Commander Harold Godfrey Lowe RD RNR (21 November 1882 – 12 May 1944) was the Fifth Officer of the RMS Titanic.
Harold Lowe was born in Eglwys Rhos, Conwy, Wales on 21 November 1882, the fourth of eight children, born to George and Harriet Lowe. His father had ambitions for him to be apprenticed to a successful Liverpool businessman, but Harold Lowe was determined to go to sea. At 14, he ran away from his home in Barmouth where he had attended school and joined the Merchant Navy, serving along the West African Coast.
Lowe started as a Ship’s Boy aboard the Welsh coastal schooners as he worked to attain his certifications. In 1906, he passed his certification and gained his second mate’s certificate, then in 1908, he attained his first mate’s certificate.
By the time he started with the White Star Line, in 1911, he had gained his Master’s certificate and, in his own words, “experience with pretty well every ship afloat – the different classes of ships afloat – from the schooner to the square-rigged sailing vessel, and from that to steamships, and of all sizes.”
He served as third officer on White Star’s the Belgic and the Tropic before being transferred to the Titanic as Fifth Officer in 1912. Despite his numerous years at sea, however, the maiden voyage of the Titanic was to be his first transatlantic crossing.
Like the ship’s other junior officers, Lowe reported to White Star’s Liverpool offices at nine o’clock in the morning on 26 March 1912, and travelled to board the Titanic at Belfast the following day.
On sailing day (10 April), Lowe assisted (among other things) in the lowering of two of the starboard lifeboats to satisfy the Board of Trade that the Titanic met safety regulations.
When the Titanic departed Southampton at noon, Lowe was on the bridge, relaying messages to various parts of the ship by telephone.
On 14 April 1912, the night of the sinking, Lowe had been relieved at 8.00 PM by Sixth Officer Moody and was asleep in his quarters when the ship hit the iceberg at 11.40 PM.
He remained asleep through the collision and did not wake up until as much as half an hour had passed; as he explained later, “We officers do not have any too much sleep, and therefore when we sleep, we die.” When Lowe finally awakened and realised the situation, he immediately got dressed, grabbed his revolver, and went to work. Third Officer Pitman charged him with loading lifeboat No. 5. Around 1.30 AM, Lowe engaged in a conversation with Sixth Officer Moody: While launching lifeboat Nos. 14 and 16 on the port side of the ship, the two junior officers felt that this group of boats needed to have an officer with them.
Moody insisted that Lowe should get onto lifeboat No. 14 and that he would get on another one. By the time lifeboat 14 was being launched, things were beginning to get precarious on the boat deck as the majority of passengers began to realise that the giant ship was foundering.
As lifeboat 14 was descending, Lowe used his revolver to fire three shots into the air in order to frighten away a group of men attempting to leap into the lifeboat.
After reaching the water, Lowe ordered his lifeboat to be rowed about 150 yd (140 m) away from the Titanic. When the ship foundered at around 2.20 AM, Lowe had begun to gather several lifeboats together.
He wished to return to pick up survivors but had fears of being swamped by hordes of people. He redistributed the survivors in the group of lifeboats he had gathered, to ready one lifeboat for a search for additional survivors.
The lifeboat he took back to the site of the sinking had no passengers and an excess of crewmen, saying “Is there anyone alive out there” to facilitate rescue. Reluctantly, he waited until the screams died down before returning. When he returned to gather survivors, he picked up only four men, one of whom died later that night. Lowe’s was one of two boats to return for survivors.
After that, Lowe had his crew of men raise the mast (he was the only officer to make use of the mast and sail in each lifeboat); using a breeze that had sprung up, he continued on to rescue the passengers on the sinking Collapsible A. Lowe and his group of lifeboats were picked up the next morning by the RMS Carpathia.
An image taken by a passenger on the Carpathia clearly shows Lowe at the tiller of lifeboat 14 as they approach rescue.
He remained aboard his lifeboat long enough to ship the mast and make certain everything was properly stowed.
The Titanic survivors arrived at Pier 54 in New York on 18 April. Lowe was soon called upon to testify in the American inquiry into the sinking. He boarded the Adriatic on 2 May to return to England, where he participated in the British inquiry.
Lowe’s testimony in the American Senate Hearing was direct, often to the point of being flippant; when asked what an iceberg was composed of, Lowe responded, “Ice, I suppose, sir.” Lowe also came under some fire for racist remarks. He had to apologise twice for using the word “Italian” as a sort of synonym for “coward.”
Upon his return to his home town of Barmouth 1,300 people attended a reception held in his honour at the Picture Pavilion. He was presented with a commemorative gold watch, with the inscription “Presented to Harold Godfrey Lowe, 5th officer R.M.S. Titanic by his friends in Barmouth and elsewhere in recognition and appreciation of his gallant services at the foundering of the Titanic 15th April 1912.”
In September 1913, Harold married Ellen Marion Whitehouse, and they had two children, Florence Josephine and Harold William.
He served in the Royal Naval Reserve during the First World War and saw service in Vladivostok during the Russian Revolution and Civil War attaining the rank of Lieutenant, RNR. After the war he returned to serve with International Mercantile Marine ships and the White Star Line, retiring in 1931 to Deganwy with his family.
During World War II he volunteered his home as a sector post and served as an Air Raid Warden until ill health obligated him to take to a wheelchair. He died of hypertension on 12 May 1944 at the age of 61 and was buried at the Llandrillo-yn-Rhos church in Rhos-on-Sea, North Wales.
Officer Lowe was portrayed by Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd in the 1997 blockbuster movie Titanic. The film depicted Lowe rescuing first-class passenger Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet) from the freezing ocean after finding her floating on a door.
He was portrayed by Kavan Smith in the 1996 miniseries. He was played by Ifan Meredith in the 2012 Titanic TV miniseries
Harold Lowe was the subject of a biography by author Inger Sheil titled Titanic Valour: The Life of Fifth Officer Harold Lowe (The History Press 2012)
In 2004, a menu of the first meal ever served aboard the Titanic, which Lowe had sent to his fiancée when the ship was docked in Ireland, sold for £51,000, breaking the record for auctioned Titanic memorabilia at that time.
A slate plaque in Officer Lowe’s memory was hung on the centennial anniversary of Titanic’s sinking in Barmouth, Gwynedd, Wales after a long campaign by local school girl, Maddy Matthews. Memorializing Officer Lowe’s service, the plaque is inscribed in both Welsh and English, with pictures of Lowe and the Titanic.
It reads: “In Commemoration of local hero 5th Officer Harold Godfrey Lowe who left Barmouth aged 14 to go to sea.
He played a heroic role in the rescue of survivors during the sinking of RMS Titanic on 15th April 1912.” The plaque was unveiled by his grandson, Captain John Lowe and Maddy Matthews.
A small blue plaque marks Lowe’s final home in Deganwy, Conwy, Wales where Officer Lowe lived until his death in 1944.