who come to get news of the injured, continue the story, saying that some of their companions took heart from learning that aid had arrived.

When la Touraine's whaler came alongside, they say, it was a terrifying scrimmage; the women were making a heart-rending clamour, the men were throwing themselves from the height of the deck of the Volturno into the fragile boats. Some broke their backs, some their legs in falling into the sea.
<<As soon as we were aboard la Touraine,  the passengers and crew of the liner wasted no time in getting us out of our wet clothes, wrapping us in blankets and making us drink hot drinks. We were the subject of all thoughtful care and it is thanks to their goodness that we must still be alive.>>
M. Mennema, who was on the upper deck when the fire broke out, threw himself in the sea, where he lost consciousness. When he came round, he was on board la Touraine.


London, 14 October.  
Mr. Hart, works director of the Mail, arrived in London yesterday evening with the other passengers of the Carmania. He gives, in the Daily Mail, a description of the Volturno disaster. In his opinion, it is appropriate to suspend all  judgement on stories of panic among the crew, until the report of the captain of the Carmania is received.

Mr Hart did not see the least sign of panic, by contrast when the dinghies and the other steamers were able to get close to the Volturno, ropes were thrown by which first of all the passengers descended. This fact alone, says Mr. Hart, refutes all the stories of panic and mutiny which are absolutely spurious.


New York, 14 October.  
A radiotelegramme from the Kroonland says that the captain of the Volturno abandoned ship at the precise moment when the flames were approaching a thousand cases containing bottles of gin.
It is certainly this part of the cargo which caused the explosion mentioned by several witnesses.


New York, 13 October. 

The New York American has published a radiogramme from the liner Kroonland, aboard which Captain Inch currently is, which states that the Captain of the Volturno is suffering from temporary blindness, caused by the injuries he received during the fire aboard his ship.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

A fire at sea Part 1 - the rescue

For each of the first class passengers who frequented the luxurious staterooms of  la Compagnie Générale Transatlantique's liner La Touraine and her sisters on the transatlantic run, a thousand more travelled in steerage, sometimes with little more than the clothes they were wearing, having spent all they had in order to buy a one-way ticket to a new future. Most emigrant vessels were much less well appointed and some were converted freighters. Touraine herself took many third-class passengers on her westbound journeys.

Many of the emigrant ships carried flammable cargoes as well as human ones. Some were converted freighters. Fires were not unusual. This is the story of one of them.

La Catastrophe du Volturno. Source: Le Petit Journal Supplément Illustré, 26th October 1913 (author's copy)

In October 1913, only eighteen months after La Touraine was involved in the Titanic disaster, Commander Caussin and his crew took part in a sea rescue involving British, German, American and Russian vessels in a remarkable feat of international cooperation. Peter Searle has accumulated an astonishingly comprehensive database, the Volturno Data Pages web site The Burning of the Volturno. The database includes several pages on La Touraine. Use the index on Page 01 to navigate around the site. There is a good summary of the Volturno story on Wikipedia here. Other sources were Jan Daamen's excellent Volturno Ship Disaster site and the Pages 14-18 Forum page on La Touraine here.

Thanks to our scrap of newsprint from 1915, I found a different, French, perspective on the story of Volturno's fiery end. It came, appropriately enough, from Le Petit Journal of 15th October 1913. The source is the Bibliothèque Nationale de France's information retrieval engine, Gallica.

The article is in two parts, topped and tailed by a description of La Touraine's arrival in Le Havre and the survivors she carried - this will keep for another post. The major part of the article is based on Commander Caussin's report to CGT's agent in Le Havre. After a brief introduction, what follows is my translation of this section of the Petit Journal article in its entirety, odd repetitions and changes of tense included.  I have taken the liberty of de-garbling the ships' positions, and have learned a good deal of nautical vocabulary, thanks mainly to Linguée. 

The article has much in common with a piece in the Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant of the same date, which you may find both translated into English and in the original Dutch in the Volturno Ship Disaster site here. However the Petit Journal piece has a lot more to say about La Touraine's part in the rescue. 

Another,  very similar, article on this subject was published in L'Illustration of 18th October 1913. This too has an emphasis on the horror, for the titillation of the readership. This article and a translation into English may be found on the Volturno Datapages, Page15, here. Several of the pictures in this post come from this publication. I was  lucky enough to find a copy in excellent condition via Delcampe for €4.99 plus postage, thank you Mr "Gypsum".

A note on the second officer's name: throughout this article he is referred to as M. Rousselet; every other reference to him is under the name Rousselot.

Volturno from Carmania. Source: L'Illustration, 18th October 1913
La Touraine was known as "the steady ship", but, reading between the lines, the entire crew, captain included, was steady too. As well as courage, sang-froid and skill, they worked as a team, each knowing the others' capabilities. All were French, at least half were Bretons, who were used to the North Atlantic and all it could throw at them, and who could row before they could walk. Their ship, the oldest and one of the smallest of the rescuers, was handy in rough weather, and what's more, French honour was at stake.

