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 Women and Children first

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Caro
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PostSubject: Women and Children first   Sun 22 Jan 2012, 23:31

I feel this is historical as well as topical, but I'm not sure where it should go. Have decided it fits 'etiquette', but if that is not right, please shift it to a better place (or wipe it is it's not appropriate).

I was listening to a man on the radio today saying the women and children first policy or sentiment is not really a good policy as splitting families up will do more harm than good, which was what I was thinking. If I were a women with children I would want my husband there too. In fact if it was just me I would want my husband there too.

The other thing I have read a while ago is that statistically women and children are or at least were in the 19th century not the ones saved off ships anyway. The proportion is much higher for men. I own a book called Women and Children Last by Charles R Clark about the Cospatrick which went on fire on its way to NZ with more than 500 immigrants and crew on board, only three of whom (all crew) survived. It began with this, "No matter how frequently women and children were represented in the passenger lists, survival rates for women and children as a group were nearly always dramatically lower than for adult male passengers and crew members. This statistical bias occurred irrespective of whether the ship had been driven ashore, or had sunk following storm, collision or fire at sea. Contrary to popular belief, the rescue of women and children was rarely a priority once difficulties were experienced." On the ship, the Atlantic, which went down in 1873 with 546 dead, 283 were women and children. One child survived, no women but more than 400 adult male passengers and crew.

He gives stats for the seven worst survivable wrecks of British passenger ships, 1850 – 1900, and of these 41% of the crew survived, 39% of the men, and 1.5% of women and children.

Women were often locked downstairs in immigrant ships (for moral reasons), and in escaping they were hampered by lower body strength and bulky clothes. I suspect, too, that if lifeboats only held women they might not have had the skills either of survival or of bringing the boat to safety.

These figures were for 19th century disasters. I don’t know the situation in the 20th century with different types of boats and different sorts of travel on them. Criticism of crew members is certainly not new – the loss of the Tayleur showed crew members “hauling themselves along ropes – a feat that required both physical strength and a ruthless outlook as crew members did little to assist the weak.” Near where I live, in 1873 the Surat was wrecked late on New Year’s Eve with 271 immigrants saved. This was despite the actions of the captain who wanted to plough on with his wrecked ship and pulled a gun on passengers and crew. He was overcome and the crew in this case were great at ensuring everyone, women and children first, got to safety. (There are photos in our museum of the women sheltering while they waited anxiously for their men.) And while this had a happy ending, you can’t help thinking that it might have been better to keep them in family units.

Cheers, Caro.
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ferval
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PostSubject: Re: Women and Children first   Sun 22 Jan 2012, 23:48

All of us who have had any experience of doing anything with young children in tow will be well aware that it takes significantly longer to accomplish any task. What it must be like trying to get off a sinking ship doesn't bear thinking about, just getting them into their life jackets when they and you are in a panic................ '
There was an article in one of our papers this week questioning the whole premise of women and children first' and proposing that young adults with a future ahead of them or present responsibilities that should get precedence and certainly come before the elderly of either sex.


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Gilgamesh of Uruk
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PostSubject: Re: Women and Children first   Mon 23 Jan 2012, 00:31

http://www.queensroyalsurreys.org.uk/1661to1966/birkenhead/birkenhead.html

I always understood this to have established the practice.
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Caro
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PostSubject: Re: Women and Children first   Mon 23 Jan 2012, 00:53

Yes, I was about to add that, Gil. Don't know why I missed it out earlier. The first man I heard talking on the radio said it related to the Titanic, but the troop ship Birkenhead is talked about in my book as the originating accident. What was the policy before that - none? Every man for himself? The wrecks I read about always seem to be around the 1870s but there must have been plenty on earlier immigrant ships to America and other countries. What did they do?

It always seems to me that all these drills (not that they had one on the Costa Concordia) would be fairly useless in an actual event. One woman talking said that they had to crawl along dark narrow passages in a sort of upside-down way and it was all quite chaotic and very difficult and frightening. They sometimes ask on planes if you are all right sitting near the exit window and I say yes, although I'd actually be hopeless at this. But I think we will either hit something and all be dead immediately, or things will be a total shambles on the ground after some ghastly landing. The thought that I or anyone will be calmly opening the window and putting on my safety gear seems unlikely to me. And although they always say lights will guide you, why won't the lights go off too?

