Home   Kent   News   Article

Titanic: Kent survivor Frank Goldsmith, who grew up in Strood, and his remarkable memories of the 1912 disaster

On the night of April 14, 1912, little Frankie Goldsmith climbed into his bunk bed with his mind full of possibilities of what could lie ahead.

Born and raised in Strood, he and his parents were taking the first steps to a new life. Four days earlier they had boarded the maiden voyage of an ocean liner by the name of Titanic and now found themselves heading to New York.

The Titanic as it set sail from Southampton on its fateful first - and last - voyage
The Titanic as it set sail from Southampton on its fateful first - and last - voyage

The nine-year-old had enjoyed an exciting day - running around the decks with children he had befriended and enjoying the sea air as the celebrated vessel cut through the water.

One of his family's travel companions, teenager Alfred Rush, had celebrated his 17th birthday that day and as the ship crossed the Atlantic, thoughts were turning to arriving in the Big Apple before travelling on to Detroit.

His parents, Frank Snr, 33, from Hadlow, and Emily, 31, who had grown up in Milton Regis, near Sittingbourne, had received numerous letters from Emily's parents and siblings who had emigrated to the US city two years before. They had spoken of the job opportunities and lifestyle.

Frank Snr, an engineer's turner, had found work hard to come by in Kent.

The decision for the family had been sealed when Frankie's younger brother, Albert, had died from diphtheria at the end of the previous year. He was just six.

The travellers were heading to the US city of Detroit - here pictured around 1920
The travellers were heading to the US city of Detroit - here pictured around 1920

The family wanted a new start. The US offered a world of potential.

They would be joined on the trip by young Alfred Rush who was travelling to unite with his brother who had emigrated to Detroit several years earlier. His parents were keen to see him escape economic hardship at his home in Surrey and flourish. They were friends with young Frank's mother and she happily agreed to chaperone him on the voyage.

In addition, they were joined by Thomas Theobald, 34. Born and raised in Ashford, he had moved to Strood and befriended the Goldsmiths. He too was travelling to Detroit - to join his wife who had already made the journey.

Before the dawn broke only two of the happy band of travellers would still be alive.

They had joined the Titanic in Southampton on April 10. All purchased third-class tickets with the Goldsmith family's passage to the US costing the three of them the equivalent of £2,400.

The Goldsmith family at their Strood home several years before making the journey - Frank Jnr far left
The Goldsmith family at their Strood home several years before making the journey - Frank Jnr far left

Their cabin was basic but relatively comfortable for the time. There were two bunk beds divided by a small sink which the young family had to themselves.

And it was there, at around 1.30am on April 15, little Frank Goldsmith was awoken by his mother telling him he needed to get dressed.

The Titanic, a ship hailed as "unsinkable" by its operators the White Star Line, had struck an iceberg some 375 miles south-east of Newfoundland on North America's eastern coast.

As his grandson recalled: "He'd gone to sleep at the normal time, about 8.30-9pm and he said what woke him up was his mother dressing him.

"His parents said what woke them up was not the crunching of the iceberg but the silence in their cabin. Because it was near the stern you could hear all the motors and turbines running."

A poster advertising the Titanic's maiden voyage
A poster advertising the Titanic's maiden voyage

Speaking many years later, Frank recalled those unforgettable moments.

"Shortly after I had all my clothes on, except my overcoat, there came a rap at our cabin door," he said. "The ship's doctor walked in and said do we have life-jackets - which of course we did - they were on the ceiling of our cabin.

"He said you'd better put them on because you may have to go out on the lifeboat.

"So my mother climbed on the bunk and brought down three - one for me, one for her and one for Dad."

As his father darted out of the cabin to find Alfred and Thomas, young Frankie grabbed a bag of fruit sweets which friends from Strood had bought him to help combat any sea sickness he may suffer on the journey. He stuffed them in his pocket.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet starred in 1997's big screen version of Titanic
Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet starred in 1997's big screen version of Titanic

Once all were together they left the cabin, climbed a stairway and emerged on the promenade deck. It was already becoming clear the boat was doomed.

It was there his family would part for the very last time.

Frankie explained: "There was a gateway and only the women and children were permitted through.

"The gate was open and the ladies and children were walking through and this crewman reached through and pulled young Alfred Rush's arm to pull him through, but he jerked his arm out of the man's hands and said 'No, I'm staying here with the men'. Because when you were 17 you were no longer a kid - you were a man.

"So he stayed there with my dad and Mr Theobald.

The Titanic's grand staircase
The Titanic's grand staircase

"Dad put his arm around me and hugged me. He leaned over and kissed mother and said 'Well, so long, I'll see you in a little while'."

It would be the last time he ever saw his father.

Thomas Theobald, realising the severity of the situation, slipped his wedding ring off and passed it to Frankie's mother. He urged her that if they didn't reach New York she was to hand it to his wife, Annie, in Detroit.

Added Frank: "Then we climbed a ladder straight up the side of the deck on the port side.

"Mother and I continued to work our way forward. Between the third and fourth funnel was where they had this huge sheet of canvas and behind it was where they had been firing the rockets up to alert people to the fact the ship was sinking. The canvas was put up so the sparks from the rocket wouldn't catch on anyone's clothes.

