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Titanic Centenary 2012 by David Meikle

David MeikleIntroduction

Hello, my name is David Meikle. I am an author and poet from Winchester in Hampshire. I found lots of fascinating material on Andrew's site, and thought I would contribute. I composed the script for the Titanic 100 commemorative event in Southampton on April 10th. It was held beside the exact berth used by Titanic - exactly 100 years since the liner left for New York via Cherbourg and Queenstown. More than 700 descendants of passengers and crew attended, and it was a really poignant occasion. TV presenter Fred Dinenage hosted the event, and read out my 10 chapters. I tried to make the work different, by writing in the present tense and describing life on board. Also, I wrote about the devastating effect on Southampton, where entire streets lost breadwinners, leaving hundreds of grief-stricken families. The memorial event was hosted at Southampton Docks by Southampton Solent University with assistance from ITV Meridian..

If you have any questions about the chapters or the event itself please email info@cleverwriting.co.uk. I'd be delighted to provide more information.


The host of the event, Fred Dinenage, at the rehearsal with cameraman Mick Hopley and writer David Meikle (far right).

















Above: The host of the event, Fred Dinenage, at the rehearsal with cameraman Mick Hopley and writer David Meikle (far right).


The Voyage Begins

“The civilised world is suffering from the shock of a huge calamity, the sorrow attending which is brought home with particular force to our own town of Southampton.

The loss of the White Star liner Titanic is a disaster of a magnitude which is unparalleled in the annals of the Mercantile Marine.”

That report in the Hampshire Independent. Let’s return to the day when the Titanic left this great port and city.

April the 10th, 1912.  7.30 am. The weather is cold, crisp and clear in Southampton. The sea is calm. Captain Edward John Smith boards RMS Titanic, the pride of the White Star Line. The crew, from stokers to stewards, forms a long, straggling procession. Once on board, they take up their positions on the sleek new liner.

All supplies have been loaded. 75,000 pounds of fresh meat and 11,000 pounds of fish cram the large refrigerators and store rooms.

Approaching noon. Hustle and bustle all around berth 44. Thousands of spectators wave and jostle for position.  Some are happy, smiling and enjoying the occasion.  Others are weeping and wondering when they will see their loved ones again.
On the water, the tugs Albert Edward, Hercules, Vulcan, Ajax, Hector and Neptune surround the massive ship. Their whistles are suddenly drowned out by the Titanic's own whistle.  Three times, the eerie blast echoes across Southampton. 
Titanic towers over the docks.  Her four funnels – three real, the other a dummy - are gleaming and starting to produce puffs of dark grey smoke. 48,000 tons of state-of-the-art ship, lovingly crafted at Harland and Wolff in Belfast.   Picture her now, on that day exactly 100 years ago, dwarfing every other vessel.
On board: 1316 passengers and 913 crew.  They're from all walks of life.   The first class passengers will be chattering enthusiastically and perhaps looking forward to a sumptuous dinner.  The crew will be checking and double checking everything that needs to be checked for an Atlantic crossing.

Not on board, the Slade brothers: three Irish stokers. They have one too many in the Grapes pub and miss the sailing.
Down below, in steerage, entire families are hoping for a new life in the New World.  They've sold all their belongings, and are looking forward to a fresh start. 
For some, it is a business trip.  Other passengers are settling down for a voyage of leisure.  In steerage, they just want to reach New York, find work and feed their children.
After a final frenzy of activity on the dock side and on the water, Titanic is eased gently from her berth. 

Titanic’s movement causes mooring ropes on the liner New York to snap. The tug Vulcan saves the day, taking the New York under tow…..the liners miss each other by four feet.

The backgrounds of those on board Titanic matter no more.   Millionaires, Broadway producers, cooks and labourers.  They sail now......as one.

“Now she sails…..they would be filled with dread
If they knew the perils that lay ahead.”


Luxury at Sea

The Titanic is a floating five-star hotel. A palace of the seas. Passengers who arrive on the boat trains from London are stunned by the grandeur; astonished by the opulence. Now she dominates the River Test, sailing under her own steam……onward, to the English Channel, en route to Cherbourg. Time to have a look around.

Is this really 1912, before the First World War? There is a heated swimming pool, as well as Turkish bath, squash court, gym and barber shops, and five grand pianos. There are 840 staterooms all with electric lighting and heating. Waiting staff, imported from France, attend to the guests’ every whims. The café Parisien captures the style and atmosphere of a sidewalk in the French capital.

Third class passengers enjoy more than they’re used to..….they are served decent, robust food and have a public gathering place.

Those in steerage won’t be using the darkroom for amateur photographers, or the well-stock libraries. They will have no need for the 50-line telephone switchboard, allowing on board chats between prestigious cabins.

On the starboard side of the forward first class entrance, telegrams can be sent. 12 shillings and sixpence for the first 10 words and 9 pence per extra word. The service is used more than 200 times by passengers.

The grand staircase allows first class passengers to descend five levels down from the entrance to the boat deck. Overhead there is a magnificent glass dome. There are oak panels on the staircase with iron scrollwork and sweeping steps and landings. What a spectacular area for guests to make new acquaintances and renew old ones.

