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“I Didn’t See Much Chance in Living”: Frank Winnold Prentice

"I Didn't See Much Chance in Living": Frank Winnold Prentice

On May 13, 1912, the RMS Oceanic encountered the Lost Lifeboat of Titanic: Collapsible A. Therein, the crew discovered three corpses that had been brutalized by a month of relentless sun and churning sea, as well as a wedding band that had been lost by the dying husband who had taken it from his dead wife.

The recovery of Collapsible A by the RMS Oceanic, May 13, 1912.


And despite the horror of the discovery by everyone aboard the Oceanic that day, it is sometimes reported that there may have been a single crew member aboard who was undoubtedly affected in an even more profound way than his shipmates.

If true, that gentleman’s name was Frank Winnold Prentice. 

Frank was English-born. According to birth records, he was newly 23 years old when he signed onto Titanic as an Assistant Storekeeper, although he is often reported as having been but 18. On Titanic, he was promised to earn a monthly wage of 3 pounds and 15 pence. He had reportedly transferred from the Celtic.

The SS Celtic circa 1919, courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.


Storekeepers were classed as part of the ship’s Victualling Crew.

At 11:40pm on April 14, 1912, Frank was on E Deck port-side, in the “Storekeepers’ Room”—the cabin that he shared with 5 other storekeepers. He maintained that he did not feel the collision itself, but that he noticed a change in the motion of the ship—likening it to hitting the brakes in one’s car—and the ceasing of the engines.

Frank and two of his mates, fellow shopkeepers Cyril Ricks and Michael Kieran, found their ways up to the well-deck, where they observed that although the iceberg itself had passed into the night, that remnants of it were scattered across the floor.

Photograph taken on the morning of April 15, 1912, by the Chief Steward on the Prinz Alabert, who took the photo because of an unusual red color that appeared like a paint smear. At the time, the Steward did not know about the Titanic disaster.


Frank began assisting passengers with their lifebelts and encouraging them, particularly the ladies, to board the lifeboats, which he said many were outright unwilling to do.

It seems, given the multiple testimonies that Frank gave about Titanic, that a particular meeting haunted his thoughts: that of American wife, Virginia Clark and her husband Walter. 

Before I got my lifebelt on, I met a young couple, and, uh, I’ll tell you her name: it was a Mrs. Clark. They had spent their honeymoon in France and we had picked them up at Cherbourg. And she was having trouble with her lifebelt, so I fixed that onto her. And I said, “I think you’d better get into a lifeboat.” And there was one on the port side… so she said, “No, I don’t want to go; I don’t want to leave my husband.”

So I said, “Well, it’s just a precautionary measure. You get in; your husband will follow later on.” And I got her away, and that was that.

As Frank told it, he, Cyril, and Michael retreated to the stern as the steerage passengers “swarmed the decks,” believing that they had done all in their power.

It is here, so to speak, that Frank earns his distinction, even among Titanic survivors: because he jumped from the stern. 

And somehow survived.

And I was hanging onto a board—we had two boards, starboard and port, which said, 'Keep clear of propeller blades.' And I was hanging onto one of these and I was getting higher and higher into the air; and I thought well, now I’ll go and I dropped in; I had a lifebelt on. And I hit the water with a terrific crack.

Luckily I didn’t hit anything when I dropped in; there were bodies all over the place. And then I looked up at the Titanic.

There it was. The propellers were right out of the water; the rudder was right out. And I could see the bottom.

And then gradually she glided away. And that was that. That was the last of the Titanic.

In a separate interview, Frank described what he met in the ocean below him.

When I dropped down into the water it was among 200 or 300 live or dead bodies… I was lucky when I hit the water that I did not hit anything… I searched for my friend [Cyril Ricks] and he had not been so lucky. He had hit something and was hurt.

Sadly, Cyril had been critically injured in the dive.

I found Ricks. And, uh, he had hurt himself. He’d hurt his legs; he’d dropped on something. And he didn’t say very much… and he died. And… I was eventually—I seemed to be all by myself. The cries for help and prayers had all subsided, and everything was quiet.

And then Frank “paddled off… bumping into bodies all the time.”

In his 1979 interview with the BBC, his account of what followed, although brief, is an emotional moment in which he speaks through welling tears.

I didn’t want to die—I mean, I didn’t see much chance of living, but I was gradually getting frozen up. And, um [holds back tears]… by the Grace of God, I came across a lifeboat, and they pulled me in.

That lifeboat was Lifeboat 4. Along with Frank, the people in this boat picked up seven other crewmen. One of those, a fireman, was trying for some reason to exit the boat; by Frank’s account, the occupants worked together to hold or tie this fireman down. It is unclear whether or not Frank assisted.

Regardless, when Frank found safety in Lifeboat 4, he also found a sad surprise. One that even in his elder years, appeared to moved him dearly.

And I sat down on a seat, and who should be—I sat next to Mrs. Clark…The girl I’d put into a lifeboat. [tears] And she said—the first thing she said, where’s my—I have I seen my—have you seen my husband? So I said, “No, I haven’t, but I expect he’ll be all right.”

Anyway. I was in a pretty bad way then, as you can imagine—frozen solid, almost. And she wrapped me round with her cloak—she had some sort of blanket or a coat on. Anyway, I think ,uh… she probably saved my life—I don’t know. But I saved hers; at least I think I might have done, I think I did. And she saved mine.

Frank returned to the sea shortly thereafter. Records indicate that he signed onto the RMS Oceanic in July of 1912, although that date does not abide Frank’s recollections that he was present for the gruesome discovery of Collapsible A in May of that year. Whether records were incomplete, or Frank Prentice was mistaken, is indiscernible. 

He carried on, serving in the First World War. He was regularly addressed in his interviews as a Major.

Frank granted many interviews in print and video regarding his survival account throughout his life. He regularly recounted hearing “people crying, praying… [and] the band playing Nearer My God to Thee and them singing.” 

And he maintained that Titanic was a victim of J. Bruce Ismay’s pursuit of speed. “That ship,” Frank insisted, “was thrown away.”

"Der Unterbang der Titanic." Engraving by Willy Stower, 1912.


Frank Prentice was likewise adamant that the amount of lifeboats--20, which was in excess of the legal minimum--was criminally insufficient.

She had a lot of people on board… and they must have suffered more than I did, I imagine… some of then didn’t even leave their cabins, even. And they must have died in their cabins—they must have had a lingering death… it was almost like murder, wasn’t it?

Frank also carried with him a lifelong memento of the disaster: his pocket watch, stopped forever at 2:20am—the time that Titanic went under. When asked by his interviewer in his 1979 BBC recording when he entered the water, Frank replied thusly.

I think about two o’clock. I think it lasted… it was frozen up like I was. I think it lasted about twenty minutes in the water.

And when asked if he was “bothered” by the memories of Titanic, Frank answered:

Talking about it, I should probably dream about it tonight. Have another nightmare… [awkward chuckle] You’d think I’m too old for that, but you’d be amazed. You lie in bed at night and the whole thing comes round again… [pauses; tears up]

And that is the point at which the interview footage concludes.

Frank Winnold Prentice was one of the longest-lived surviving crew members of Titanic. 

He died at the age of 93, in 1982.

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