How did one Titanic crew member survive the icy ocean water, all thanks to his favorite drink? Learn this story, as excerpted from When Hitler Took Cocaine and Lenin Lost His Brain by Giles Milton, which is the basis for our new podcast, Unknown History.
It was April 14, 1912. Charles Joughin had finally fallen asleep after a hard day’s work in the ship’s kitchens. Suddenly, he was woken by a tremendous jolt. He felt the vessel shudder violently beneath him. Then, after a momentary pause, it continued moving forward. Assuming that the danger had passed, Joughin tried to return to sleep. But at about 11:35 pm, just a few minutes after the jolt, he was summoned to the bridge. Here, he was given some most unwelcome information.
The End Is Here?
Captain Smith had sent an inspection team below decks to see if anything was wrong. The men had returned with the terrible news that the ship had struck an iceberg and that the force of the blow had seriously buckled the hull. Rivets had been forced out over a length of some ninety meters and seawater was now gushing into the ship at a tremendous rate.
Charles Joughin realized that he, as a member of crew, would not be given a place in a lifeboat. As the ship began listing at an alarming angle, he decided to drink himself into oblivion. He descended into his cabin, downed a huge quantity of whisky (according to one account he finished off two bottles). He then returned to the deck and, with drunken energy, began pushing women into the lifeboats.
It was not long before he found himself in the freezing Atlantic. "I got onto the starboard side of the poop," he later recalled, "and found myself in the water. I do not believe my head went under the water at all. I thought I saw some wreckage."
A Liquid Blanket
He swam towards the wreckage, not feeling the cold on account of all the whisky he had drunk, "and found a collapsible boat B with Lightoller and about twenty-five men on it."
By this time, it was a miracle Joughin was still alive. The water temperature was two degrees below freezing. Most passengers and crew who had jumped into the water had died of hypothermia within fifteen minutes.
Yet Joughin was to remain in the water for a further four hours before he was finally pulled aboard a lifeboat that came alongside collapsible boat B. Along with the other survivors, he was eventually rescued by the RMS Carpathia, which arrived at the wreck site at 4:10 am.
What happens to Joughin next? To find out the answer, listen to the full episode of our new podcast, Unknown History, in the top right hand player of this page, or on iTunes, Stitcher, and Spotify. Plus, connect with Giles on Twitter and Facebook.