On the morning of the 10th of April 1912, the area around Southampton Docks was abuzz with activity as people made final preparations for the maiden voyage of largest ship in the world. Workers signed on, passengers arrived, and a vast array of goods were loaded on to the ship that sat calmly at Berth 44 in the White Star Dock.
Whilst all this was happening, shipmates were drinking in the Grapes pub on Oxford Street. Three brothers, Alfred, Tom, and Bertram Slade were joined by John Podesta and William Nutbean, and the ship firemen enjoyed one last drink before heading off to board the Titanic.
So the story goes, at about ten to twelve, the men left the pub together. They had about ten minutes to spare, but due to Oxford Street’s close proximity to the docks, it shouldn’t have been a problem.
As the men walked along Canute Road, they noticed a passenger train making its way towards the level crossing near South Western Hotel, where many of Titanic’s first class passengers stayed. It’s now called South Western House and is private apartments.
As the train approached, Podesta heard one of the Slade brothers say “oh let the train go by”, but he decided not to chance it, so him and Nutbean dashed across the tracks. Podesta and Nutbean made their way to board the Titanic, whilst the three Slade brothers waited behind for the train to pass.
The train passed, and the Slade brothers carried on their walk, or perhaps slightly drunken stumble, to the White Star Dock. Upon arriving, the officer at the gangway refused them entry as they had cut it so fine and there were spare men already waiting and desperate for the work. The officer ordered that the gangway be lowered and the spare men signed on, and so the Slade brothers were left by the dockside. One can assume they must have felt incredibly disappointed at missing out.
I wonder if they watched the Titanic set sail, or if they went back to the pub to drown their sorrows. Either way, the Titanic left Southampton that afternoon and sailed off to its infamous fate…
John Podesta and William Nutbean survived the sinking, and both stayed in Southampton until their deaths in 1968 and 1947 respectively.
The Slade brothers didn’t realise at that moment, but they had been incredibly lucky. That train quite possibly saved their lives. Of the 724 crew members who had a Southampton address, 549 perished in the icy waters of the Atlantic. It had a tragic and truly terrible effect on the town of Southampton and its people.