For a complete description of events aboard Volturno, see the Wreck Report of the Board of Trade Enquiry  "into the circumstances attending the fire which occurred on board the British steamship "VOLTURNO," of London, when in or near latitude 49° 12' N., longitude 34° 51' W., North Atlantic Ocean, on the 9th October, 1913, the loss of life which occurred, and the abandonment of the vessel on the following day". This makes riveting reading despite its unwieldy title.

The Wreck Report provides the introduction to the ship and the start of her last journey:   
The "Volturno," Official Number 123737, was a British twin-screw steamship, built of steel at Glasgow, in 1906, by the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, Limited, and was registered at the port of London. ...
She was a straight-stemmed vessel, had two masts, was rigged as a fore-and-aft schooner, and was of the following dimensions:
Length from fore part of stem to the aft side of the head of the stern post, 342 feet.... Her gross tonnage was 3,602.22 tons, and her registered tonnage was 2,222 tons. ...
Volturno leaving the port of Rotterdam, 2nd October 1913. Source: Bibliothèque Nationale de France (Gallica)

The "Volturno" having loaded a general cargo ... at Rotterdam and also embarked 22 cabin and 539 steerage passengers, sailed thence on the 2nd of October, 1913, bound to Canadian and North American ports, her draught of water being 17 feet 6 inches forward and 16 feet 7 inches aft. She was manned by a crew consisting of 93 persons, all told, and was under the command of Mr. Francis James Daniel Inch, who holds a certificate of competency as master, numbered 033893. Sailing as she did from a Dutch port, she was subject to the law of Holland as to emigrant ships. Before she sailed she was visited by the Dutch Emigration Commissioners who granted the requisite certificate for clearance testifying that she complied with the provisions of the law. She had also a British passenger certificate.
The Enquiry established that Volturno was well equipped with lifeboats, life belts, pumps and firefighting equipment, and that the requisite boat and fire drills had been held. She was not overcrowded by the standards of the time, and her bulkheads and ventilation were more than adequate. At first the fire was attributed to a carelessly discarded cigarette, although survivors on the Kroonland insisted that boxes of chemicals had exploded (there was a large quantity of barium peroxide in barrels in the hold: this explodes if struck). The Enquiry came to no conclusion as to the cause of the fire. It is a tribute to her solid construction that she remained afloat after her abandonment, and had to be scuttled when the Dutch ship Chalois came across her a week later.

The report of the Captain of La "Touraine" recounts the scenes of horror aboard the "Volturno" and makes known the heroism of the French mariners.

Le Havre, 14 October.

 In the report which he has addressed to the general agent of the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique in Le Havre, Captain Caussin, commander of La Touraine, provides very full technical details of the fire and rescue of the Volturno. He expresses himself thus:

The distress signal
<<On Thursday 9 October at 8 o'clock in the morning, la Touraine being at 46° 58" N, 40° 59" W and heading on a course to the north 70° east, destination Le Havre, the wireless telegraphy operator informed me that the steamer Volturno was making a distress signal, asking for help and giving her position as 49° 12" N, 37° 11" W. The sea was, at this moment, high with a strong north wind. I immediately set a course toward Volturno making a 20° turn to port.

<<We were 205 miles from the Volturno and we could not hope to reach her before nightfall. The Carmania and the Sedlitz, very much closer than we were to the Volturno, were also making their way towards her. All day, we were kept in touch with events by the telegrammes exchanged between the Carmania, the Sedlitz and the Volturno. We heard the telegrammes from the Carmania and from the Sedlitz, but we were unable at first to hear the replies from the Volturno, which must have been working on batteries.

<<At 8:30 we learn that the Volturno is on fire. The Carmania asks if the fire is gaining, if they can fight it, if they can make steam and make way ahead. Carmania hopes to reach her at about 12:30 pm, her intention is to heave to and pick up the boats.>>
Captain Caussin relates that the Volturno had, as we know, put to sea two boats of passengers which have been lost from sight. The other dinghies that she has tried to lower to the furious waves have been destroyed. Then came the arrival of the Carmania, all of whose rescue efforts are crippled by the tempest; the Sedlitz and the Grosser Kurfürst appear in turn. The three ships make several attempts to save the victims, still without result, while on the Volturno the bridge explodes and her wireless telegraph stops working.

At 9 in the evening, la Touraine is in sight of the stricken ship which looks like a glowing inferno. Captain Caussin continues thus :
<< I see there is some possibility of putting a boat to sea, but not wanting, in such a grave circumstance, to rely solely on my own evaluation, I call the officers together and ask their opinions. Everyone considers that the whalers could be put to sea, but not the big dinghies, which would be demolished in launching them. >>
Aboard La Touraine they ready themselves for the rescue
<<At 10:30, we take up station upwind of the Volturno and we heave to. It was at this time that some of the ships already present consider the weather to be sufficiently manageable to send boats. The Grosser Kurfürst notifies all the ships to be aware that she has boats out. The situation at this moment is the following: seas heavy, most of all for the boats; swell enormous and many waves breaking; wind strong from the North; moon and night fairly clear. The Volturno afire, her stern elevated; the bow and amidships no more than an inferno. Everyone is crowded at the stern. The six ships gathered there are hove to or manœuvring into the wind.