There are two millionaire’s suites, each with a 50 foot promenade.  One is being used by J Bruce Ismay, Chairman of the White Star Line.

The richest passenger on board is multi- millionaire John Jacob Astor. He is travelling with his second wife, Madeleine, who is five months pregnant.

A striking woman with flame-red hair holds court with other elegantly dressed ladies on the fabulous staircase. This is Lucy, Lady Duff Gordon, the leading designer of the Edwardian age and one of the founders of 20th-century fashion. The House of Lucile is one of the first global fashion brands, with branches in London, New York, Paris and Chicago. Many passengers, due to board at Cherbourg, are showing the latest designs from Paris fashion houses.

There are rumours that Titanic has a miniature golf course and a herd of dairy cows to supply fresh milk every morning.  Although the fabulous liner has every other luxury imaginable, these are just rumours.

“From the state rooms to the ornate stairs,
This is the playground of millionaires.”


A Lower Class

Aboard RMS Titanic, it’s like Upstairs Downstairs at sea. Third class passengers are enjoying the voyage. For them, this is luxury. Their facilities are equal to second class on other ships of the time. Certainly, everyday life has never been as luxurious as this!

Most of the 700 steerage passengers are emigrants, looking forward to a fresh start in the New World.

As the Titanic glides past the Isle of Wight and heads for Cherbourg, 70 miles away, they get used to life below decks.

The term Steerage originally referred to the part of the ship below decks, near the steering gear. Over time that became known as the area where third class passengers ate and slept.

They share common bathrooms and sleep four to a cabin. They have running water and electricity. The fact that they are provided with meals is a big surprise to many. Other steerage passengers at the time had to bring their own food.

There are two bathtubs for 700 people. Bunk beds have mattresses, pillows and blankets but no sheets or pillowcases. This isn’t a problem because most third class passengers have all their belongings with them…..everything from cutlery to pillowcases.

They enjoy three meals a day in two common dining rooms. These are located between the second and third class funnels, two decks below the first class dining room.

No individual tables here. They eat on rows on tables lined up next to each other. Combined, the two third class dining saloons hold around 475 people.

Breakfast includes oats and milk, herrings, and beef. At lunch there is brawn, boiled potatoes and cabbage.

All classes now see Cherbourg approaching. Titanic is too large to fit into the port. Another 274 passengers board here, ferried to the gigantic liner – with their luggage – on two White Star tenders.

One and a half hours after arriving at Cherbourg, the enormous propellers start turning again…..destination Queenstown.

“In the distance, one more harbour wall
Titanic’s final port of call.”


The Final Dinner

Queenstown in sight. Titanic arrives at the outer anchorage at 1130am on 11th April 1912. One hundred and twenty three passengers assemble at the White Star Line pier to board the tenders Ireland and America.  There are three first class, seven second class and the remainder steerage.   The tenders proceed to the deepwater quay to load bags from the mail train. The two tenders sail out to the Titanic along with several smaller vessels carrying local vendors who sell lace and crafts to the wealthier passengers.
At 1.30pm an exchange of whistles indicates that the tenders’ business is complete.   Titanic weighs anchor to the strains of Erin's Lament and A Nation Once Again.
A crew member deserts....perhaps he had a premonition…. 

In second class, passengers are getting accustomed to luxury normally associated with first class on other liners.
There are 285 second class passengers on board....168 men, 93 women and 24 children.  Their tickets, costing £13, bring certain privileges including use of an electric elevator – unheard of in second class.

On the 12 and 13th of April, the Titanic sails through calm waters and her passengers feast as never before. The finest cuisine available, anywhere, served as if for a king and queen. Course after course in first class with different, exquisite wines.

First class dining saloon April 14th 1912.

One diner comments:

“It is a brilliant crowd. Jewels flash from the gowns of the women. The soft, sweet odour of rare flowers pervade the atmosphere. It is a rare gathering of beautiful women and splendid men.”

Dinner is served. A glittering occasion with 10 courses to savour….. including oysters, salmon, lamb, pigeon, and choice desserts.

RMS Titanic sails on into the night.

“Gourmet food, the finest wine
A first class feast from the White Star Line”


Iceberg Ahead – The Missing Key

Sunday the 14th April 1912 begins with continued fair weather. Passengers say that the sea is so calm it looks like glass. A morning service is held in the first class dining room.

At 9am the liner Caronia, spotting icebergs in the area, sends a message. They report seeing icebergs and field ice.

During the day, others messages arrive.

The Noordam to Titanic: ”Much ice”

Baltic to Titanic: “Icebergs and large quantities of field ice.”

California to Antillian, overhead by Titanic: “Three large bergs five miles to the southwards of us.”

Mesaba to Titanic: “Saw much heavy pack ice and great number of large icebergs. Weather good, clear.”

1020 pm: Californian to Titanic: “We are stopped and surrounded by ice.”

