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Gainful Employment

A young man seeking work

By Luke FosterPublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 9 min read
Gainful Employment
Photo by Arun Sharma on Unsplash

6th April 1912


Steven stepped off the bus and stretched in the early morning light. He had traveled for a day from Yorkshire down to Southampton, and the last leg from London had set off in the early hours of the morning.

He stifled a yawn as he shifted his kit bag into a more comfortable position. It had been a busy few days. Three days before he had been in Nottingham, watching his local team Barnsley win in the Semi-Final of the FA cup for the first time in their history, and the 19 year old had quite the celebration with his friends afterwards.

Barnsley was one of the many northern mining towns, with the colliery providing the majority of employment for the town. Steven had tried it when he left school, but it wasn't for him. Whilst Barnsley was a decent sized town, the port town of Southampton looked like a metropolis in comparison, with a hustle and bustle of activity more in line with a city.

And that was why Steven had come all the way down to the bottom of the country. Not enamoured with the claustrophobic feel of the mines, he had always had a fascination with the open water. His grandfather had been a seaman in the Royal Navy, and he used to spend hours telling Steven stories of his time on the seas as they fished in the local reservoir.

That journey had brought him here, to the Southampton offices of the White Star Line. Steven had chanced on getting employment on the new cruise liner setting off in a few days. He had been somewhat creative with the truth in his application for the position, but he was hoping that he would pick it up quickly enough.

He left the office a few hours later, his orders clutched in his hand. The office had been packed, but he had managed to secure employment as a general deckhand. The ship was due to depart the port in four days, but he was due to report the day before to help passengers onboard with their luggage as soon as they were ready to board.

The pay was meager but he was happy enough. The clerk in the office had told him of a boarding house that was putting up some of the lads hired until they were due to embark, but Steven wanted to send some of his wage straight home to his mum. They'd never really had much, but times had been much harder since the accident took his dad. That was probably another reason why he hated the mines so much, but for now he was just pleased to be in employment, and about to hit the open seas. He headed to the post office and took a card, scribbling a note on the back:

Dear Mum,

Arrived 'ere safe Down South.

Got me first job already. Gonna be settin off in a couple a days. Aven't seen the boat yet, but the lads tell us is a bleeding gret thing. 'S called Titanic, after some Greek god or other.

Lookin forward to being a sailor like Grandad. Tell 'im a'll remember evrithing he taught us, and a'll do me best.

Tell the little uns that their big brother is gonna tek em on a big boat soon.

They don't pay us much, but I've put a little summat in 'ere, and a'll send more when I get back an get me next wages.

A'll write again when am back.

Love you mum,


He stuffed the letter into an envelope and pulled the money out of his pocket. He counted out enough to get a little something to eat and shoved the rest in with the letter. He could have used the rest for lodgings until his posting was due to start, but he knew his family needed it more, and he didn't mind roughing it for a couple of days. Once he was on the ship his food and lodgings were sorted anyway.

10th April 1912


Steven had embarked on the ship the day before, and got settled into the crew dormitories with relative ease. This morning had been all systems go, and as he had no particular skill set he had bounced from one job to another, including spending the last hour helping load the luggage of the first class passengers. He had been tipped a whole pound, and he kept clutching the paper in his pocket like it would fly away if he didn't. The palatial staterooms were bigger than his whole house back home, and the bed alone probably cost more.

He had enjoyed the work, most of the passengers had been, if not friendly, polite and easy to work for. But now he had done, his boss had told him to report to the first class galley in two hours, and he was out on the poop deck watching as the ship pulled out of port. It seemed to him like an entire football stadium of people were out with him, and just as many on shore, waving the ship and their loved ones off.

Disaster almost struck immediately, as the ship was so large that its wake caused a smaller ship in dock to break free of its mooring ropes and head straight towards them. People around him were panicking, but Steven watched with a grim fascination as the ships drifted closer together.

Luckily a towboat was able to latch on to the smaller ship and pull it away, but for a moment it was so close the Steven felt that if he were in the right position he could have reached out and touched the smaller ships hull.

There was a collective sigh of relief as the other ship was towed away, and people slowly began to filter back inside, but Steven stayed out until he could no longer see the port, which happened surprisingly quickly. He then set off to start his next shift.

14th April 1912


They were five days into the journey now, and had completed the majority of the Atlantic crossing. Since the scare of the first day things had been pretty straightforward. Over the last five days, Steven had been to every corner of the ship, and was very much enjoying his time on board.

His shift had just finished and Steven headed gratefully to his bunk. Tomorrow he was heading to the first class dining room, and knew he would need a good night's sleep. He settled into his bunk and closed his eyes, he was asleep almost immediately.