<<I make the decision to man a whaler and we make arrangements accordingly.>>
The commander of la Touraine comments that the sheer number of ships coming together in that spot in itself constituted a danger. Then he comes to the departure of his first team of rescuers.

The brave men ! 
 <<I am eager to draw attention to the heroism of the officers, the petty officers and the seamen crewing the boats. During the entire duration of the operations, the sea was enormous for the boats. The swell remained very great and many waves were breaking. Those who were preparing to leave the ship were ready from the outset to make the sacrifice of their lives.
<<When it came to selecting the crew of the whaler, many came forward. We were spoiled for choice. We picked the crew and M. Rousselot, second captain, was keen to take command and to set off. All the crew had put on lifebelts and all took their places in the whaler, without hesitation and with a courage one can only admire for there was certain danger in confronting the sea in such conditions.
<<At a favourable moment, the whaler was swung out. A catastrophe nearly occurred when she touched the water, caught by a wave. She was slammed violently against the side, and was surely going to break up and sink. At last, she could get away and moved off to the applause of the passengers.
<<It was 10:45 at night and we had arrived on the scene at 10:30. We watched the whaler as she struggled painfully against the sea and, at times, vanished completely in the troughs of the waves. Then we lost sight of her, her lantern having gone out.
<<Once the whaler had left, I took up station at another location for La Touraine in order that the whaler would not have to come back against the sea and I was positioned to the west of the Volturno. The wind and the sea coming from the north, we decided to bring out another boat. M. lzenic, first lieutenant, claimed the honour of taking command.
<<The crew was recruited with the same ease as the first time. Everybody embarked with the same courage and the same sang-froid. The whalers put to sea successfully in spite of the identical difficulties. We saw for quite some time her lantern which had managed to stay alight.
The Volturno from Carmania, rescue under way. Source: Bibliothèque Nationale de France (Gallica)

<<After some time, when we judged that the boats were likely to be coming back, we started to flash the gauntlet [ceston] (the Company signal) at the stern and to sound the horn, the sound of which is quite distinctive and recognisable. La Touraine, all night, remained hove to and immobile in the same place, side on to the wind, in the swell and rolling from side to side, with a few lulls. Several of the ships in the vicinity appeared to have sent boats and were making signals of encouragement. Others did not send any.>>
How the first survivors were picked up
<<At 1:30 in the morning, on the 10th we sighted the lantern of a boat, making its way towards us, and soon a whaler came alongside, downwind on the port side: it was M. lzenic's. We had put out the fenders, the pilot ladder, mooring lines, slings and everything needed.
<<With much difficulty, taking advantage of a lull, but in spite of that being hurled against the side, and risking at every instant to be smashed and engulfed, the whaler managed to come alongside. She contained five passengers who succeeded with much trouble in getting aboard using the pilot ladder, after first having been raised in a sling.
<<M. Izenic came on board and gave me an account of the rescue.
<<The outward journey had been gruelling and the night made it even more difficult. At every instant, the whaler risked being overturned by mountains of water that they could not see coming; she was half swamped and it was necessary to bail continually.
<<On coming up to the Volturno, the spectacle was frightful. All the fore and middle of the ship was no more than an inferno. The ship was rolling and pitching enormously.
<<The passengers and crew had taken refuge right at the stern and there was an uninterrupted clamour of terror.
<<It was only possibly to come alongside at the stern, and still with the greatest care, because with the hammer blows of the ship pitching, they were threatened by being crushed under her hull.
<<The intention of M. Izenic was to stand off at some distance from the ship's side and pick up those who jumped into the sea wearing their lifebelt, but no one from the Volturno was willing. Besides, the whaler was jammed willy-nilly against the hull because of the way the ship was drifting. Immediately she was invaded by the passengers who lowered themselves down by means of ropes, or simply jumped into the whaler. Two were killed in this way and disappeared under the stern of the Volturno. Another fell onto one of the men in the boat who received minor bruises. It is fortunate that M. Izenic had to pull away at times from the side, for the whaler would have been invaded, and since she could only carry a small number of men, she would inevitably be swamped.
<<Five passengers were brought on board. M. Izenic had seen M. Rousselot's whaler which was standing off at some distance. M. Rousselot called to the men to jump into the water. There was no other boat.
Volturno from Carmania. Source: L'Illustration, 18th October 1913
<<M. Izenic's return was beset by the same difficulties as the outward journey. The situation was aggravated by the fact that the boat was more heavily loaded; finally, she was able to come alongside La Touraine. M. Izenic and the men were completely drenched but wanted to set off again. I preferred to change the crew. Volunteers came forward in great number. Bo'sun Coute took command of the whaler and she left for her second voyage.
<<The sea conditions stayed much the same. Once the passengers were on board, they were handed over to the doctor and the purser, placed in cabins and given all necessary care. They were in a very weak state, both physically and emotionally.
<<At 1:45 in the morning, we sighted M. Rousselot's whaler; she had come alongside with the same difficulties and they had succeeded in taking on board three passengers.>>
The launch of a big dinghy is attempted.
<<The crew was changed. M. Rousselot wanted to set off again and soon the whaler was on its way. I was unable to exchange more than a few words with M. Rousselot. I wanted at that point to try to send a big dinghy which was capable of carrying more people.
<<The launch was very difficult, but the sea, while remaining very high for a boat, had moderated a little. Profiting by this improvement and a lull in the rollers, the dinghy was launched.
<<M. Le Baron, second lieutenant, asked to take it out. The crew got aboard full of ardour and the dinghy set off. We were hoping for a good result. Sadly, at 4:30 in the morning, the dinghy came back having been unable to pick up anyone.>>
<<The two trips to and fro had been very hard, and once at the Volturno, M. le Baron concluded that the dinghy was too heavy to manoeuvre and not handy enough to clear the stern and avoid being caught under the hull. M. le Baron witnessed an accident to one rescue boat. This boat was caught under the hull at the stern as Volturno pitched, and was flattened. The men had, nevertheless, managed to get free and swim to another boat. I learned later that this boat belonged to the Minneapolis. M. le Baron therefore had to content himself with standing off at some distance shouting and making signals to the people on the Volturno to jump into the water, but nobody dared, seeing which M. le Baron came back to switch boats.
<<At 3:30 in the morning, bo'sun Coute's whaler came back with seven passengers, along with the second captain's whaler with seven passengers. The passengers were brought on board successfully, and, as the wind was freshening again and the sea was rising, I requested the party to defer the rescue operations until daybreak.>>
After paying tribute to the skill of bo'sun Coute [?Coadou?], Captain Caussin includes the moving story of rescue related to him by M. Rousselot, the second captain, who did the work of ten with admirable devotion.
<<M. Rousselot>>, he said, <<states that the Volturno, in drifting, created a dangerous eddy, pulling the boats along her side into a perilous position, putting them at risk of a smash, or being overloaded with passengers, leading to the same outcome.
<<After several attempts to get close, M. Rousselot stationed his boat toward the stern, a little downwind, and paid out two circular lifebuoys fitted with lines. These buoys drifted along the ship's side. They called to the passengers to take to the water, but nobody dared. Some of the survivors dropped into the water; they were picked up in the night.

