Not many people have heard of the SS Norge disaster of 1904. Some 635 people died in the shipwreck—the worst Danish civil disaster of all time.
Ironically, if lessons had been learned regarding safety and survival on the SS Norge, we might never have even heard of the Titanic. My great-grandfather Eskild Alfred Eskildsen, from Denmark, was a passenger on the Norge.
He left for America, leaving his wife and six children behind at the last minute. This was partly due to the fact that his wife Agnes was pregnant with my grandma Cecilia. If she and the other children had gone, they likely would have been lost as only 30 of the 240 children on board survived.
The ship went aground near a tiny islet called Rockall, 280 miles off the coast of Great Britain, on June 28, 1904. When the ship hit the Rockall reef, it sank in only 20 minutes. People quickly knew that the ship was sinking. Many panicked, sobbed, and fell to their knees praying.
But rather than panic, Eskild began to do things that were helpful and selfless, if not heroic.
Here are some lessons we can learn from him that might help us to be heroes when a Titanic sized disaster strikes:
ONE: Put Others First
Instead of trying to board one of the lifeboats, Eskild helped others board them. When all lifeboats were launched, he stayed on the Norge assisting others. He helped several women put on their lifebelts. When there were no more lifebelts, he gave women wooden benches to cling to. While other crew members were saving their own necks, he helped others.
When it became apparent there was nothing left he could do and the ship was nearly under the waves, Eskild dove into the frigid water. Then he swam out past where others could reach lifeboats, especially women with their water-soaked garments. Only then did he seek safety in a lifeboat.
What would you or I do in such a horrible circumstance? It’s hard to say until the moment comes. We would probably live that experience the way we live our lives—either me first or others first.
Heroes put others first—in disaster and in daily life.
TWO: Don’t Give Up
Eskild swam out and reached lifeboat #4 which had only 19 onboard and a capacity of 28. But when he tried to climb aboard, the first officer who had taken charge beat his grasping hands with an oar. Just like the Titanic disaster years later, people feared that allowing others refuge would jeopardize their own survival.
But despite the beating he didn’t let go. When the officer turned his attention to piloting the boat, others helped pull Eskild aboard. His fingers never worked right for the rest of his life.
How many times do we give up just before a breakthrough? How many times have we let go of a dream, a goal, or a vision and allowed it to sink into oblivion when the going got tough?
Heroes don’t give up, not matter how difficult things become.
In 2004, the 100th anniversary of the disaster, a comprehensive book was written titled Titanic’s Predecessor: The S/S Norge Disaster of 1904. There are quite a few references to my great grandpa in the book.
In my next article you can read what happened next. Click HERE for Part 2.