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The sinking of the SS Norge
Topic Started: May 1 2008, 01:02 PM (1,647 Views)
Phlebas
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Bull-Carp
My grandfather came to the US from Norway, and was a survivor of the wreck of the SS Norge, which up until that time - 1904 - was the largest civilian maritime disaster in the Atlantic ocean.

He wrote a letter to his relatives back in Norway after he arrived in the US, and I had always meant to reproduce it so we had an electronic version of it. Aside from this letter, he never once spoke or wrote about the experience. The letter (long) is below:

Quote:
 
Dear Parents and Sisters,

It will be a long story to tell about the sinking of the ship ďNorge.Ē To start with we reached Kristiansand the same day we left Kristiana the 24th of June 1904. The next morning we were out in the open ocean called the North Sea. Little did we know that here was the grave for the most of us.

We had beautiful weather the whole tome. The third day we saw the island outside Scotland. The first three days people were quiet, walking forth and back on the deck and talking to each other. The day before the terrible tragedy, people began to enjoy themselves, dancing on the deck, laughing and having a good time. At 10:00 I went to bed and slept all night, only to be awakened early I the morning by a terrific crash. I rushed out of bed to find my clothes, but someone had taken mine by mistake. I heard water rushing under e and everyone was up on deck. I was the last one below. I found the stairs from the lower deck broken, so I had to climb to the middle deck. It was crowded at the exit, everyone wanting to be first. I finally got through and saw a terrific sight. The deck was full of adults and children half-dressed and running and crying and calling to each other.

I asked one of the shipís crew what had happened and he said it wasnít serious. We had only hit a rock.

I believed it at first, and took my time looking around. I went over to the side of the ship and it stood still. I saw it had started to sink some and I saw the shipís crew coming with life belts on. I knew it was grave, so I ran down to find a life belt and some clothes, but the water was already up to the bearths and I had to get back on deck. Three sobbing elderly ladies asked me to find them a life belt. I ran down again, not finding anything. Now the water was coming up so fast, suitcases and other debris were floating all over. I came back up without anything and they were desperate. I stood and looked at the people. I could not realize that we all should die now. Many were on their knees praying and crying, others were wringing their hands in despair. I walked aft the ship and looked in at the bakery. It was empty, the machinery, as before, going with even rhythm was now still. I heard a terrible noise, and around 240 Russians prayed together. Some climbed up the mast as fast as they could, crying and calling to each other.

In the meantime, they tried to loosen a lifeboat, but the tackle was very rusty. The boat was caught in another tackle and stood upside down, but luckily someone had an axe and cut the rope. I was reluctant to enter because I thought it would be the same no matter what I chose. Some of my friends were in the boat all ready to go and called me, so I jumped in. The boat was so full, and some had started to row away from the big ship, so we would not be dragged in the hole or be crushed. I was having difficulty rowing, since the boat was overcrowded. When we came to the other side of the ship what I saw I will never forget. The sea was full of people, two lifeboats were smashed in pieces against the side of the ship and there was another boat full of people ready to sink, only their heads above the water. They called to us for help, but unfortunately we had to row away for there wasnít room for one more. We found more oars and women and children were put in the bottom of the boat, and now we had to decide what direction we should row; nobody knew.

We didnít have any of the crew with us, all were passengers. Luckily we had an old sailor with us, and we took his advice to stay close to the ship, since he thought it would stay afloat awhile. We didnít have any food or water, and we were outside the steamship route. The Norge should have been sailing north of the area, when it hit the Rockall Bank in the Atlantic Ocean. We could see the ship was sinking fast and the water was rushing over the front deck, then the stern part of the vessel went down. The people had crowded together, but we didnít hear any crying because the wind took the sound away. Soon we could not see the ship anymore. Slowly, the stern came up and it went under again with about 650 people. It was a sad moment, and everyone in the boat wept. One had his mother, seven sisters and one brother. And others had relatives on board. Now we could wait no longer, the ones who could, began to row.

It began storming and the waves threatened to bury us. All of the sudden we saw a life craft full of people. They had picked up the Captain, who had been in the water for thirty minutes. Soon two more boats appeared, and we thought it was wise to stay together the best we could. In each boat there were about 15 strong men, and they could row. We had 32 in our boat. Most of them were people who didnít know how to row, and 6 children under 5 years plus two ladies. The sea went higher and higher, making the waves as high as a house, and we were thrown around like a ball. Although the other boats were close, we didnít see each other for several minutes.  We had to be careful to hold up with the waves or we would capsize, thus we kept up all day. Towards evening the sea stilled. We rowed over to the other boat and asked them if they would take some of the children, but they said no, since their boat had a leak. We asked if they had any food or water, so they gave up six quarts of water and one-and-a-half biscuits each. We ate the biscuits right away, and had a little water left for the next day. At night we let the boats drift, and it was so dark we could hardly see each other.