Back to the subject - it does often seem to me the priorities for saving people aren't quite right. Young fit people are expected to put themselves last when they are really likely to be most useful. My husband takes any risks we have and it seems to me he is much more useful than me. When we had to turn the car going up to the snowfields with rather large drops on the side, he did that while I watched, when really it should have been the other way round. However I didn't offer, and he wouldn't have let me, anyway, having a protective instinct (or upbringing) and not trusting me to do it well.

Cheers, Caro.
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Islanddawn
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PostSubject: Re: Women and Children first   Mon 23 Jan 2012, 04:46

Wouldn't natural instinct play a part? The males, traditionally, are the defenders of the pack, protectors of their young (and the females as the breeders and carers of the young) as they are who will enusre the survival of the pack and the species for another generation.

I wonder also, how much the Christian teaching of helping and protecting the weak is involved?
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Meles meles
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PostSubject: Re: Women and Children first   Mon 23 Jan 2012, 12:32

Regarding the sinking of HMS Birkenhead you have to remember that she was operating as a troopship carrying some 600 soldiers, with just 7 women and 13 children on board (who I believe were not related to any of the men).

She was in calm seas and just two miles off-shore when during the night she struck an uncharted rock. She started to take on water and a hundred or so men were drowned in their berths almost immediately. For about ten minutes she remained impaled on the rock and during this time the only usable boats were launched and the few women and children put into one, while the troops were assembled on the stern (to try and raise the bows by their weight). But she then pulled off the rock, and immediately started to break up. The troops maintained order and discipline as the ship sank.

But here remember they were all serving troops and were under their own officers - so would have been expected to obey orders in exactly the same way as if they were under fire. The order was eventually given for every man to attempt to swin to shore (two miles away) using the flotsam. Most did not make it. But interestingly all the cavalry horses managed to swim ashore except one which had its leg broken while being driven over the side. Also the Birkenhead did not sink entirely - her masts remained above water and 40 men were rescued from her rigging the following day.

I think the "women and children first" thing, was probably deliberately promoted (by Rudyard Kipling amongst others) as part of the jingoistic, imperial tosh, exalting the british redcoat and british tar, so common at the time in popular culture... as such it was probably always largely a myth.


Last edited by Meles meles on Mon 23 Jan 2012, 12:48; edited 1 time in total
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Women and Children first   Mon 23 Jan 2012, 12:37

"Women and children first" was the rule when the British started filling the concentration camps they had just invented in South Africa in 1900. So maybe you have a point, Meles, about its imperialistic origins! Seems to have been a buzz term at the time ...
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Priscilla
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PostSubject: Re: Women and Children first   Mon 23 Jan 2012, 18:08

In a serious crisis the urge to save the young comes to the for. In the latest disaster a couple handed over their baby 0r tried to lhough eventually they made it to a liferaft, In a posst on the other board I related how I ad done this with my daughter who I didn't see until months after. I could have gone with her but had other responsibilty and if she was safe I could face the load.

Before women allowed themselves to be thought weak and helpless - or were forced into this mode, women surely ought as keenly for their offspring, or at least were resiliant enough to sustain them in an on-going crisis. Do you not weep inside at every old documentary showing woman refugees or prisoners with their children? WE can only suppose the anguish of their menfolk.

On the other hand, in the recent flood situation in Pakistan, a young destitute farmer with several children was catching snakes lest they bit his last cow....." We could bear losing a child because we can make another but if the cow goes we are all lost."
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Vizzer
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PostSubject: Re: Women and Children first   Sun 19 Jan 2014, 12:34

@Meles meles wrote:
But here remember they were all serving troops and were under their own officers - so would have been expected to obey orders in exactly the same way as if they were under fire.

Yes - the 'Birkenhead Drill' came about more by accident than intent. The Army soldiers were merely acting under orders and were essentially in combat action mode.