Titanic being pulled out to sea in Belfast
Titanic being pulled out to sea in Belfast

"As we walked on past we stumbled over the debris of previous launchings and finally we got up and saw the lifeboat."

The lifeboat they found was not a conventional rescue boat but known as one of four 'collapsible' craft. Boat-shaped, they were rafts of kapok - a cotton-like substance - and cork with heavy canvas sides that could be raised to form a vessel.

"They had to help us across into it," Frank recalled.

"Then shortly afterwards they began to lower it."

His mother would later recall glimpsing her husband, Alfred and Mr Theobald for the final time as the lifeboat passed the three of them on its way to the water's surface. So dazed, they just waved.

One of the Titanic's 'collapsible' lifeboats with canvas sides
One of the Titanic's 'collapsible' lifeboats with canvas sides

Frank added: "On the way down the collapsible got caught on the plates of the ship and as they continued to lower it, the lifeboat began to tilt. Those ladies on that side forced their hands against the side of the ship to release it and that happened three times before we finally hit the water.

"God only knows where they got the strength to do that because we had about 40 people in that little boat which was about its maximum capacity.

"The crewman at the back was steering with an oar - it wasn't a regular lifeboat so it didn't have a rudder.

"We were headed towards the back of the ship and were rowed behind it and out to a point where we could look back at it.

"This was then 2.05am.

An illustration of the sinking of the Titanic
An illustration of the sinking of the Titanic

"We hadn't been there long when all of a sudden there came this last explosion - the last boiler we think, which extinguished all the lights - and mother reached over and grabbed me around the neck and forced my head to her chest. And the women all began to cry and I could hear all this going on, but I wanted to know what was happening.

"Then the ladies started to say 'It's going to float, it's going to float' and mother released me and I could look back. You could still see the Titanic but you could see only the back, half way between the mast and the last funnel with the propeller straight up in the air and it hung there for, as a kid, it seemed five minutes. Then it gave a slight whoosh and down it went.

"There were no lights but you could see the silhouette of it because the night was clear, the stars so bright. The water was so smooth because we were surrounded by ice floes.

"When it disappeared, the ladies were so unhappy, as you can well imagine."

Eventually, the lifeboat was rescued by the Carpathia - the transatlantic steamship which rescued more than 700 survivors.

The Carpathia rescued hundreds of survivors from the disaster
The Carpathia rescued hundreds of survivors from the disaster

When they reached New York, they were cared for by the Salvation Army before finally travelling to Detroit to be with their family.

Only he and his mother had survived from the five who had boarded the boat with such hope and anticipation just days before. More than 1,500 passengers and crew perished.

The bodies of Frank Goldsmith, young Frank's father, and that of teenager Alfred Rush, were never found.

The body of Thomas Theobald was recovered and his belongings forwarded to his widow, Annie. The wedding ring passed to Emily Goldsmith reached her too in the summer of that dreadful year.

Annie never remarried, returned to England and died in Dartford in 1961.

The disaster shocked the nation
The disaster shocked the nation

Frank's mother, Emily, stayed on in the US.

Two years after the tragedy she remarried - to another man who had emigrated from Strood, Harry Illman. They had no further children and she died in September 1955 at the age of 77.

Frank grew up in Detroit, close to the city's baseball stadium, home of the Detroit Tigers.

He would say the sound of the crowd, cheering at a home run, would remind him of the screams of the dying passengers and crew as they struggled in the icy water. He never watched a game.

He long prayed his father had somehow survived. For years he would tell himself: "I think another ship must have picked him up and one day he will come walking right through that door and say 'Hello, Frankie'."

The Titanic sank on April 15, 1912
The Titanic sank on April 15, 1912

He married in 1926 and he and wife Victoria went on to have three children.

After the Second World War, where he served as a civilian photographer for the US Army Air Corps, he moved to Ohio where he ran a photography supply store.

He retired in 1973 and moved to the sunshine state of Florida in 1979.

Frank suffered a fatal stroke at his home on January 27, 1982. He was 79.

Three months later, a plane would scatter his ashes over the area the Titanic was believed to have sunk, finally reuniting him with his father.

The wreck of Titanic on the ocean floor
The wreck of Titanic on the ocean floor

Some time after his death, the Titanic Historical Society published his first-hand account of that dreadful night - Echoes In the Night: Memories of a Titanic Survivor.

It was not until 1985, three years after Frank's passing, that the location of the Titanic's wreck was finally discovered - more than 70 years since Frank had been among the last to see it slip beneath the waves.

Frank's grandson Tom, who used to hear tales of that fateful voyage from his grandfather, said one poignant wish remained to be fulfilled: "When his family were packing for the journey he had a cap gun which he'd got from a swap with one of his friends. When he showed his mother, she told him to get rid of it.

"But in the crate in which she had put her sewing machine he put his toy gun.

"My grandfather told me they would one day figure a way to find the ship and when they did, if they ever brought anything back, he wanted his cap gun back."

Read more: All the latest news from Kent


More by this author


Close This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.Learn More