[1920s transatlantic ocean liner: RMS Transylvania, cruise ship with the Anchor Line.] Long Typed Letter from ‘Alex’ to his parents, written en route from Glasgow to New York, with account and diagrams of a sea rescue, and postcard of the liner.

[1920s transatlantic ocean liner: TSS Transylvania (1925), cruise ship with the Anchor Line, requisi tioned by the Royal Navy in the Second World War, and torpedoed by the Germans in 1940
RMS Transylvania
Publication details: 
Letter from 'S. S. Transylvania' (en route from Glasgow to New York), 24, 26 and 29 November 1928. Postcard undated, but contemporaneous.
SKU: 25434

TSS Transylvania (the prefix stands for ‘Twin Screw Steamship’) was built in Glasgow for the Anchor Line and launched in 1925. She had three funnels, but two were redundant, only serving to render the ship more attractive to prospective passengers. In 1940 she requisitioned by the Royal Navy, and the following year she was torpedoed by the Germans, sinking with the loss of 36 lives. The letter is 13pp, 12mo; with neat single-space typing, on thirteen leaves. It contains three line diagrams, and on a separate 12mo leaf is an ink drawing, with captions, titled ‘As the Herrewich [sic] appeared when we last saw her’. Also present is a sepia postcard of ‘T.S.S. TRANSYLVANIA’. The letter and diagram are in fair condition, aged and worn but with text clear and entire. The postcard is good, with light aging. Signed in type ‘Alex.’ With manuscript diagrams and salutation to ‘Dear Mother and Father’. A well written missive (the use of catch-words implies a good education), beginning: ‘It is surprising that now, more than five days after leaving Glasgow, we should be only about 1000 miles from home. The explanation is probably well known to you all: but although you will have had newspaper accounts of the great storm and of the wreck we stood by, I’m quite sure that some amplifications in the form of our personal experiences will be both welcome and of interest. In the first place let me hasten to assure you that none of us came to any harm. In the main, we are all well. Mary has not been able to be out of bed much so far, but, on the other hand, she has been free from sickness - which is a very remarkable thing considering our experiences.’ After news of ‘Anne’ and ‘Virginia’ (‘Mary’ and ‘Aunt Mima’ are also referred to) he reports that they ‘arrived at Moville about midnight on Monday and spent a great night in Lough Foyle. At 10.00 o’clock next morning the Londonderry tender came alongside and we took 350 passengers and their baggage on board - making the total passenger compliment about 1100. There are about 25 in the first class.’ He finds the Transylvania ‘a splendid ship for watching the sea from. The forward extension of B. deck in front of the bridge is very clear of truck, and there are no boats on it as there are on the others’. The account of the journey continues, followed by a seven-page account of the storm and rescue, beginning: ‘In the evening of Tuesday it was apparent that the sea was rising higher and higher, as was the wind: and through the night it was obvious that something unusual in the way of weather was blowing up. / Now, I’ve thought previously that we have been in Atlantic storms before. Two years ago on the “Cameronia” was a bad time: and one day last year the “Caledonia” was thrown about considerably: but our [in pencil ‘my’] farthest stretch of imagination - even my wildest fears - have never pictured anyting so [in pencil ‘as’] tremendous as we awoke [in pencil ‘the situation’] to on Wednesday morning.’ He gives a vivid description of the ship ‘riding out the storm magnificently’, as he is caught by ‘plants, flowerpots, chairs and so on’: ‘The second and third class passengers were locked in and battened down for about two days. The stern of the ship was almost completely under water, and the hatchways to the steward’s quarters were stove in during the night and all the stewards woke up to find themselves invaded by a foot or two of water.’ The storm subsides and she comes across the wreck of a ‘large German tramp’ he calls the ‘Herrenwich’, ‘a poignant and pathetic spectacle; and more so was the view we had of the hapless crew clinging to what was left on the bare decks. We gradually got the story bit by bit, as it filtered through the bridge, where it was picked up, I suppose, by signals. A great wave had landed on the “Herrenwich”, and had stove in the hatch of No. 3 hold, on the forward well deck. This hold was full of water, and the restraining bulkheads were bulging. The captain sent out his S. O. S. and immediately there - after another sea came on board and carried off bodily the bridge, the wireless, the wireless room and all the boats save one, which was stove in. The captain and a quartermaster were swept overboard with the bidge and were lost immediately.’ He describes ‘a masterly exposition, magnificently executed, of the tactics of sea rescue. It was obviously impossible to go right up to the ship, but sometimes we were not more than 100 yards away and communication by megaphone was possible. It was equally impossible, for us simply to take up a position on the nether side and so act as a breakwater. The manoeuvre which was carried out time after time, therefore, was to circle the wreck as quickly as possible and to drift past her on the weather side, and so give her a certain degree of intermittent protection. This meant that twice in every circuit the captain had to bring the “Transylvania” broadside on to the seas, and every time this happened there came the sickening sense of going over on our beam ends - as I believe, many less seaworthy and splendid ships would have done. And each time, of course, until everything was secured, anything movable was thrown about in the wildest way. Oil was poured on the water with each circuit, and the difference it made was wonderful.’ The seven-page account of the storm and rescue ends with the information that ‘the bridge is 62 feet from the waterline, and, when we were in the trough, 19 out of every 20 waves were seen to be on a level with, or higher than, the bridge’. It reflects: ‘I’ve often told myself that I wanted to experience a real Atlantic storm. Now I have experienced it. I’d like it again, but never again would I like to take Mary and the children into it.’ The letter finishes with two two-page updates, from 26 and 29 November, the last beginning with the information that the ship has ‘passed Nantucket light ship and may therefore expect to reach quarantine to-night’. See Image.