Quote :
I think the "women and children first" thing, was probably deliberately promoted (by Rudyard Kipling amongst others) as part of the jingoistic, imperial tosh, exalting the british redcoat and british tar, so common at the time in popular culture... as such it was probably always largely a myth.

Interestingly, however, the Navy didn't seem to mind that the Birkenhead incident (and the subsequent 'Birkenhead Drill' tradition) was a case of the Army embarrassing the Navy by showing them how it should be done.
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Meles meles
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PostSubject: Re: Women and Children first   Sun 19 Jan 2014, 13:05

Perhaps that's because it was NOT how it should be done. As I recall it was the ship's RN sailors who, realising that the ship was in a fairly busy shipping lane, was expected at her nearby destination, and had got her lifeboats safely away ...  and although impaled on the rock, she was not about to sink... and so in calm, but shark-infested waters, off a barren coast, and with strong coastal currents ... the best option was to take to the rigging, sit out the night, and await the inevitable rescue (which duly happened the next day). So yes I agree the Navy was probably not too upset to see the Army making obvious mistakes and acting a bit 'like cattle'.

I may be wrong but at that time I have a feeling that, due to the different environments in which they worked (ie sailors v soldiers), all ranks in the navy were expected to be able to 'think for themselves and act for the best', at least to a certain degree - they were more "empowered, if you like to use modern language - while rank and file soldiers were just expected to obey orders whatever the situation. At the time HMS Birkenhead sank - in 1852, ie pre Crimean War - although soldiers were no longer quite still seen as 'the scum of the earth,' as in Wellington's time, soldiering in the lower ranks was nevertheless still not seen as a "career" . By contrast however service in the Royal Navy, even entering at the lowest levels, certainly was. Mariners, whether in RN service or not, were deemed to be much-in-demand skilled workers, and accordingly they were paid considerably better than unskilled army squaddies.

PS : Sorry about the long, complex sentences,  and my idiosyncratic punctuation,  .... but nevertheless I expect you get my drift.
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PostSubject: Re: Women and Children first   Sun 19 Jan 2014, 23:12

I get your drift Meles and the 'should' in 'how it should be done' was really a reference to the Birkenhead Drill itself - i.e. the popularisation of the concept of women-and-children-first in case of shipwreck. To expect the women and children passengers to take to the rigging of a sinking ship in the dead of night, however, would seem to be a somewhat perverse expectation.

The fact that the soldiers stood back while the women and children got into the cutter was something which was understandably admired at the time both in the British Isles and elsewhere. Any subsequent mythologising of the Birkenhead drill by the likes of Rudyard Kipling and the Royal Hospital Chelsea etc doesn't detract from the admiration which the Navy shared with the public for the courage (dumb or otherwise) displayed by those particular Percy Pongos on that particular night.
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PostSubject: Re: Women and Children first   Mon 20 Jan 2014, 09:43

During the sinking of the Titanic, Officer Murdoch took the instruction to load the boats as women and children first, while Officer Lightoller interpreted it as women and children only, which is not the same thing.
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Gilgamesh of Uruk
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PostSubject: Re: Women and Children first   Mon 20 Jan 2014, 14:59

Even Lightoller was sending a few crew in each boat - not the best idea to fill them with women & children, especially in an erawhen women were taught to be utterly incapable.
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PostSubject: Re: Women and Children first   Tue 21 Jan 2014, 07:42

When I read about this not long ago, it made me very cross.  Such a waste of life when the boats weren't filled, and calling 14 and 15 year-old boys men and refusing them room was just cruel.  And it just left dozens of families without a breadwinner.  (Although if the quality of women who made their way to NZ in times gone by is any indication, a lot of them were not taught to be incapable at all.  They could walk many miles, milk cows, keep a farm going, travel the world, run successful businesses, etc.)
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PostSubject: Re: Women and Children first   Tue 21 Jan 2014, 09:10

@Gilgamesh of Uruk wrote:
Even Lightoller was sending a few crew in each boat - not the best idea to fill them with women & children, especially in an erawhen women were taught to be utterly incapable.

Of course, Gil, there were crewmen on each boat. Caro, yes many of the boats were launched only partly filled, from memory I believe each boat was capable of holding about 60 people and some were sent away with only 10 or 12 on board.
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