He woke less than an hour later to the sound of klaxons and panicked movement. Launching himself out of his bunk, Steven stepped into his clothes and pulled them on as he shouted to another deckhand over the sounds of the alarms.

"What's going on?"

"We've hit something!" was the reply.

Steven wanted more information but the deckhand was already gone. Rushing out into the corridor, he saw the man that he had been reporting to all week and headed over.

"Allott!" the chief deckhand called out to him. "We're taking on water. The order has been given to evacuate the ship."

"Are we near land, sir?"

The chief deckhand brought him to one side, away from the hustle and bustle of the corridor and lowered his voice.

"We are not. I need you to keep it together, get up on to B deck and start taking passengers up onto the boat deck straight away."

There was a moment of panic, but alongside that Steven was proud that he was being trusted. He had developed good relationships in his short time here, and was looking forward to working with these people for a long time to come. But first there was an emergency to deal with.

"Yes, sir!"

He set off up the stairs at a run until he got to B deck and saw passengers looking out of the doors of their cabins, unsure and nervous. Smoothing down his top he approached them and spoke with authority, knowing that any uncertainty would be pounced on and people could be in danger.

"If everyone could please follow me, we are making our way up to the boat deck!" Steven tried his best to inject confidence and leadership into his voice. He figured the best thing to do was to talk loudly and keep moving. That worked for about ten metres until his arm was grabbed roughly by one of the first class passengers.

"What on earth is going on, young man?"

Not an unreasonable question, but Steven had strict orders to no raise panic.

"They haven't told me, sir. I just have orders to get everyone on deck as soon as possible."

Steven kept moving, he heard an unimpressed snort behind him, but he didn't stop to find out if that particular man was following. He led the line of scared and confused passengers uo the stairs and out onto the boat deck.

There was already a huge amount of people out on deck, and the sailors were pulling out the lifeboats and setting them for launch. A shout was going out for women and children to come to the front and Steven turned to his group and gestured for the women with smaller children to come forward. It was hard going, but he started forcing a path through the crowd of scared people.

Behind him, a little girl, no more than six, fell down and began to cry. The woman with her looked on helplessly, as she carried a baby, no more than a year old on one hip, and had the hand of another small girl with her other arm. Steven didn't hesitate, he scooped up the girl and held her protectively as he continued to shove his way through.

He reached the officers stood in front of the boats and they waved him through, they had to form a line around the boats and they were struggling to hold back the mass of humanity trying to force their way onto what was already evidently not enough lifeboats.

He passed the little girl down to the waiting sailor in the lifeboat and turned to help down the woman who had been tailing him with the two other children. Once they were safely on board Steven took a deep breath. Looking back at the crowd, it seemed much larger from this side, but he could see more women and children at the back, struggling to find a way through. Sighing, he dove back into the crowd.

By the time the hull gave way and snapped, Steven had made about a dozen trips through the crowd, and had gotten nearly thirty women and children to the transient safety of the lifeboats. He held tight to the rail as the deck tilted sideways, and watched the last of the lifeboats drop into the water.

He hadn't had the chance to give it much thought until now, but he was definitely going to die. For some reason, he couldn't drag up any serious panic about it. He didn't want to die, but he couldn't think of a damned thing to do about it, so he just hung on.

Next to him was a passenger from first class, a man in his late 50's. Despite the late hour, and their impending doom, the man was impeccably dressed in a three piece suit with accompanying hat which he tipped to Steven.

"You've done some fine work tonight, young man." the man's voice was perfectly calm, as though he was discussing the weather. Steven asked him how he could be so languid.

"No point getting in a fuss, old chap. There's nothing to be done now, so may as well take your fate like a gentleman. That's what I'm doing."

Steven couldn't really think of a counter argument to that, so he wished the man well. The gentleman straightened his tie and strolled when the deck leveled to allow him to do so.

As the boat sank into the icy arctic waters, he thought of his mum, and his brothers and sisters, and how they were going to have to get by without him now. He wondered if his football team would win the FA cup, and knew that he'd never know. He really hoped the boats would make it, it would be the best thing he could think of to have done some good before he passed.

He held on in the water for as long as he could, as his body temperature lowered, his vision narrowed and each breath took more and more effort. Maybe he should have stayed in the mines, they weren't that bad, after all.


About the Creator

Luke Foster

Father. New husband. Wannabe writer.

Reader insights


Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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  1. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  2. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

  3. On-point and relevant

    Writing reflected the title & theme

  1. Easy to read and follow

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Comments (3)

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  • C. H. Richard2 years ago

    Nice storytelling. So many were so young just as Steve.

  • This was an amazing story!

  • I love the diary format , great story

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