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Boozing baker to the rescue

Alcohol in the hands of a physician can become an important medication.

Thus my late father, a physician of some renown.

Charles John Joughin (1878-1956) would advance my father’s definition a tad: alcohol in the hands of a person who knows how to imbibe can become a life-saver.

Charles John Joughin knew whereof he spoke: a chief baker on the Titanic, he not only saved quite a few lives by providing the fleeing and panicking passengers with an extraordinary output from his on-board oven.

He would also leap into the freezing waves of the Atlantic just as the legendary unsinkable vessel began taking in unstoppable amounts of water, going under with unpredictable speed, and he would survive the ordeal.

Charles John Joughin’s story has become part of the RMS Titanic legend, but not many recall its details.

So, here’s the reminder for the forgetful. The idea is to make all of us realise that alcohol does not necessarily diminish or, Heavens forbid, destroy completely our ability to be alert in an emergency. All there is to know is how much to sip, how many swigs at one take, and when.

Here’s what happened

It was Sunday, April 14, 1912. Charles John Joughin entered his cabin. Not only did he have a few bottles stashed in there. He also made his own booze using a special distilling contraption of his own.

It is not known what he was sipping when he felt that the ship’s starboard (right side looking forward) hit something of overwhelming size with overwhelming force.

In any case, Charles John Joughin grabbed a bottle and stepped on board. Titanic’s Captain, Edward John Smith, told him to prepare as much bread as can be made and deliver it to the lifeboats. Charles John Joughin in turn ordered his bakers to do as the Captain bid. He himself returned to his cabin to get some more whiskey.

When the order came to abandon ship, he would seat the women and children into boat No. 10, which he was supposed to command, and instead of hopping in, he told one of his bakers to take his place.

Thence, he would proceed to his cabin and continue filling his body with whiskey. Only when water started flowing into his ship-board residence, did he put his lifejacket on, grab some more bottles, and went to the top board.

All of the lifeboats were away, in safe distance from the luckless vessel. Drunken more than a sailor on a shore leave, Charles John Joughin still had the presence of mind to grab some five dozen deck chairs and toss them overboard. This would help many survive until outside help arrived.

Whether this was out of sheer bravery or whether he could care less because of all the alcohol flowing through his veins, doesn’t really matter much. Still: he stayed aboard till the last possible moment. Only when the vessel began tilting, did he slip into the water, without getting a drop of water onto his head.

What did he do the next four hours? He remained positioned vertically, making sure his head remained dry, and he continued drinking. He would be saved four hours later, alive and healthy.

When Titanic’s second officer Charles Lightoller, already aboard the Carpathia, one of the ships that steamed to help and arrived on time, saw Charles John Joughin alive and well, he couldn’t believe his eyes.

The baker’s explanation was simple: the amount of booze inside him had kept him calm and helped him rationalise every move he had made. That helped him save his own life, as well as lives of many others. By being the last to leave the ship, he’d spend the least amount of time in the freezing waters. His head would remain dry all along, while his body wouldn’t: the high amounts of calories provided by the booze made him feel he wasn’t freezing to death himself. He felt warm, in fact.

Surprisingly, some would say shockingly, the Titanic experience wouldn’t deter him: Charles John Joughin would continue working on ocean-going liners, he would survive another two shipwrecks, and when he parted this earth, aged 78, his tombstone has been adorned with the inscription: The Baker From The Titanic.

Here’s what the main Titanic exploration site had to say about him:

Titanic Crew Summary

Name: Mr Charles John Joughin
Titanic Survivor
Born: Saturday 3rd August 1878 in Birkenhead, Lancashire, England
Age: 33 years 8 months and 12 days (Male)
Nationality: English
Marital Status: Married to Louise Woodward
Last Residence: at Elmhurst, Leighton Road, Shirley Southampton, Hampshire, England
Occupation: Chief Baker
Last Ship: Olympic
Victualling Crew
Embarked: Belfast on Monday 1st April 1912
Rescued (boat B)
Disembarked Carpathia: New York City on Thursday 18th April 1912
Died: Sunday 9th December 1956 aged 78 years
Cause of Death: Pneumonia
Buried: Cedar Lawn Cemetery, Paterson, New Jersey, United States

Some more facts

$7,500,000: The total cost of building the RMS Titanic.
12,600 feet: The depth at which the wreck of the ship lays.
882 feet: The length of the ship.
3,547: The maximum number of people the ship could carry.
2,223: The number of people aboard, including passengers and crew.
1,178: The number of people that could be carried in the lifeboats.
705: The number of people who survived the tragedy.

Intriguing correspondence

Walter Lord described the Titanic story in his article titled A Night to Remember, and Charles John Joughin wrote to him:

Mr Walter Lord

Dear Sir,
Some secretaries brought to my notice your very splendid article
A Night to Remember in the current issue of The Ladies Home Journal.

Most written accounts were hair-raising scenes which did not actually occur, except in the last few moments when those left behind made a mad rush towards what they considered a safer place, the Poop Deck. Fortunately I was all alone, when the big list to port occurred. I was able to straddle the Starboard rail (on A deck) and stepped off as the ship went under. I had expected suction of some kind, but felt none. At no time was my head underwater. Just kept moving my arms and legs and kept in an upright position. No trick at all with a left-belt on.
Your account of the upturned collapsible with Col. Gracie aboard was very correct.
Most of the crew were familiar with life boat and Fire stations as they had manned the
Olympic (a sister ship) previously.
Some curious things are done at a time like this. Why did I lock the heavy iron door of the Bakery, stuff the heavy keys in my pocket, alongside two cakes of hard tobacco.

My conclusions of cause: Grave error on part of Captain Smith kept course in spite of ice warnings and severe drop in temperature from 5 P.M.
Loss of life: life boat shortage, for the number of passengers and crew, but many more could have been saved, had the women obeyed orders. In those circumstances the crew are helpless.

A few explanations

  • The descriptions of any vessel’s side used since time almost immemorial are port and starboard. They don’t depend on a mariner’s orientation. Using them instead of left and right helps avoid confusion. When looking forward, toward the bow of a ship, port and starboard refer to the left and right sides, respectively.
  • Charles Herbert Lightoller, (March 30, 1874 – December 8, 1952) was a British mariner and naval officer. He was the second officer on board the RMS Titanic and the most senior member of the crew to survive the disaster. As the officer in charge of loading passengers into lifeboats on the port side, Lightoller strictly enforced the women and children only protocol, not allowing any male passengers to board the lifeboats unless they were needed as auxiliary seamen.
    Lightoller served as a commanding officer in the Royal Navy during World War I and was twice decorated for gallantry. Even though retired by then, he voluntarily provided his personal yacht and sailed her as one of the “little ships” that played a part in the Dunkirk evacuation during World War II.
  • Captain Edward J. Smith joined the White Star Line in 1880 as the Fourth Officer of the SS Celtic. He was born on January 27, 1850, in Hanley, Staffordshire, England, He served aboard liners to Australia and to New York, where he quickly rose in stature.
    As one of the world’s most experienced sea Captains, Smith was called upon to take the lead ship’s first command in a new class of ocean liners, the Olympic, the largest vessel in the world at that time. The maiden voyage from Southampton to New York was successfully concluded on 21 June 1911.
    Despite some minor incidents onboard Olympic, Smith was again appointed in command of the greatest steamship when RMS Titanic left Southampton for her maiden voyage. According to some sources he had decided to retire after completing the Titanic’s maiden voyage, an article in the Halifax Morning Chronicle on April 9, 1912 stated that Smith would remain in charge of the Titanic “until the Company (White Star Line) completed a larger and finer steamer.”
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