Recalling One of the Last Titanic Survivors:
Winnifred (Quick) Van Tongerloo
The Titanic Historical Society mourns the loss of Winnifred (Quick) Van Tongerloo formerly of Warren, Michigan died at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing on July 4, 2002. She was one of the four remaining known Titanic survivors. There is one left in the US and two in Britain, all are ladies.
Her biography was written in 1993 by George Behe and appeared in Vol. 17, No 2, 1993, The Titanic Commutator.
When eight-year-old Winnifred Quick said goodbye to her father before he left to emigrate to America, she had no idea that when they were reunited the eyes of the world would be on them.
Frederick Quick was a plasterer who worked with his father in Plymouth, England. Fred married Jane (Jennie) Richards in 1902 when she was twenty-two years old. The couple had two daughters, Winnifred Vera (born in 1904) and Phyllis (born in 1909).
The family lived in Britain until 1910 when Fred heard of the good life that could be had in America if a man put his mind (and back) into it. Deciding to start over in a new country, Fred made arrangements to travel alone and establish a home for his family In Detroit, Michigan. Mrs. Quick and the
children meanwhile, would continue to live with her mother in Plymouth until Fred felt sufficiently established and financially able to send for them.
In the spring of 1912, Mrs. Quick got her two girls ready to travel and packed several trunks with all the family's possessions: heirlooms, wearing apparel, blankets and a three-year supply of bedding. Soon after booking their passage to America, Mrs. Quick was notified that their intended steamer's
sailing had been canceled due to a coal strike. All was not lost because she and her daughters were transferred to a new and bigger ship scheduled to sail April 10.
Mrs. Quick was unhappy with this arrangement and made another trip to the shipping office to complain to the young man behind the counter, "I don't want to sail on a new ship, I want one that has been tried and true and tested."
Being assured that nothing would happen, Mrs. Quick resigned herself to revised travel arrangements and returned home. On sailing day they said good-bye to their relatives in Plymouth and took the train to Southampton and boarded Titanic, the vessel that would soon reunite them with husband and
father. Mrs. Quick was proud to be a passenger on the largest ship in the world and on her maiden voyage, too!
The first four days of the voyage went smoothly, the sea was calm and the air brisk, which stimulated Mrs. Quick's appetite both for food and for participating in the deck games and other activities. The Quicks often relaxed in deck chairs, braving the chill in order to enjoy the clear weather.
Despite the calm seas, however, young Winnifred was seasick a good deal of the time. It Is quite possible her illness was aggravated by the odor of fresh paint. The smell was so strong in their new stateroom that Winnifred spent much of her time wandering through the ship rather than be cooped up inside
on F deck. One memory that Winnifred carried was the grand staircase and its runner of red carpet that covered the center of the stairway. Her mother also took special note, it impressed her so much that she mentioned it to her granddaughters years later.
The evening of April 14, 1912, ended relatively early for Mrs. Quick and her two girls, who were worn out from the day's activities. The family retired around 9 p.m., and as usual, Mrs. Quick left the cabin door ajar to admit some fresh air while the family slept. She and her daughters were sound asleep
and did not awaken when the ship brushed against an iceberg at 11:40 p.m.
The first inkling that something was wrong came when a lady passenger rapped on their cabin door and said there had been an accident and that she should get her family dressed and go up on deck. Mrs. Quick asked the woman if the accident was serious, to which she replied no.
Not having felt the collision, Mrs. Quick was not particularly alarmed and didn't even get out of bed. After a time she did (although at a leisurely pace) and put a dark skirt on over her nightclothes. More time passed before she finally got around to awakening Winnifred to dress her. At this point,
a steward knocked and stuck his head Into the cabin. Appalled at how slowly Mrs. Quick's preparations to leave were going, the steward decided not to sugarcoat his instructions. "For God's sake, get up!" he cried. "Don't stop to dress. Just get your lifebelts on. The ship has struck an
iceberg. It's sinking!"
At last comprehending the urgency she threw on a thin raincoat over her nightclothes, around her neck she fastened a little chain attached to small gold purse containing four English sovereigns, she wrapped Winnifred in a light coat, snatched up Phyllis who was still asleep throwing a shawl around her
before suddenly remembering a special Item she didn't want to leave behind.
Reaching underneath her pillow, Mrs. Quick withdrew a tiny tin box (originally for wax vestas [matches]) which she kept there every night. Inside was a small leaf bearing a message which her husband had picked into it with a pin "I love you." Tucking it safely in her pocket she clutched Phyllis
in one arm and took Winnifred by the hand leaving the stateroom and walked toward the wide stairway to the upper decks.
Five flights later, they came out onto an open deck where many people had gathered. Walking over to the railing Mrs. Quick leaned out and looked alongside the dark hull at the lit rows of portholes forward slanting dramatically down toward the sea. Clearly the accident was serious and she realized she
must get her two girls and herself into a lifeboat.
Turning away she walked toward an iron ladder which led up to A Deck. A gentleman standing nearby realized the young woman with the two little girls could use some help and he asked if he could be of assistance. Mrs. Quick asked him to hold Phyllis while she put on her lifebelt and the gentleman cradled
the sleeping girl in his arms as she did. At the same time, another man began fastening a lifebelt around Winnifred. When she realized that she was wearing a lifebelt, she concluded that it had been put on her because she would soon be required to jump overboard and she became hysterical, crying and
screaming, fearful and terrified of what she imagined was about to happen.
The gentleman meanwhile, waited for the young mother to ascend the ladder before he handed Phyllis up to her. It was with difficulty, but he succeeded getting the hysterical Winnifred where her mother and sister were waiting.
The Good Samaritan who helped Mrs. Quick and her children is unknown, the grateful mother never saw him again after she and her daughters reached the top of the ladder.
There was no confusion on A Deck. Men were standing around watching the proceedings, many were helping women and children into the lifeboats. Holding Phyllis tightly In one arm, Mrs. Quick led the badly frightened Winnifred toward boat No. 11 in the last stages of loading passengers.
The sailor In charge watched Mrs. Quick approaching and addressed her with the chilling words: "Only room for the children."
"No," replied Mrs. Quick. "Either we go together or we stay together."
Faced with a devoted mother who was clearly determined to protect her children at all costs he relented. Phyllis and Winnifred were literally tossed in, Winnifred losing her slippers in the process. After seeing her children safely into the boat, Mrs. Quick climbed in. Apparently the last person allowed
to enter, a crew member announced with finality, "That's enough. No more can get in."