The little-known story of the Norfolk woman who survived the Titanic but never went near water again
PUBLISHED: 08:16 02 April 2019 | UPDATED: 15:57 03 April 2019
A new exhibition sheds light on May Howard, from Norfolk, who survived the Titanic disaster and went on to settle in America. DAVID BALE went along to find out more...
She came from a small Norfolk town and ended up being involved in one of the greatest disasters of all time.
May Howard was a third class passenger on the Titanic when it hit an iceberg in 1912 and sank.
She survived but never recovered from the trauma and refused to go near water again.
Her little-known story - which has not been widely shared before - is part of a new display at North Walsham Heritage and Information Centre until October.
Curator Diana Velhagen said: “We wanted something exciting and interesting to start the season. She was from North Walsham and a lot of people don’t know her story.
“I went to a talk by John Balls, who wrote a book about the Norfolk survivors of the Titanic, and that piqued my interest.
“And then we found a photograph of May in a group shot at the steam laundry in North Walsham, where she worked, just before she emigrated to America on the Titanic.
“Many of her relatives had already left for America and she wanted to become a nanny and be with them.
“According to US records her fiancé died in the Boer War, and she wanted to leave England.
“She still has relatives in America – her great, great-nieces, Sarah Melanchon and Jamie Bragg. They are the great-granddaughters of her brother William who followed her out to America in May 1912.
“As far as I know, she has no direct living relatives in the North Walsham area.”
Miss Howard was born on May 2, 1885 at Hall Lane, North Walsham to William Howard, a farm labourer and Martha Howard, nee Whall.
The 1911 England census shows the Howard family living in Aylsham Road, North Walsham.
On April 10, 1912, Miss Howard, who was 26, boarded the Titanic at Southampton as a third class passenger. Her ticket, bought for her by her brother Edward, who had emigrated to Canada in 1907, was numbered 39186, and cost £8 1s.
On April 20, 1912 as she arrived in New York she sent a Western Union telegram to her parents in North Walsham, who were still waiting for news five days after the sinking: “Arrived safe. Will write. May”
She went on to become a nanny in Albion, New York state, and died in 1958, aged 73.
In May 1912, she told her story to the Orleans American & Weekly newspaper.
She said that she left Southampton with a friend, Emily Goldsmith.
She said: “We were in our cabin when the Titanic grazed the edge of the iceberg. There was a violent racking of the boat, which was followed by a terrific ringing of the gongs on the boat.
“We ran out onto the deck and found many passengers had left their cabins with practically no clothing except those worn in bed.
“The officers of the Titanic said there was no danger and told us to go back to bed.
“About half an hour later, we were called out by the ship’s surgeon, who told us to go up on deck and put on lifebelts.
“An officer shouted, ‘All men back, women come first’. There was no attempt of any of the men to get into the boat and when we left the Titanic our boat carried 28 women and children, and three men, one of whom was a quarter-master.
“Our boat (Collapsible C) would easily have carried 15 more.
“We all believed that, after the Titanic had been repaired and made ready to continue her journey, we would be returned to her.”
She said her lifeboat was the last one to leave the ship
She added: “The Carpathia rescued us. We saw none of the dead bodies floating around that some passengers talked about. In our boat, three ladies and one man died of exposure.
”Our boat left the Titanic perhaps 15 minutes before she sank.
“We could hear the band playing. When the ship sank the lights went out perhaps 10 minutes before she disappeared from view and the last sound we heard was the cry of those who were drowning with the sinking ship.”