John Starr March was employed as a mail clerk aboard the RMS Titanic on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York. He had, with him, a gold cased pocket watch produced by the Elgin National Watch Company. His story, like many others, is intriguing, but also very sad.

After the death of March’s wife in 1911, his two young daughters pleaded with their father to find a job on dry land, for obvious reasons, but the opportunity to run the mailroom on the greatest ship ever built was seemingly too good to pass up.

Mail clerk might sound like a fairly menial occupation, but it was in fact a plum assignment with a rigorous selection process that picked only the best. The pay was good, with salaries between $1,000 and $1,500 a year. That was a lot of money back in 1912.

It’s worth mentioning that before taking up his position on The Titanic, March had worked in ocean liner mailrooms for several years and quite unbelievably was involved in no fewer than eight separate nautical emergencies. You’d think that would have been enough to point him towards dry land!

Built by Harland and Wolff in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the Titanic was at the time celebrated as the biggest man-made moving object the world had ever seen and was said to be “unsinkable”.  But as we all know, at 11:40 pm on 14th April 1912, in the North Atlantic Ocean, the ship hit an iceberg, and just two hours and forty minutes later she sank four kilometres to the seafloor. Of the 2,205 crew and passengers, 1,500 perished due to a lack of lifeboats and an evacuation that could only be described as complete chaos.

John Starr March was one of those that didn’t make it. His body was recovered from the ocean and it was then that his pocket watch was discovered along with a fountain pen, diamond tie-pin, and gold ring.

Titanic Watch

The watch stopped at 1:27 am, one hour and forty-seven minutes after Titanic hit the iceberg.  So what did March do during this time?  Well apparently as soon as they realized the ship was in trouble, he and his four colleagues ran to the mailroom, which was situated at the waterline near the bow, but when they got there, it was already ankle-deep in freezing cold seawater.  Unperturbed, they set about hauling two hundred bags of mail, weighing 50kg apiece, up to the main deck in an effort to keep it dry until help arrived. They kept working as long as they could but the help they waited for never materialised. The heroic efforts of March and his team were witnessed by survivors who reported seeing mailbags floating in the inky-black and eerily still waters of the North Atlantic, after the sinking.

March’s watch was returned to his two daughters and is now proudly on display at the National Postal Museum – a small, but historically significant gold tribute, to a man who did his duty until his time was up.

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