The shipwrecked people throw themselves into the sea. They are picked up in the night.

<<After repeating this trial several times, without success, M. Rousselot taking advantage of a sudden moment of calm between two squalls, came as close as possible without compromising the safety of the boat and spun out the lifebuoys once more. Three men, this time, threw themselves into the sea, but, after some hesitation, hung on to the lifebuoys. The whaler was able to pick them up and get away. The crew of the whaler was exhausted after several hours of continuous effort. M. Rousselot set course for La Touraine, where he arrived still fighting an enormous sea. The passengers hoisted aboard, the crew changed, recognition signals and lanterns loaded, and M. Rousselot returned to the Volturno
<<Profiting by the presence of La Touraine's second whaler commanded by bo'sun Coute, M. Rousselot placed his craft downwind abeam and plunged towards a boat hoist and some haul-lines, from where some passengers, seeing him coming, proposed to slide. Immediately on arriving under the lines, a veritable hail beat down on the whaler. The frightened passengers were throwing themselves from all directions onto the men in the whaler and onto M. Rousselot, trapping the oars and putting the whaler in great danger, tipping her down by the bow to the point of taking on water over the gunwale. M. Rousselot, judging the situation to be hopeless if anyone else tried to come aboard, only had time to push off and took the other whaler in tow; these two boats had drifted and were abeam to the fire; the smoke caught the throat; cinders were falling on all sides; the heat was intense.
<<Finally, after half an hour of exhausting effort the two boats were able to get out of Volturno's backwash. M. Rousselot, finding his whaler overloaded for the sea conditions, transferred seven men to the other boat and the two whalers set a course in company to return aboard La Touraine. The return journey was particularly perilous, the boats being fully loaded and the sea having risen it was necessary to bail out continually the water that was coming on board.
<<Finally, after much effort, the two whalers came alongside at 3:30 in the morning. The passengers were brought on board successfully and the whalers were hoisted, ready for the morning. M. Rousselot had seen, close to the Volturno, some boats from the other ships which likewise were unable to come alongside.>>
Volturno from Carmania. Source: Bibliothèque nationale de France
Day breaks. The rescuers redouble their efforts.
<<At daybreak, about six o'clock, all the ships present moved in on the Volturno. La Touraine did the same. I headed into the wind and the two whalers were sent, commanded by M. Le Baron and M. Royer, 3rd lieutenant, at their request.
<<It continued to be with the same difficulties and in danger of their lives that the rescuers were able to set off and reach the Volturno.

