June 20th, 2007  
Del Boy


WOMEN AND CHILDREN FIRST - the origin of this famous expression stems from the loss of HMS Birkenhead in 1852.

The ship split in two, and the captain ordered 'Everyman for himself'. But the commanding officer of my regiment 74 Highlanders (Highland Light Infantry) ordered his men to stand fast on parade while the ship went down so that the women and children were not put at risk. All the women and children were saved, all the soldiers were lost in the shark infested waters.

Women and children first.

The Birkenhead was a British iron, paddle-wheel frigate of 1400 tons. She was built in 1845 by Laird and converted into a troopship in 1848. She changed her name from Vulcan to the Birkenhead .
In December of 1851, the Birkenhead sailed from Cork in Ireland, under the command of Captain Robert Salmond. She left Simon's Town on the morning of the 25th February, after loading 350 tons of coal and provisions. She had 638 people on board, including 20 women and children, 138 ship's officers and crew as well as 480 army officers and drafted men to aid Lieutenant-General Sir Harry Smith in the Eighth Frontier War being waged at the Cape (East London).

At about 02h00 on the 26th February, she struck a submerged rock off Danger Point and in an instant the lower deck flooded, drowning many men in their bunks. All the surviving men, officers, women and children went up on deck. Lieutenant -Colonel Seton of the 74th Foot Regiment took charge of all the military personnel. The men were commanded to stand drawn up in line and to await orders and 60 men were sent to man the pumps.

The Captain made a grave mistake when he ordered the Birkenhead to be put astern; an action which caused the hull to rip open, further. The sudden inrush of water swamped the boiler fires and the vessel began to break up: in its collapse the funnel crushed the paddle-wheel lifeboat, killing the men who were trying to free it for launching.

Lack of maintenance and thick layers of paint frustrated the men who were trying to launch the boats. Eventually two cutters and a gig were launched and the women and children were rowed away from the wreck to safety. The horses were cut loose and Captain Salmond shouted to his men that everyone who could swim, must save himself by jumping overboard and to make for the boats.

At this order, Lieutenant-Colonel Seton commanded his men to stand fast, for should they make for the boats, they would endanger the lives of the women and children.

The Birkenhead has secured a place in history due to the gallantry of her men, who, in the face of great danger, allowed the women and children to escape in the boats before trying to save themselves. "The Birkenhead Drill" - Women and children first!

The Birkenhead broke up rapidly. Twenty-five minutes after she struck the rock, only the topmast and topsail yard were visible above the water, with 50 men clinging to them. The bow broke after 12 minutes, and then the vessel broke in two abaft the engine-room, the stern sank immediately.

In the tragedy 445 People lost their lives. 193 People, including all the women and children, survived.

The wreck of the Birkenhead lies in 30 metres of water.

June 23rd, 2007  
Very interesting. I didn't know about that. But I know about children and women first. But I don't know where is that coming from, tho. Thanks, Del Boy.
June 23rd, 2007  
Cheers for that DB.
June 23rd, 2007  
Del Boy
In 1953, when i did my basic training at Maryhill Barracks, Glasgow, and at Gareloch Head, a time of conscription, this was held up to recruits as the discipline expected of them.

The other was that if your squad NCO was marching you towards the edge of a cliff and gave no order to turn or halt - over you went. We had a funny occasion when Jamieson MM was marching us off the square and heading for the barracks perimeter wall, from distance, and a dog barked outside the wall; we halted immaculately, front noses to the wall, and when Jamieson caught up with us he wanted to know what the f*** we were up to. Mind you - he never swore, I must say. He never needed to.

June 24th, 2007  
true British grit
September 29th, 2007  
Miss Janis
Interesting, may I ask. Why do women and children need to be first? Are they more important than a soldier's life? What make you guys agreed that children and women come first before anyone else.
October 4th, 2007  
Del Boy
Honour. That's the reason.
October 4th, 2007  
I suppose equality should ideally be applied to everything. However, there may be practical reasons why women and children should have preference in some scenerios such as a sinking ship for example. They take up less room in the lifeboats and the children are less able to take care of themselves.

Although probably impractical to implement, I have wondered how many people could have potentially got away in the Titanic lifeboats if it were lightest or smallest first for all the crew and passengers?

Isn't it interesting that a human has no right to live up to 9 months from conception, then for the next 16 years or so has a greater right to live than an older person?
October 5th, 2007  
Del Boy
Perseus - your last point is very well made.
November 23rd, 2007  
Del Boy
Here's another point Perseus.

We casually murder babes during the first months of their existance; we legally kill of old people in hospitals etc., by starvation and thirst (agony), without permission of their families being necessary(and now NURSES want the right to do this); but we get out onto the streets to demonstrate against conflicts and defence systems; and they will not allow us the right to legal euthanasia when we feel we have had enough of terminal illness or similar! Very strange.

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