Frank Winnold Prentice was 18 years old when he joined the Titanic crew as a storekeeper. He first stepped on board on the 4th of April 1912 just a few days before the Titanic took of to her maiden voyage.
He had only a few days to familiarize himself with the largest ship in World. And he said he could have wandered weeks around the decks and still be amazed of the amazing craftsmanship.
„She had everything you could have think of.“ Prentice once told in an interview with his eyes glowing. „She was a beautiful ship!“
Prentice never talked about the days prior leading to the catastrophe but he knew that there was ice. Not only did the bridge get loads of Ice warnings there was something in the air that Prentice acknowledged.
„You could smell the ice, there was a keenness in the air.“ he remembered. Afterwards he blamed the bridge for the disaster saying:“ It was almost like murder wasn’t it?. They knew it. And they have thrown this ship away to break the record. Speeding through a field of ice.“ and he felt silent remembering the awful night he survived.
On April 14th at 22:07 the Titanic collided with the iceberg. Prentice didn’t feel anything but he said: „All of the sudden, she came to a hold. It was like the brakes of a car. She just came to a hold.“
He was with his fellow coworker in their cabin and they decided to take a look of what was going on.
As they reached the deck, Prentice recalled his thoughts.
„There was ice on the forward well deck and I thought „Hello, we hit an iceberg!“
They were ordered to help with the lifeboats and Prentice knew that it was serious. Prentice and his friend Ricks helped until all of the lifeboats were gone. While helping, he heard the band play the famous „Nearer my god to thee.“ And after all the lifeboats where gone, there was a mad rush to get off the titanic. A panic had broken out after the people realized, that all the boats were gone and the titanic would definitely sink.
After being left on the titanic with more than 1500 people waiting for death he said:“ I had hid a life jacket and I went to get it. There was nothing more left for me to do, so I thought I should take care of myself.“
He and Ricks went up to the rising stern of the boat. Running past weeping and praying passengers. Prentice never recalled the ship breaking in half but remembered the loud noise and thought of the boilers exploding due to running full with cold water.
He made it up to the top and held on to the railing right on the sign that said:“ Keep clear of the propeller blades“ (Remember the scene in the titanic movie where Rose and Jack hold on to the railing when the titanic sinks? This is where Prentice and Ricks stayed) The silence on that lonely spot haunted him and the view must have been petrifying.
Prentice looked around him trying to find the perfect timing to jump of. He said:“When I left the ship, she was almost vertical.“
Ricks had already jumped off and so Prentice jumped as well. Falling more than 100 feet into pitch darkness praying not to hit debris or people in the water.
„I almost hit the propeller on my way down but I didn’t hit anything in the water. I was lucky. “
He searched for Ricks and found him holding on to debris. Ricks had hurt himself after hitting the water. His leg was injured and Prentice knew that Ricks wouldn’t made it. But nonetheless, he stayed until Ricks died. Prentice recalled that moment.
„I didn’t thought of dying when I was on the ship or when I dropped into the water. But I gave it a long thought when I was on my own and everyone seems to be dead around me“.
Then he took off swimming in the direction where he thought the lifeboats went. And he was lucky again and found lifeboat 4. He was helped inside and survived the sinking as one of the few people how stayed on the titanic to the very end.
In the Interview, Prentice would often look far away and his voice was full of sadness and almost shaking when he told his memory.
He kept his watch he carried during the sinking which stopped working at 02:21.
Prentice moved on to work on the RMS Oceanic, later married and had three children.
From all of the interviews I have watched and researched, Frank Prentice was one of the most tragic to listen to because you could feel the pain and the sadness in his story. Being on the Titanic after all the boats were gone and seeing all those people who most likely wouldn’t survive, must be gruesome to remember. Men, women, children and fellow crew members.
Prentice worst thoughts were of those who didn’t even make it to the boat deck. Dying in their cabins or in the darkness of the labyrinth on the lower decks trying to find a way up.
„They must have suffered more than I did. And there must have been pockets of air.“ Prentice stopped talking at the sheer imagination of this. Being in the sinking ship or dragged to the bottom of the ocean.
„They must have had a lingering death.“
Written by Monia Schendel
references: Titanic Survivor Interviews and Accounts, Wikipedia