<<I then manoeuvred to put the ship downwind so as to be able to pick up the whalers when they returned.
<<M. Le Baron came back with two women and ten children, and M. Royer with eight passengers. The transfer of the passengers to the Volturno was performed, this time, with a little less difficulty, first because it was daylight, also because the panic was less, each seeing that the ship was holding together and help was on its way.

<<The women and children had been rescued by sling, the ships on station had also sent boats. The Grosser Kurfürst and the Czar which had the good fortune to be able to approach very close to the Volturno, having arrived first, made a number of trips. I would have been able, as well by night as by day, to send a greater number of light boats, but I feel that the risks were too great and I did not want to expose too many people to those risks at the same time.>>

The search for Volturno's boats.
<<La Touraine's whalers therefore made another journey, but nobody was left on the Volturno. we therefore wanted to ascertain exactly what had become of the two boats from the Volturno that had vanished, loaded with survivors, in conditions which revealed what a panic reigned.

<<If there had been less panic, more people would have been saved. It is certain that many people must have drowned in the night, judging for example by the two men killed before Mr Izenic's eyes. If the crew and the passengers had kept a cool head, everybody might have been saved.

<<The doctor, the purser and several officers were the last to disembark. The captain was the last to leave.

<<At 8:30 la Touraine withdrew from the vicinity of the fire, along with other ships, after saluting the wreck. The Carmania signalled that she was going to explore to the north to try to find the Volturno's two boats.

<<In these conditions, I thought it was preferable that we should not all make for the same place, and I explored to the south until 10 o'clock. Judging it to be useless to carry on searching any longer and unhappily being only too certain that the boats must have been overwhelmed and there was no hope of finding them, I resumed the route for Le Havre.

<<La Touraine, in these rescue operations, held honourable rank given her late arrival and the impossibility of her taking up station as close to the Volturno as she would have wished, the best places being occupied by the first to arrive. In the presence of British, German, Russian and American ships, the French mariners behaved brilliantly and held high and strongly the honour of the French flag.>>
The captain ends his report by proposing certain officers and men of la Touraine for awards. It will be noticeable that in his report, Captain Caussin is silent on what concerns himself but in the opinion of all the passengers, officers and crewmen, he too conducted himself in heroic fashion.

Part of the rescuing fleet, although not La Touraine, which had two funnels. Source: L'Illustration, 18th October 1913
Here the report of the rescue operation ends.

The senior officers of La Touraine. Centre: Commander Caussin, Left: Lt Izenic, unfortunately the others are unidentified but they must be Lts Rousselot, Le Baron and Royer.  Source: L'Illustration, 18th October 1913

As anticipated, there were awards for his crew. They received the Sea Gallantry medal from King George V of England, and the Prix Henri Durand (de Blois) from the government of France. The biggest prizes, as seems appropriate, were awarded to those who took command of the lifeboats, and Caussin himself later became Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur. Source: la Bibliothèque nationale de France (Gallica).

From Journal officiel de la République française. Lois et décrets, April 1914: Gallica.
The commentary reads:
"Rescue of 42 persons from the English steamship Volturno, 10th October 1913 - during the night of 9th to 10th October, in the North Atlantic, in very severe weather, two whalers from the transatlantic liner Touraine succeeded, in extremely perilous circumstances, in saving 42 people from the English steamer Volturno, aboard which an immense fire had broken out.
Informed at 8 in the morning of the 9th October by telegraph of the situation aboard the Volturno, Naval Reserve lieutenant Caussin, commander of Touraine, was heading for the vessel, which was 205 miles away.
Touraine arrived at the location of the fire at 10 in the evening, and succeeded, in spite of immense difficulties, in deploying her two whaler lifeboats.
The seas were very heavy, with a strong swell and northerly gales; the whalers risked at any moment being swamped by the massive seas or wrecking while alongside the stricken vessel.
At a cost of a thousand efforts, after each of them made three trips, the two whalers succeeded in bringing on board Touraine a total of 42 people, between 10.45 pm and 7am.
It required the skill, the sang-froid and the courage of the crew to bring about the rescue of 42 persons in such difficult conditions."

After such an experience, what a shock it must have been at 2am on 6th March 1915 when the fire alarm sounded on La Touraine herself....

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

The historic ship and the German spy - a couple of alterations

It has come to my attention that my original post about La Touraine needed a bit of rework.

The main problem is that my link to the first photograph of Touraine was leading nowhere. The FrenchLines website, supposedly an archive and resource on the subject of La Compagnie Générale Transatlantique and its ships, has removed its page on Touraine. There is no longer a link from La Touraine in the list of CGT's vessels to a page of her own, and the entry in the list is the only reference on the site.

 This is what I said in the original post:
French Lines is an organisation dedicated to the preservation of that sector of France's nautical history relating to the great maritime companies from 1850 to the present day, not just documents, photos and films, but complete collections of transatlantic passenger lists, posters, furniture, uniforms, logs, jewellery....
 The deleted page contained brief facts and figures from Touraine's first transatlantic voyage from Le Havre to New York, leaving her home port on 20 June 1891, to her last at the end of 1922, and her last voyage of all, leaving Le Havre on 25th November 1923 for the breaker's yard in Dunquerque.

