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Surrey People Who Sailed On The Titanic

Published on: 13 Apr, 2012
Updated on: 13 Apr, 2012

RMS Titanic.

By David Rose

In case you didn’t know(!), this weekend sees the 100th anniversary of the sinking of that most famous ship, RMS Titanic, when it hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic.

The world’s media has already been focusing on the numerous events taking place to mark the tragedy in which, of the 2,200 passengers and crew, more than 1,500 people lost their lives.

The ship was destined for New York, and those on board ranged from the supremely wealthy to poor emigrants. But what of the fate of persons from Surrey, or with a local connection?

The answer lies in a report that appeared in the Surrey Advertiser and County Times of its edition of April 20, 1912, five days after Titanic sank.

The newspaper’s story did not appear on the front page – that was reserved for classified advertisements. Readers had to wait until a few pages in before they read the headlines:  ‘RECORD OF THE TITANIC,  SURREY VICTIMS OF THE DISASTER, PATHETIC CIRCUMSTANCES, WIRELESS OPERATOR’S CAREER’.

The newspaper’s report began: “The Titanic, the largest vessel in the world, which foundered in the Atlantic on Monday last after striking an iceberg, taking to the bottom nearly 1,500 people had on board as passengers or officials a number of persons connected with Surrey. Below we give a list of them, so far as could be learnt up to yesterday, but in all probability there were several more.

“Mr George John Phillips, Farncombe, Godalming chief wireless operator (believed drowned).

“Mr Thomas Andrews, nephew of Lord Pirrie, Witley, and a director of Messrs Harland and Wolff, builders of the Titanic (believed lost).

“Miss Hilda Slayter, sister of Dr Slayter, Dunsfold (saved).

“Mr W. H. Nichols, a native of Witley, who has relatives there and at Ripley, steward on the Titanic.

“Mrs Lucy Violiet Snape of Witley, 2nd class stewardess.

“Mr G. H. Hunt, son of Mr Hunt, head gardener at Ashstead Park (believed lost).

“Mr and Mrs Harvey Collyer and their daughter. Mother and daughter saved: Mr Collyer missing. Mr Collyer’s parents live at Leatherhead.

“Mrs Elizabeth Nye, sister in law of Mr F. Nye of Bagshot (saved).

“Mr E W Hamblyn, brother of Mrs Jameson, Camberley (believed lost).

“Mrs Austen Partner, Ewell Road, Tolworth (believed lost).

“Mr Leonard Moore, 134 Acre Road Kingston, (believed lost).

“Mr J W Hawksford, of Tanjore, Lower Ham Road, Kingston ( saved).”

Jack Phillips.

The Surrey Advertiser and County Times reported in some detail of the man who is now, without doubt, Godalming’s most famous son of recent times – Jack Phiilps, who was Titanic’s chief wireless operator.

Under the heading THE HEROIC WIRELESS OPERATOR, it wrote: “The wireless operator who flashed out the terrible signal ‘S.O.S’ and gave the first intimation to the world of the appalling disaster to the Titanic, belongs to Farncombe, where he is well known and popular. He is Mr John George Phillips and his parents, Mr and Mrs G. A. Phillips, reside in Farncombe Street.

“Mr G. A. Phillips has lived in the district for many years, and has held the position of manager of Messr Gammon’s Farncombe Branch for over 30 years.

“Mr J.  G. Phillips, who is only 25 years of age, had in the short space of 10 years reached one of the highest positions in the wireless service. He is a native of Farncombe and resided there up to the age of 18. At 15 he entered the Godalming Post Office and took up telegraphic duties, for which he soon showed special aptitude and ability.

“Desirous of going into the Wireless Service, he left at the age of 18, and entered the Marconi School at Liverpool. After receiving 3 or 4 months training there he was appointed a junior operator on the Teutonic. He subsequently served on the Lusitania, Mauratania, Compania, and Oceanic.

“On the completion of the huge Titanic he was offered the position of Senior Operator on that vessel. The post was naturally one of great responsibility, and the appointment of Mr Phillips to it at the early age of 25 was a tribute to his great ability and the absolute confidence the company had in him.

“A reported narrative by the surviving wireless operator Bride, published yesterday, described Phillips as sticking heroically to his work to the last. A lifebelt was fastened on him by Bride while he was at his task, and, it is stated, a seamen endeavored to take it off, but was violently prevented by his fellow operator.”

