Friday, 13 April 2012

Event - Titanic SOS man helped save lives (Louthwell/Lowdham)

A wireless operator hailed a hero for his part in the operation to pick up survivors from the Titanic could be honoured with a plaque in his native Nottinghamshire.

The first SOS call from the Titanic was received by wireless operator Mr Harold Thomas Cottam, 21, of Southwell

Mr Harold Cottam — a little-known son of Southwell who later lived in Lowdham — was just 21 when he was first to pick up the Morse code distress call from the stricken liner.

Tomorrow marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, which hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic on its maiden voyage on the night of April 14/15, 1912.

About 1,500 men, women and children perished in the icy waters, but Mr Cottam’s fast actions are credited with saving hundreds of lives.

Mr Cottam, who was born on Church Street, Southwell, and attended the Minster Grammar School, was working on the SS Carpathia, a passenger steam ship sailing from New York City to Fiume (then in Austria-Hungary, now Rijeka, Croatia).

On receiving the SOS call, he woke the skipper, Captain Arthur Henry Rostron, who ordered the vessel to steam to Titanic’s aid.

It was three hours before the Carpathia reached Titanic, which had already sunk.

Despite the terrible loss of life, experts agree if it was not for Mr Cottam, who lived in Lowdham for many years before his death in 1984, aged 93, many of the 705 survivors would have also perished.

On the three-day trip back to New York after the tragedy, Mr Cottam worked with barely any sleep sending wireless messages to survivors’ loved ones.

Among the messages was one to his mother, Mrs Jane Cottam, which read: “Am safe and well. Detained in New York for Senatorial exhibition.

“Am leaving for Washington tomorrow. Home as soon as possible. Love from Harold.”

On the ship’s arrival in New York, Mr Cottam was hailed a hero with a headline in the New York Times reading: “Boy Wireless Saved Them. Rescues Resulted From Cottam’s Untiring Devotion To Duty.”

Maritime historian Mr Graham Anthony, of Cambridge, hopes to have a plaque in memory of Mr Cottam erected in Lowdham in June, and is also looking to have one at The Minster School, Southwell.

Mr Anthony said: “There are some 700 memorials to Titanic people around the world, but not a single one to 21-year-old Harold Thomas Cottam.

“It was his diligence and skill that picked up the SOS call and it was his courage to alert his captain.

“Without Harold Thomas Cottam there would have been no story because everyone would have frozen to death.

“In my opinion he is the most important person in the whole of the Titanic saga, and that is why we should be celebrating his achievements.”

The chairman of Southwell Town Council, Mr Roger Dobson, said he was previously unaware of Mr Cottam’s connections to the town but thought he should be recognised.

Mr Dobson said: “It’s a lovely story and it will definitely be something I raise with the local history groups.”

Mr Cottam served on several more ships before going on to work at the ROF Gun Factory in The Meadows, Nottingham.

Despite becoming a hero he tried to avoid the limelight.

Nottinghamshire Archives has a Titanic display this month documenting those from Nottinghamshire related to the disaster, including Mr Cottam, and three men who were missing presumed dead.

The men working on board at the time were William Moss and Albert Edward Lane, both saloon stewards, and William Ewatt Caunt, a grill cook.


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