So much for dedication.

 I have therefore substituted a splendid early postcard of Touraine from Creative Commons licenced by

Secondly, the name of the Le Havre laboratory scientist taking part in the investigation of the fire aboard the Touraine was not Sarnac, but Sanarens. He was the director of the laboratory.

You can find the revised version of the post here.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

La Touraine's Titanic adventure

During her many years spent criss-crossing the Atlantic, Touraine, the liner mentioned in our shred of newspaper from 1915, became involved in one adventure after another. You can read about the original story, The historic liner and the German spy, here.  The best known of these is the loss of RMS Titanic. Touraine was en route from New York to Le Havre as Titanic was setting off from Ireland bound for New York. Touraine encountered pack ice and icebergs, and informed Titanic of their presence by wireless. To no avail.

Below is a prescient article written less than a week after the disaster, which appeared in the journal Le Gaulois on 20th April 1912, followed by my translation.

Tragic voyage
The Titanic sought information from la Touraine
Le Havre, 18 April 1912
Alongside the majestic France, whose entry into service the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique greeted with lavish celebrations, is moored in the Transatlantic harbour the liner Touraine, of the same company, which arrived yesterday from New York.
Master Mariner Caussin, a fine young seafarer, with a direct gaze and decisive movements, is commander of the Touraine. He is keen to give me, on the subject of the voyage he has just completed, some information worthy, it seems to me, of being retained.
Touraine left New York for Le Havre on a scheduled voyage on Saturday 6th April. On Wednesday 10th April, at midnight, she was at the southern tip of the Newfoundland bank, when a few small ice floes appeared on the water; they in no way hindered her progress and her speed was maintained at 15 knots. But these ice floes soon became bigger and more numerous, so much so that an hour later the vessel found herself among pack ice banks, large enough to become dangerous if the hull struck them.
Commander Caussin therefore ordered reductions in speed which fell progressively to four knots. Then, seeking out clear water among the jumble of ice blocks, he succeeded in freeing the ship from the ice field by making a turn southwards.
During the day, another ice field was sighted to the north and was avoided. Two icebergs also appeared. Then, the region of ice having been crossed (which hardly extends, in this season, further than the Newfoundland Bank), the sea became clear and Touraine resumed her course and speed.
While heading for Europe, she communicated, in the constant manner provided so fortunately by the wireless telegraph, with the ships passing, in one direction or the other, within range of her electric beams.
It was thus that, on 12th April, at 7:45 in the evening, she entered into conversation with the Titanic, which was about 100 miles east, on the way to New York. The giant vessel asked Touraine kindly to let her know at which latitude she had crossed the 50th meridian (from Greenwich) and if she had found any ice or fog there.
It must be said that this Fiftieth meridian plays an important role in transatlantic navigation. It is like a sort of oceanic milestone. It cuts the Newfoundland Bank precisely in two, from north to south, and marks the point at which ships make a change of direction for New York, or on the return trip must modify their route. The ships that exchange news inform each other of what is happening at the Fiftieth, like two relatives of each other's health, always with great interest.
Therefore, Touraine made it known to Captain Smith, of Titanic, that he had crossed the 50th at 44° 58" of latitude north and that she had had, at this point, serious entanglements with floating ice.
By a last telegram, whose original I saw pinned up in the watch room of Touraine, Commander Smith thanked his French comrade, wished him bon voyage, and Titanic ploughed on westwards where the ice fields awaited to devour her, exactly at the spot indicated by Commander Caussin.
It is therefore clearly established that Captain Smith was thinking about floating ice and he had been duly warned that it was present in dangerous quantity and form, in the close vicinity of the route on which he was proceeding. What fatality, which circumstance as yet unexplained and which it seems must forever be so, led this experienced seafarer, this reputable navigator, straight to this obstacle that he knew stood in his way, and even its exact position?
Source: le Gaulois, 20 avril 1912 found among


Commander Charles-Fernand Caussin joined CGT as captain of Touraine in September 1911 after leaving the French naval service.  It is interesting that Caussin's reaction to the increasing presence of ice was to slow down till Touraine was creeping along at 4 knots. He had no warning of what lay ahead but his lookouts did their job to perfection.  His cautious approach, his experience, and a crew who worked together and knew each other well, enabled him to feel his way into clear water.

Commander Charles-Fernand Caussin. Source: Gallica

Captain Smith knew that ice was present but carried on at Titanic's full speed of 22 knots. That was the received wisdom at the time, as was revealed at the subsequent boards of enquiry (American and British) into the sinking of the Titanic. This damn-the-battleships approach was heavily criticised at the boards of enquiry and (in the American board anyway) Smith was held responsible, although any of Cunard's captains would have done the same.

