The Titanic Connection
John (Sergeant, Sarge, Serge) Cargill(1892 - 1980)
John Cargill was born in Gourdon in 1892. After leaving school he worked on a succession of fishing boats, until the 9th February 1912, when he signed up to the Cunard Line as a quartermaster (helmsman) on the Carpathia.
The Carpathia was the first vessel to respond to the SOS from the Titanic, the largest passenger vessel of its time, deemed to be unsinkable, and built at the Harland and Woolf shipbuilding yard in Belfast.
On April 14th 1912 the Titanic hit an iceberg, south of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. The Carpathia responded to the distress signals, and was the first ship on the scene, but it took four hours to reach the area, by which time the Titanic had sunk beneath the waves, putting 1,500 lives in jeopardy.
Along with the crew of the Carpathia, John Cargill set about rescuing passengers from the lifeboats of the Titanic and from the sea. He described the scenes he witnessed
“It was pathetic. People were dressed in everything from fur coats to pyjamas. We saw a man in the water clutching two children - a boy and a girl. They had frozen to death”
Sacks were lowered for the children and babies to haul them aboard, and one of the youngsters was reunited with John, many years later.
That night John and the crew of the Carpathia rescued:
- 202 first class passengers
- 115 second class passengers
- 178 third class passengers
- 4 Officers
- 206 members of the Titanic crew
The survivors were taken to New York, bodies were buried at sea, and the Carpathia resumed her Mediterranean journey.
After the tragedy, John Cargill and the rest of the crew received a medal for their part in the rescue, known as the Titanic Medal. John ended up fighting in the trenches of France during the First World War, and was promoted to the rank of sergeant - which resulted in him receiving his well known nickname of “Sarge” He received a Gallantry Card for heroism on the battlefield and the Military Medal.
He went back to sea and worked as a fisherman, and when the Second World War broke out in 1939 he became a leading seaman in the Royal Navy. He was based at Dover on the minesweeper HMS Clythness, and won the Distinguished Service Medal (DSM) for his part in the blockade of Zeebrugge in Belgium. He was also involved in the evacuation from Dunkirk.
He returned to his native Gourdon and worked as a fisherman, and died in 1980.
Footnote (added December 2015)
John Cargill featured prominently in the BBC program Antiques Roadshow which was recorded at Balmoral and broadcast on Sunday December 13 2015.
Mr Cargill's medals were taken by grandson Mr John Henderson of Invergordon for appraisal by arms and militaria expert Mark Smith.
- The photograph of Mr Cargill wearing his Carpatia medal and service ribbons was shown in the broadcast. His wife Mary also appears in the photograph.
- Mark Smith described the medals as the most amazing group of medals he had ever seen. The group of medal ribbons is shown below and the medals are from left to right, top to bottom
- Royal Navy Distinguished Service Medal
- Military Medal 1st World War
- 1914 - 1915 Star
- 1914 -1920 British War Medal
- Allied Victory Medal
- 1939 - 1945 Star
- Atlantic Star
- 1945 War Medal
In 1979 Brian Johnston brought the BBC programme "Down Your Way" to Gourdon and Bervie. During the programme John Cargill was interviewed and he gave a fascinating first hand account of the Titanic rescue and his life in the Black Watch. A recording of the interview is available here:
A clip of Sarge's Medals being evaluated on the BBC's Antiques Roadshow in 2015 can be watched below:
In 2017, Gourdon Primary School pupils prepared a presentation celebrating Sarge's life. To download a copy, please click here.