Unlike the Slades, twenty-three-year-old Irish fireman John Coffey managed to board Titanic at Southampton. However, once the ship reached Ireland, he deserted- thus avoiding the final, doomed leg of the voyage and joining the “Just Missed it” club.
Like two of the Slade brothers, Coffey had previously served as a fireman on the Olympic. Again, like the brothers, he signed up for Titanic at Southampton on April 6th. However, unlike the Slades, Coffey managed to make it safely aboard the ship at Southampton to begin its maiden voyage.
However, when the ship docked at Queenstown in Ireland, Coffey deserted. The reasons why he jumped ship are open to speculation. Some say Coffey had a foreboding of the impending disaster, but it is perhaps more likely that he never intended to sail on with Titanic past Ireland. He could merely have wanted passage back home. In any case, Coffey did not remain in Queenstown for long. Shortly after his desertion of Titanic, Coffey signed on with the Mauretania, according to a report in The Courier on Monday, April 29.
Coffey continued with his career at sea as a ship’s fireman. However, the next time he made the news was in 1941, when The Daily Mail, a British newspaper, described how he was rescued after falling into the river At Hull! The newspaper recorded how Coffey’s rescuer, a Mr. James Bielby, a fellow fireman, was given a royal humane society award for rescuing Coffey one November night in 1940 when he was in “imminent danger of drowning.” It seems Coffey was a non-swimmer, making his desertion of the liner doubly lucky because, as a non-swimmer, he would have stood no chance of survival on Titanic.
Crew aside, the last student of Escoffier had a narrow escape when he was booked to travel on Titanic to a new life in America.