Another factor causing Titanic's captain to disregard the ice warning was the Paris baseline from which longitude was given. Attempts to adopt a global definition of the zero meridian began in the early 19th century, and by 1912 many seafaring nations, including the Japanese, had adopted Greenwich as the standard. But then there was national pride to take into consideration. You can read a beautifully written history of the zero meridian at Titanic's wireless operators were actually Marconi employees, rather than Cunard crewmen. They appear to have concluded that Touraine had taken a more northerly route which was shorter but at greater risk from ice so early in the year.

Telegram from Touraine to Titanic
The telegram reads:
No. 1 Office April 12 1912
From Touraine To Capt. Titanic
My position 7pm GMT Lat 49.28 Long 26.28 w. dense fog since the night crossed thick icefield lat 44.58 long 50.40 paris saw another icefield and two icebergs lat 45.20 long 45.09 paris saw a derelict lat 40.56 long 68.58 paris please give me your position best regards and bon voyage. Caussin.
Route of Titanic
As puts it,
"At the subsequent enquiry, the potential for confusion became apparent for all to see, when it was revealed that the telegram sent from the French vessel La Touraine to the Titanic giving the locations of various ice fields and icebergs gave the times in terms of the Greenwich Meridian, but the longitudes in terms of the Paris one. Although there was no suggestion that this was why the Titanic had struck the iceberg, it undoubtedly struck a chord. The Portuguese adopted the Greenwich Meridian in 1913 and the French on all their nautical documents with effect from 1 January 1914. Finally the point had been reached where all the maritime nations of Europe were using the same meridian."
When CGT's new liner France set off on her maiden transatlantic voyage on 21st April 1912, she had an escort, as much to reassure her passengers as anything, a sort of lucky charm, although her slower pace would prevent the new liner claiming the Blue Riband for the fastest crossing - what vessel but Touraine.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

A great patriot, or the man who divided his country?

The article that first alerted me to the date of our scrap of newsprint mentioned Greece, the Hellenes, the Dardanelles. A name - Venizelos.

And an image came into my head. A picture of a grave on the Greek island of Crete, at Moni Profitis Elias, high on a hillside shaded by pines, overlooking the Akrotiri peninsula and the city of Chania. The view from the grave site is breathtaking and every visitor must have taken this photograph, myself included.

The graves of Elevtherios and Sofokles Venizelos, from Cplakidas photo library
The article describes Elevtherios Venizelos as the former President of the royal council, but he was that more than once. The name of the current premier, Gounaris, clinched it. This fragment could only have been printed in late March or very early April 1915.
The Balkan Peninsula between 1878 and 1914, from Tim's wonderful old Atlas of World History

At the beginning of the first world war, the people of Greece were united behind their king, Constantine I, and his President of Council, Elevtherios Venizelos. They had just emerged war-weary but victorious from the Balkan Wars against Bulgaria. This victory had doubled the territory of a nation that did not exist as such eighty years earlier. Greece and Bulgaria both remained neutral at the outbreak of war, even though a murder in Serbia, which shared frontiers with both countries, was the trigger for the war. Serbia, like Greece and Russia, is an Orthodox country and the natural sympathies of most Greeks lay with the Serbs. Constantine, however, grandson of a Danish princeling and of Hapsburg blood, was Kaiser Willhelm's brother-in-law.

Constantine the victorious. The caption calls him Constantine 12th, in the Byzantine imperial line

Elevtherios Venizelos - in retirement
By the end of the war, Constantine had been forced to abdicate in favour of his son, Alexander, and a Greek army of 300,000 was fighting German and Austrian forces in Macedonia alongside troops from France, Russia and Britain. Venizelos was again President of the Royal council, but there were deep divisions in Greece between Royalists and Venizelists, those who wanted the status quo and those who favoured a Greater Greece.  Greeks had raised their hands against Greeks, blood had been shed, and there was more, much more, to come.

An outline of the extraordinary period in Greek history between 1914 and 1918 can be found here. All I can attempt to do here is concentrate on the few weeks during which our newspaper was published.

In March 1915 "the enterprise of the Dardanelles", as Venizelos called it, was at its height, if such it may be called, and the Greek government had dithered about providing any support whatsoever to either side, refusing the warships of the Great Powers coaling facilities.

Venizelos resigned as president of the council of King Constantine of Greece on 6th March 1915 over a proposal under the benign supervision of the Great Powers, and by Sir Edward Grey and the British government in particular, for Bulgaria and Greece to come out of neutrality simultaneously and attack the Ottoman forces. The inducement to be offered to Bulgaria was a port, Kavalla, on the Aegean Sea (see the map). The land, referred to in the article as "the cazas of Sarichabon, Cavalla and Drama" was part of Greece, recently acquired the hard way in the latest of a series of bruising wars with Bulgaria. "The Bulgarian threat" (le péril Bulgare) was still of great concern in Greece.

Greece, in return for her sacrifice, was to be granted a much larger area, on the mainland of Asia Minor, then part of the Ottoman Empire, longer ago part of the Byzantine empire, in the present day the western half of Turkey.  Many of the inhabitants of this area (what? Oh yes, them) were Greek-speaking, and the proposals revealed in an article in le Matin casually referred to managed mass relocation as though people could be taken out of their boxes and moved around and swapped like toy soldiers.

