Amidst all the tragedy, preventable mistakes, and stories of heroism surrounding the fateful maiden voyage of the Titanic, there is the true life miracle of how the last man to leave the ship survived against all the odds.
Retired Military Colonel Archibald Gracie bravely helped others to get into the life boats until the last one was launched. As a first-class passenger he could have secured himself a place, but as a man of integrity and a deep convictions of faith he observed the unwritten rule of chivalry, ‘women and children first’. ‘Archie’ remained on deck as the ill-fated Titanic slowly sunk over a period of two hours and 40 minutes.
As the ship went down, Gracie jumped off the stern into the freezing water. He was intending to swim free of the ship, but the suction caused by the huge vessel, the length of three football fields, pulled him down to the dark ocean depths. Many people were drowned in this way, but the Colonel received a succession of miracles which kept him alive.
The Truth About The Titanic
Col Gracie’s book on the incident entitled, ‘The Truth About The Titanic’. Was published after his death.
Writing of the disaster he said,
“I cannot regard it as a mere coincidence that on this particular Sunday night I was prompted to retire early for nearly three hours of invigorating sleep, whereas an accident occurring at midnight of any of the four preceding days would have found me mentally and physically tired.”
Gracie believed that God gave him the extra sleep as the first step of preparation to face the impending disaster. He believed in ‘prayer and works combined’. When the last lifeboat left, the seawater was just ten feet from the upper deck. Gracie began to pray. He asked for God’s protection and help, knowing that it would be impossible to survive the freezing waters without a lifeboat.
The Colonel was soon in the water, struggling to survive as the ship sank, dragging hundreds of passengers down with the accompanying suction.
“Down, down, I went. It seemed a great distance. There was a very noticeable pressure upon my ears, though there must have been plenty of air that the ship carried down with it. When under water I retained a sense of general direction, and, as soon as I could do so, swam away from the starboard side of the ship, as I knew my life depended upon it. I swam with all my strength, and I seemed endowed with an extra supply for the occasion…”
“…I held my breath for what seemed an interminable time until I could scarcely stand it any longer, but, with renewed determination and set jaws, I swam on. Just at the moment I thought that for lack of breath I would have to give in, I seemed to have been provided with a second wind, and it was just then that the thought that this was my last moment came upon me. I wanted to convey the news of how I died to my loved ones at home.”
The Colonel received a ‘second wind’ just at the point of exhaustion. Gracie believed that God had given him a supernatural strength which enabled him to swim for the surface even though he had run out of air and human strength.
Mrs Gracie is Awoken to Pray
Unknown to the Colonel, just as he was praying for his family at home, his wife was awake and praying for him. Mrs Gracie wrote,
“After retiring, being unable to rest, I questioned myself several times over wondering what it was that prevented the customary long and peaceful slumber, lately en- joyed… A voice in reply seemed to say, ‘On your knees and pray.’ Instantly, I literally obeyed. The thought then flashed through my mind, ‘Archie is praying for me.’”
Back in the North Atlantic, Gracie was swimming for his life,
“With this second wind under water there came to me a new lease of life and strength, until finally I noticed by the increase of light that I was drawing near to the surface.”
Reaching the surface, he could hear the terrifying screams of thousands of drowning people. He was close to an upturned lifeboat and helped a man struggling in the water to get on top. The man then helped Gracie, and the two of them helped a number of other men to balance on top of the upturned raft until it was full.
“Every moment of time during the many experiences of that night, it seemed as if I had all the God-given physical strength and courage needed for each emergency, and never suffered an instant from any exhaustion, or required the need of a helping hand. The only time of any stress whatever was during the swim, just described, under water, at the moment when I gained my second wind, which brought me to the surface…”
The small number of men on top of the upturned lifeboat began to pray The Lord’s Prayer together.
“Our voices with one accord burst forth in repeating that great appeal to the Creator and Preserver of all mankind, and the only prayer that everyone of us knew and could unite in, thereby manifesting that we were all sons of God and brothers to each other whatever our sphere in life or creed might be.”
The men were picked up three and a half hours later by the RMS Carpathia, the only ship to respond to Titanic’s SOS calls.
Colonel Gracie owed his life to a number of miraculous events. His book on the disaster was published posthumously, but the editor said that when he met the Colonel he was a changed man who had a new perspective on life. He wrote that Gracie had, “descended as distinctly into hell as any human being would care to acknowledge, and had risen again from the dead”. This had changed him so profoundly that he came back to a world, “…which could never again be quite the same to him… He had been so near to the end of dreams, had seen the years flash past so suddenly into true perspective, that it was difficult to resume the trivial round and reconstitute a mental world in which details should acquire again their former pretence of importance.”
Gracie realised that this ‘pretence of importance’ was what was really wrong with the world. In the light of God, eternity, and man’s purpose in life, the trivial things which fill so much of our lives so much of the time blind us to God’s love and his desire that we should dedicate our lives to loving our Creator and loving the people that surround us. The desire for wealth, success, and constant pleasure was keeping people from knowing the true wealth and pleasure that comes only from knowing Christ and his love for us.
A Succession of Miracles
The miracle of Colonel Gracie’s escape was not just one event, it was the sum of a number of small miracles, one after the other.
First, Gracie was not a young man. He was a retired Colonel. Second, he was not a well man and suffered from the debilitating effects of diabetes, the disease which did later end his life. Third, he stayed on board too long. Others jumped off the ship earlier and were picked up by escaping lifeboats, but by staying until the end he was sucked under with the sinking ship and nearly drowned, but when he was almost out of breath, he was given a ‘second wind’ and was able to swim to the surface. Fourth, Mrs Gracie became involved hundreds of miles away on the US mainland. She was awoken in the night and ‘told to pray’ by God. Gracie then came to the surface unharmed despite the ocean around him being filled with jagged debris. Fifth, he then found the only item left able to preserve his life, an upturned lifeboat. Back in America, Mrs Gracie continued to pray until she felt assurance in her heart that her husband was safe. The final (6th) miracle was that the sea remained calm for several hours until the RMS Carpathia turned up. The men were rescued from the raft just as the sea began to swell. They explained afterwards that they performed a delicate balancing act for several hours, standing knee deep in freezing water and shifting their feet constantly to keep the raft balanced to avoid capsizing. Had the sea begun to swell any earlier, the raft would have overturned and the men on it would have died.
Colonel and Mrs Gracie testified after the event that they were certain that God had miraculously answered their prayers and saved Archie’s life. They had been churchgoing Christians for many years and when faced with impending disaster, their first thought was to pray. The Bible says;
Jonah 2:2; “In my great trouble I cried to the Lord and he answered me; from the depths of death I called, and Lord, you heard me!” (Living Bible)
Acts 2:21; “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (NIV)
Story by Ralph Burden