The next day we began to row and the third officer said we should row northeast. You want to find land, he said, try to come close to the steamship route which we were far from. We only had the sun to go by. The sea was calmer and it was easier to row. Now we began to lack power to perform properly due to severe hunger. The nights were very cold and rain soaked our clothes. All I had on was my underwear and socks. On the third day we saw a sailboat but it was too par from us and disappeared. There were two of us who rowed, so out hands were crooked and the insides were red meat. We stayed together with the two other boats three days. In one of the boats they had a sail and they said they would try to find help, but told us to row Northeast. Before long we didnít see them and now we were only two boats together. We decided to rip up our lifebelts and try to make a sail of them with some rope we had, with one oar we had a mast. It helped a little but it was so full of holes we still had to row. That same day, the other boat disappeared, so now we were alone on the big ocean, beginning our third day.

The next night it was very cold and it rained. If we only had something to catch water in but we had nothing, and the boat was so small we laid on top of each other, nearly suffocating the ones on the bottom. It was hard for the children; they laid in the water and were kicked and pushed around. The next day we saw a big ship, and we all got new hope and strength. We grasped the oars and rowed and rowed the best we could and hoisted our sail in case they could see us better, but no, it disappeared. We had to give up and turn around. We lost all hope to be rescued because we realized it was the fourth day without food and water. Some started to drink seawater, but it was terribly salty. One of the children had a bottle, so she filled it up and drank. The ocean was so still , it shined like a mirror. The sun was up all day, but we froze just the same even thought we were rowing.

The night of the fifth day we didnít have any rain. It was so still in the boat, we sat and looked listlessly at the ocean. Sometimes my thoughts were about you at home. The fifth day we again saw a ship but it didnít see us. We drifted all that day because nobody had the strength to row. We could see how each other suffered, our cheekbones were hollow and our eyes had sunk in our heads. One man had drank so much salt water he became delirious. Then someone saw a dead seabird floating, so we turned the boat around and fished it up. We took and divided it between ut, eating the meat. It was so dry we had to drink seawater to rinse it down. Some cut their hands to suck the blood out, and we understood we couldnít last much longer. The sixth day everyone was still and a little child was dying, and her desperate mother was rubbing her with saltwater. The next day she died, so we made all things ready to bury her at sea but we couldnít.

The weather was so beautiful that day, and several times someone said ďland.Ē We began to row only to realize it was fog. We stopped rowing and drifted around. Later that day, around 4:00 in the afternoon, we saw a ship. It was far from us, but it came nearer and nearer. In a moment we put up our sail so they could see us better and we all got more strength in hope we should be rescued. Soon the ship came real close to and I canít explain our joy and emotion. At first I could not believe my own eyes but yes, it was true.

We had no time to think as the men threw a rope to fasten our boat to the ship and a ladder was hoisted down. The ones who could walk did, but most had to be hoisted up. I was able to walk up  part way, and then they had to help me on deck. My legs wouldnít hold me and I crawled like a child. The first thing we got was water and we drank the whole day. The next day we were given stew, but it was hard to keep it down in the beginning. We washed our hands and feet in nice warm water, since they were terribly swollen from drinking the salt water. We were carried to bed. I slept so good that night, my first sleep in five and a half days. The next morning we landed in Stornoway, a city on one of the Hebrides Islands of Scotland. I had only my undergarments on, so I got a large pair of pants, and a big coat with an old cap.

The pier was crowded with people, all wanting to see us. People came in crowds wanting to speak to us and they gave us cakes and all kinds of goodies. I had to go to the hospital to have my hands bandaged. I was very weak, and had to go only short distances for a while, then rest. After a week I was almost as good as new. Before we left we got new clothes from the steamship company and 50kr. The people in Stornoway took up a collection for us and we got 20 kr each.

We had to decide if we wanted to go to America or back home to Norway. I chose to go to America, so I boarded a train to Liverpool. The voyage to NY was fine. The train trip from NY was far from pleasant. In one town I had to wait 12 hours because they put me off at the wrong place. It took me 4 days to get to Minnesota. Thinking over the terrible tragedy, I was lucky to have lived through it. I arrived in a country called America for which I left my native land and my own family to see. Itís truly a beautiful land, yet I am missing all of you.

