Survivors from the Water Part II
The story of Titanic’s band playing Nearer, My God, To Thee had several vocal detractors amongst the survivors, none as adamant as Colonel Archibald Gracie. He wrote a book (published posthumously) about Titanic’s maiden voyage and sinking. In Chapter II, Struck by an Iceberg, he set out his thoughts on the matter.
The Truth About the TITANIC:
“If, as it has been reported, ‘Nearer, My God, To Thee’ was one of the selections, I assuredly should have noticed it and regarded it as a tactless warning of immediate death to us and one likely to create a panic that our special efforts were directed towards avoiding, and which we accomplished to the fullest extent. I know of only two survivors whose names are cited by the newspapers as authority for the statement that this hymn was one of those played. On the other hand, all whom I have questioned or corresponded with, including the best qualified, testified emphatically to the contrary.”
According to Walter Lord, Titanic survivors Peter Denis Daly and Richard Norris (Dick) Williams II were two who agreed with Gracie about the hymn. Both were First Class passengers and would have been in the same First Class area of the ship where the band’s music was heard.
It is certain that Daly and Williams were on the ship to the last and were close enough to have heard whether the band played the hymn or not. The band was playing at the top of the Grand Staircase, at the Boat Deck level near the forward part of the ship, and the men who were working to launch the collapsible boats were within earshot, at the forward corner of the Boat Deck or on top of the officers’ quarters. Even if they were busy with the task of survival, strains of the band’s music would have been audible.
Both Daly and Williams were saved on Collapsible A, the last boat away from Starboard. It was swamped with water as Titanic’s Boat Deck became flooded, cast off so late that the men ran out of time to raise the “collapsible” sides.
It is known that Gracie was on board Titanic in the First Class area until the end; in fact he held on to a rail as the ship sank and was pulled deep under the water before he let go and swam back to the surface. In his last speaking engagement before he passed away, Gracie reiterated his stance on Nearer, My God, To Thee at the University Club in Washington DC.
Archibald Gracie, Titanic survivor. November 23, 1912. University Club, Washington DC:
“If the band had played that familiar hymn, panic would have resulted. Fixing in the minds of the passengers on the possibility of their being nearer to God, and I say it seriously, would have been the last thing they wanted.”