The newspaper continued with its sad news. Of the passenger George H Hunt, the Surrey Advertiser and County Times reported somewhat ironically, that a day or two before he left England Mr Hunt had been talking to a Harry Johnson “of the Post Office at Ashstead, who Mr Hunt said: ‘It is just as safe as crossing on dry land as long as she does not hit an iceberg'”.

Mr Hunt had been on a visit to Surrey and was returning to his wife and two children living in Philadelphia.

The Surrey Advertiser and County Times also wrote of two “victims” with connections to the village of Witley: “Among those who were serving on board the ill-fated vessel was Mrs Lucy Violet Snape, daughter of Mr and Mrs E. Lennard, of Witley, who was employed as a second-class stewardess. At the time of writing her fate is not known, but it seems almost certain that she has gone down with the ship. She was only 22 years of age. This was the first voyage she had made in this capacity.

“Walter Henry Nichols, a native of Witley, who was employed as a steward on the vessel is also believed to have perished. He was 34 years of age. He has been a steward on liners since he was 18 years of age. Until this appointment to the Titanic he had been a second steward on the New York, of the Amerika Line, and he only took the berth on the White Star boat as a temporary position because owing to the coal strike the Amerika boats had had not been running so frequently.”

Other quirky facts had come to the attention of the newspaper. For example:  “Mr W. Lindsey, son of Mr Lindsey, printer, of Godalming had accepted a berth of steward on the Titanic, but while waiting for the boat he was offered a berth on the Olympic which he accepted.”

In the following week’s edition of the Surrey Advertiser and County Times there was more about the disaster including relief efforts and plans for memorials.

The names of more victims had come to light: “To the list of victims connected with Surrey have to be added the names of Mr T. Pears, brother of M. F. Pears of St Johns, Woking; Mr T. Bessant, a brother of the Master of the Guildford Workhouse and who was a baggage steward on the Titanic; Mr Aldworth, brother of Mr W. Aldworth, Stepgates Post Office, Chertsey;  a young man named Hogan, a member of the crew, who lived Palmerston Road, Wimbledon.”

Interestingly, the newspaper reported that Godalming Town Council had already met and was making plans for a permanent memorial to Jack Phillips. It was to become the Phillips Memorial Park and Cloister.

Godalming Post Office had already erected a memorial to their former colleague, Jack Phillips, in the form of a picture in beaten copper by Mr C. Elsworthy, Headmaster of the Godalming Grammar School, where Phillips was educated.

A case of “news of my death has been greatly exaggerated” was then corrected in the newspaper as it ran a photo of Mr W. H. Nichols, stating: “A native of Witley believed to have been lost but was saved.”

RMS Titanic was operated by the White Star Line.

Finally, the newspaper reported that Surrey had contributed very generously to the Mansion House and other funds raised for the relief of the sufferers.

There are a number of events taking place in Godalming on Sunday, April 15, to mark the sinking of the Titanic and the bravery of Jack Phillips. These include a short memorial at the Phillips family grave at 9am; a memorial service at the restored cloister at 11am, followed by the formal re-opening of the cloister at noon; and a peal of bells from Godalming Parish Church. For more details go to:

At the Surrey History Centre in Woking on Saturday, April 21, from 2pm to 3pm, there will be a talk by TV presenter (Who Do You Think You Are) and expert genealogist Nick Barrett, based on his new book Lost Voice From The Titanic. Tickets are £5, including refreshments. To book, call 01483 518737.

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Responses to Surrey People Who Sailed On The Titanic

  1. Howard Nichols

    April 18, 2012 at 9:20 am

    I have read with interest this article………..
    I am the grandson of Walter Henry Nichols described in the article. I have researched his whole life story and have all the relevant documents relating to his life from 1876 to 1960, as well as a transcript (as well as an original) of the interview with New York Times and Brooklyn Eagle.
    He led a very mysterious life during World War 1 and even now authority is unwilling to supply us with information about his life during those times.
    I present his story on an “After Dinner” circuit from Devon to the Home Counties as well as aboard many cruise ships out of the UK and the USA.
    Please visit
    For further information or contact me direct at
    I will be only too happy to help.