Greet all my friends and tell them I am well and happy here. Most of all, I send you love from your son and brother.

Hans.


Random FML: Today, I was fired by my boss in front of my coworkers. It would have been nice if I could have left the building before they started celebrating. FML

The founding of the bulk of the world's nation states post 1914 is based on self-defined nationalisms. The bulk of those national movements involve territory that was ethnically mixed. The foundation of many of those nation states involved population movements in the aftermath. When the only one that is repeatedly held up as unjust and unjustifiable is the Zionist project, the term anti-semitism may very well be appropriate. - P*D


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sue
HOLY CARP!!!
Wow, that was powerful. Though he never spoke of it, I wonder how many times he replayed those days, and nights, in his mind. :mellow:

Thanks for sharing that with us.
We like and appreciate the ornate, and very much enjoy the detail and design put into fine craftsmanship. We want some things to be treated as special. It's why we dress up for important occasions, why we rent out ballrooms for those events and take pictures of cathedrals and paint our rooms. AL 6/9/12
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DivaDeb
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oh my gracious...that's amazing! what an incredible story!
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sue
HOLY CARP!!!
SS Norge

Quote:
 
In one of the lifeboats bound for Stornoway was a Russian woman and her four children - one of whom didn't survive. The mother hid her dead son under her skirts in case the other passengers forced her to bury him at sea. The boy's sister also died soon after they disembarked at Stornoway and the pair are buried together in the grave in Sandwick cemetery.

Their brother, who survived the disaster, is among those who have travelled to Stornoway for the 100th anniversary commemorations today.

We like and appreciate the ornate, and very much enjoy the detail and design put into fine craftsmanship. We want some things to be treated as special. It's why we dress up for important occasions, why we rent out ballrooms for those events and take pictures of cathedrals and paint our rooms. AL 6/9/12
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DivaDeb
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Sue, that is just heartbreaking!
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Phlebas
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sue
May 1 2008, 01:27 PM
SS Norge

Quote:
 
In one of the lifeboats bound for Stornoway was a Russian woman and her four children - one of whom didn't survive. The mother hid her dead son under her skirts in case the other passengers forced her to bury him at sea. The boy's sister also died soon after they disembarked at Stornoway and the pair are buried together in the grave in Sandwick cemetery.

Their brother, who survived the disaster, is among those who have travelled to Stornoway for the 100th anniversary commemorations today.

Per Sebak who is mentioned in that article interviewed my dad, and got a copy of the letter for the book he wrote on the Norge. He stayed with my family in NY for a few days, and I helped him get access to some of the libraries, and public records stuff that he was using to research it.

My sister was playing at the Edinburg festival last summer, and was able to get to Stornoway to see the monument there.
Random FML: Today, I was fired by my boss in front of my coworkers. It would have been nice if I could have left the building before they started celebrating. FML

The founding of the bulk of the world's nation states post 1914 is based on self-defined nationalisms. The bulk of those national movements involve territory that was ethnically mixed. The foundation of many of those nation states involved population movements in the aftermath. When the only one that is repeatedly held up as unjust and unjustifiable is the Zionist project, the term anti-semitism may very well be appropriate. - P*D


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Piano*Dad
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Family histories can be precious inheritances. I had my youngest read the letter.
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Free Rider
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Fulla-Carp
Wow.

Thanks for sharing. what a lucky guy.
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kenny
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Wow. :eek:
Thanks.
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Red Rice
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So interesting. Thanks for sharing the letter, Phlebas.
Norris, you fvck up. You fvck up real bad.
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plays88keys
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That was a fascinating account your grandfather wrote, Phlebas. He was very fortunate to have been part of the small group that survived. That letter is a true family treasure.
You can never get enough of what you don't need to make you happy.
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1hp
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Fulla-Carp

Great letter, and great story!

There was another famous shipwreck in the Hebrides, you might have heard about it?

..............a real-life incident that occurred in 1941 on the Hebridean island of Eriskay when the S.S. Politician ran aground. The famous tale of how a group of local Scottish islanders raided a shipwreck for its consignment of 24,000 cases of whisky has grown into a legend.

Also, it is not the wild place it is made out to be. Great beaches. A photo of a beach on Eriskay:

Posted Image

There are 10 kinds of people in this world, those that understand binary and................
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blondie
Pisa-Carp
Oh my.
What a letter.
An amazing story.
Thanks for posting this Phebas.
And the link Sue.
I want my child to read this.
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Daniel
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This is extraordinary. Thank you for sharing it with us, Phlebas.
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