The great man is he who does not lose his child's heart. (Mencius, Chinese philosopher 372-289 BC)

Friday, 20 April 2012

The Heroism of Fathers on the Titanic 2

The sinking of the RMS Titanic is an event that still touches us all.

There can't be many of us who have not asked themselves what they would have done had they been on board on the 14th-15th April 1912.

It is an event that I have found particularly poignant since I became a father. Would I have been able to let women and children go first. Could I have stood on the deck and watched my wife and family being led away from me to safety, knowing that I would never see them again? Could I have been a hero?

Hopefully that is not a question that I will ever have to answer - but it is one that the Reverend John Harper was faced with.

Reverend John Harper

Reverend John Harper with his daughter Nan and his sister in law Jessie Leitch. Jessie and Nan survived the sinking. Picture from   
Reverend John Harper was a widower and Baptist minister from Renfrewshire in Sctoland. He joined the ship at Southampton en route to Chicago where he had been invited back to lead a series of revival meetings at the Moody church located on West Chicago and La Salle Avenue.

He was travelling with his daughter Nina (Nan) (6 years old) and Jessie Leitch, his sister in law in a second class cabin.

John enjoyed the first few days of the crossing. Jessie recalled him admiring the sunset on the evening of the 14th April believing that "it will be beautiful in the morning."

At 11.40pm RMS Titanic struck the iceberg. Harper woke his daughter immediately, wrapping her in a blanket and carrying her up a vertical ladder to A deck. There he kissed her goodbye, telling her that he would see her again soon, and handed her to a crewman, who put her into Lifeboat 11 with Jessie. Nan remembers seeing tears staining his cheeks as he turned from her and into the crowd shouting:

"Women, children and unsaved into the lifeboats!"

She would never see him again.

Minutes later the rear of the unsinkable ship rose upwards as the Titanic split in half and panicked passengers leapt from the decks into the 41 degree waters below. John, armed with a lifejacket, was one of those.
From takes up the story:

That night 1528 people went into the frigid waters. John Harper was seen swimming frantically to people in the water leading them to Jesus before the hypothermia became fatal. Mr. Harper swam up to one young man who had climbed up on a piece of debris. Rev. Harper asked him between breaths, "Are you saved?" The young man replied that he was not.

Harper then tried to lead him to Christ only to have the young man who was near shock, reply no. John Harper then took off his life jacket and threw it to the man and said, "Here then, you need this more than I do..." and swam away to other people. A few minutes later Harper swam back to the young man and succeeded in leading him to salvation. Of the 1528 people that went into the water that night, six were rescued by the lifeboats. One of them was this young man on the debris.
Titanic Lifejecket. From National Geographic.

Four years later, at a survivors meeting, this young man stood up and in tears recounted how that after John Harper had led him to Christ. Mr. Harper had tried to swim back to help other people,yet because of the intense cold, had grown too weak to swim. His last words before going under in the frigid waters were, "Believe on the Name of the Lord Jesus and you will be saved." Does Hollywood remember this man? No. Oh well, no matter. This servant of God did what he had to do. While other people were trying to buy their way onto the lifeboats and selfishly trying to save their own lives, John Harper gave up his life so that others could be saved.

With thanks to Encyclopaedia Titanica and Blessed Quietness.
See a BBC News report into John Harper here.
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