TITANIC-TITANIC.com | Titanic Articles: The Tragic Life Of Joan Wells

BY PHILLIP GOWAN

 

Young Bill Lachman was assured that his fiancée was on the mend when he made the decision to go on a hunting trip in the wilds of Canada. On a hot summer morning in July of 1933 she would receive a letter from him saying that he expected her to be up and about when he got back. But 25-year-old Joan Wells was much too ill to read the letter and it remained unopened until the next day. Her hands would never unfold the sheets that would have been her last communication with the man she loved - and in a sense would die for.

Joan Wells was born on “The Strand” in Newlyn Paul, Cornwall, England on a cold day in late February of 1908. Her parents were Arthur Henry Wells, a railway conductor, and Addie Dart Trevaskis. Less than two years later her brother Ralph Lester Wells arrived. In July of 1910 Addie’s brother Abednego H. Trevaskis arrived in America and continued on to his new home in Akron, Ohio. Arthur Wells followed quickly, arriving on the Majestic on August 11th and during the next year saved the money to send for his young family.

Addie Dart Wells, Joan Wells and Ralph Lester Wells embarked on the Titanic as second class passengers from Southampton. On the night of April 14, Addie strolled the deck of Titanic with another Cornish woman, Emily Richards, and remembered later how cold it seemed. Late that night a jolt awakened her and she dressed the children and prepared to participate in what she thought was a drill. She also commented that she had noticed water coming into her cabin. The family entered lifeboat No. 14 and as they were lowered she noticed an officer holding a gun and threatening some steerage men who had congregated on the deck. After rescue by Carpathia she claimed to have refused to go below, insisting rather to sleep on deck.

Arthur Wells and A.H. Trevaskis met the family in New York where they lodged at the Star Hotel. Within a few days they returned to Akron where Arthur worked as a machinist. Two more sons were born in later years.

Joan Wells was only 4 years old when she survived the Titanic sinking and at first thought it was just a big adventure. But when she arrived on deck the screaming and shoving of the men frightened her into silence. From the lifeboat, Joan and her mother heard the screams for help:

“It was dark. You couldn’t see anything on the water. But as we
rowed along in the lifeboat, you could hear them crying horribly, as
they drowned. I used to hear them always, afterwards, and still do
sometimes, in my dreams. Those terrible cries for help, and no one
to help them.”

Joan Wells graduated from West High School in Akron when she was 15 and two years later went to work as a secretary in the sales division of the B. F. Goodrich Company. In 1932 she met a 29-year-old teacher, Bill Lachman, and the two began a serious courtship and planned to marry in the autumn of 1933. But Joan developed a fever during the summer months of that year and experienced haemorrhaging. Bill Lachman donated blood for a transfusion and Joan seemed to improve afterwards. As the crisis seemed to have passed, he and friends left for a hunting trip in the Canadian woods. Within a few days Joan’s condition worsened and by Sunday, July 9th, the Wells family was frantically attempting to get word to him to return to Akron. Joan required another transfusion and this time it was a friend of young Lachman who donated it. But all efforts failed and infection spread through her body. By Monday the family knew that if Bill Lachman were located, the message would be to return for his fiancée's funeral.

Joan Wells died of “pelvic cellulitis and peritonitis” on Tuesday, July 10, 1933. Local health officials were not satisfied with the diagnosis and pressed for a further root cause of the fever and infection that had taken her life. It was then that her physician advised that the condition was “puerperal.” Joan Wells had been in the early stages of pregnancy.

When Bill Lachman returned to Akron his bereavement was intensified by undercurrents of anger in the Wells family, being partially blamed for Joan’s death. But vague allusions to the trouble in articles appearing in Akron newspapers soon disappeared. His life went on and he remained in the Akron area where he married twice and had children by both wives. He died in Mogadore, Ohio in 1994 at the age of 90. His daughter relates that there was only a vague knowledge within the family about her father’s having been engaged to a Titanic survivor and it was never discussed openly.

In Joan Wells’ obituary it was stated that she cheated death on Titanic. But death would not be cheated a second time. Joan was buried in Mt. Peace Cemetery. Her mother died in May of 1954 and was buried near her. Her brother Ralph Lester Wells was the last “Titanic” member of the family and died on September 27, 1972.

 

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