W. Holt-Wright, writing in the Daily Express of 29th March 1915, was one of few British journalists to take Venizelos seriously. He says:
M. Venizelos is the idol of Greece; he has steered his country to victory in two successive wars, and he, more than any man, has brought about a spirit of Greek revival, and has inspired his countrymen to espouse the great cause of the liberation of the 4,000,000 Greeks who still remain the pitiful vassals of the Turk....
M. Venizelos’ plan was clean-cut, comparatively simple, and extraordinarily bold. In effect, he said, the Great Powers are much too busy to interfere; let the Balkan States, therefore, forget their recent quarrels, revive the shattered League, which must now include Roumania, hurl the Turks from Asia Minor, and repatriate their various lost tribes. The Allies, he assured the Greeks, must inevitably win, and when the war was over, apart from the fact that possession was nine points of the law, they would be too sensible of the great help the Balkan States had afforded them to rob them of the fruits of victory.
Nothing, of course, except some possible difficulties in the case of Italy, could have been more welcome to the Allies, and the Greeks were buoyed up with hope and a real and splendid endeavour. Roumania might raise objections, but M. Venizelos was quite certain that an arrangement could be made with her. She also had people — under the heel of Hungary — to be freed.
So far. so good. It was on the question of the bargain with Bulgaria that M. Venizelos nominally fell. He proposed to set a sprat to catch a whale  — that is, he was prepared to cede Bulgaria a small portion of Grecian territory in return for a much larger tract of territory in Asia Minor when the resuscitated Balkan League should have wrested it from the Turk.
From the point of plain common sense it is hard to see where M. Venizelos erred in his calculations and designs. He proposed, reluctantly of course, to surrender the Kavalla district, which has an extent of 2,000 square kilometres and a population of 30,000, but in return Greece was to receive in Asia Minor territory amounting to 125,000 square kilometres, the inhabitants of which -- mostly Greeks — number nearly a million. Thus, in tho event of victory, M. Venizelos would have nearly doubled the present size of Greece, and would have added nearly 20 per cent to the present population.
It was a great dream and a bold scheme and there were unquestionably "conversations” with both Roumania and Bulgaria...
At the promptings of King Constantine, the military declared that the army had not yet recovered from the past two wars. M. Venizelos made answer that an expeditionary force of 50,000 men would be sufficient to secure his purpose and win the goodwill of the Allies.

He also proudly pointed to the fact that during the recent Balkan wars 40,000 Greeks, practically an army corps, had alone come over from the United States — where there are 500,000 of them — and had not merely paid all their expenses for the honour of fighting for Greece, but had actually brought all their savings to pay into the Greek Treasury to aid the success of the campaign.

Next, the Greek financiers were brought to bear on M. Venizelos’ venture. The monetary burden of the campaign, they said, would be more than Greece could support. To all intents and purposes M. Venizelos retorted, “ Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” [nothing changes much here, does it?]
The strictly private and confidential “conversations” with Roumania and Bulgaria went on, and, at the last, there is no doubt that M. Venizelos thought the way was clear for war. Then King Constantine hurled his neutral bombshell. He would never consent to cede an inch of Greek territory, ho said, no matter what was to be got in return; and he declared that he had never allowed M. Venizelos to suppose that he could conduct any negotiations upon such lines.
Deeply offended by the perceived insult,Venizelos resigned, vowing to give up politics forever, but not before publishing the whole thing in the Patris newspaper. The proposal (somewhat selectively) and a slagging by the ultra-conservative toady Gounaris, are the subject of this article.

For once, I have actually located the entire article in the pages of Le Petit Journal at la Bibliothèque Nationale de France. In the library copy, which is a Paris edition, rather than our provincial one, it was published on 3rd April rather than 4th.

Other Greek-speaking enclaves around the Mediterranean, such as Corfu, Symi and the Dodecanese, along with Trieste and Trentino, were at this time being bundled up, successfully in this case, as an inducement to Italy to join the war on the Great Powers' side. The story next to the Venizelos article, represented on our fragment only by a list of words, proved to have the title "L'accord de l'Italie avec la Serbie et la Russie".

Here is an updated reconstruction of the main section of the clipping.
And here is the whole article, with an English translation.

And Venizelos? He admired the British and their Parliamentary system. Who was he? A natural politician, born into a relatively humble (i.e. middle class) family in Crete. He is another man who could be called a bundle of energy, a man of massive highs and lows. He rose to the top in the Greek parliament simply by being better than anyone else.

The elder statesman
Elevtherios Venezelos is still beloved in his native island. There are daily coach outings to his birthplace in Mournies and to his grave.

Any suggestion of that he might have lived with a bipolar condition may be considered alongside the fact that he was a Cretan. I can only refer you to the works of his near contemporary and great admirer, Nikos Kazantzakis, and particularly Zorba the Greek.