1130 pm: Lookout Frederick Fleet peers into the darkness. He has no binoculars. The key holder to the lookouts’ binoculars store is working on another ship. He forgot to leave the key on the Titanic..

Fleet and his fellow lookout have been told to watch for icebergs. There is a misty haze on the horizon.

1140 pm. Fleet stares and stares through the haze. He becomes aware of a menacing black shape. He rings the six inch brass bell in the crow’s nest three times and picks up the telephone to the bridge.

“Iceberg right ahead.”

“A starry night, a misty haze
A dark mass, as the lookouts gaze
A clear shape now, through the gloom
Titanic soon to meet her doom”


The Band Played On

Up in the crow’s nest, Fleet can see the iceberg growing larger by the second. It looks like the Rock of Gibraltar.

Sixth officer James Moody relays the message to First Officer William Murdoch, who orders that the ship should be turned to port and engines stopped. Watertight doors, deep down in the hull, are closed.

In the crow’s nest, Fleet watches with horror as the iceberg gets closer and closer. The mass of ice is slightly to starboard. It seems as if the Titanic will collide with the iceberg virtually head on. At the last second, the bow turns slightly to port.

The change in direction causes the ship to strike the iceberg with a glancing blow. An underwater spur of ice scrapes along the starboard side of the ship for about seven seconds. Dislodged ice falls on the forward decks. All of Titanic’s engines are now stopped – the ship is facing north and drifting.

Workers in the forward boiler rooms hear a loud rumble. Icy water pours in….the men run for their lives.

On the bridge, Captain Smith is now in position. He has been awakened by the commotion.
”What have we struck, Mr Murdoch?”

“An iceberg, sir. I was going hard-a-port around it, but she was too close. I could not do any more.”

News begins to arrive from forward parts of the ship. Captain Smith summons one of the ship’s designers, Thomas Andrews. He looks at the damage reports coming in, and tells the captain: “We have two hours afloat.”

Cape Race is the only land-based location to receive the distress call from Titanic. Wireless operator Jack Phillips has been sending telegrams to Cape Race for relay to New York City.  The messages from passengers, having the time of their lives, have gone to delighted friends and relatives.

A new message is taken personally by the captain to the Marconi room. He hands it to Phillips for transmission. “CQD. Come Quick , Danger”.

The wireless operator on the Carpathia has been puzzled at the Titanic’s long silence. The operator sees the new message. He asks “Shall I tell my captain? Do you require assistance?”

“Yes, come quick”, Phillips replies.

In the first class lounge, bandleader Wallace Hartley realises his orchestra must play on, to keep passengers’ spirits raised. Normally they play in two groups. Now they come together. Wallace Hartley strikes up a variety of waltzes, polkas and ragtime tunes.

Word spreads about the collision, and the music continues.

The ship begins to take on masses of water and starts to list. Wallace Hartley urges his musicians on, with brisk tunes filling the still, cold night air.

“Slipping beneath the waves, now almost gone
In the midst of chaos, the band played on”


A Human Tragedy

Monday, April 15th, just after midnight. Captain Smith gives the order to start uncovering the lifeboats.

Passengers begin to assemble in the forward first class entrance. Many are getting cold from the chilly air, and go back inside. A rush of third class passengers arrive on the deck – hoping there may be spaces for some of them.

Captain Smith orders Second Officer Charles Lightoller to organise the lifeboats…..strictly women and children first.

The Californian, possibly 15 miles away, sees lights of a steamer. The Californian tries unsuccessfully to make contact by Morse lamp. Rockets are spotted, but they do not look like distress rockets. There is no great concern, and the distance between the ships increases.

The Carpathia, 58 miles to the South East, receives a distress call and heads, full speed, to the rescue.

Titanic has room in the lifeboats for 1,178 of the estimated 2,227 on board if every boat is filled.

The youngest passenger is two-month-old Millvena Dean Her parents have decided to leave England for America – hoping to open a tobacco shop in Kansas..

The Southampton family are travelling in third class.

Millvena’s father feels the crunch of the collision. He goes up on deck to investigate. He returns to their cabin and tells his wife to dress their children and go up on deck.

Milvena, her mother and brother are placed in lifeboat 10 and are among the first to get off the liner. Millvena’s father remains on board – to await his fate.

Lizzie Chapman, 29, newly married, is travelling with her husband. She is placed in lifeboat 4 but, when she realises she has to go alone, she turns to her friend and says: “Goodbye. If John can’t go, I won’t go either.”

One of the last lifeboats to leave on the starboard side contains the Chairman of the White Star Line, J. Bruce Ismay. Mr Ismay, well over six feet tall, dwarfs the other survivors – most have no idea who he is.

By 1.30 am, several lifeboats have been lowered, many still with plenty of spaces. One, with a capacity of 40, has 12 people on board. Lifeboat 10 contains a man in women’s clothes.

By now there are signs of panic. As a group appear ready to jump into a boat already full, a shot is fired. An officer is trying to warn them away.

The distress calls from Titanic are becoming more desparate.

"We are sinking fast. Women and children in boats. Cannot last much longer.”

Water is now only ten feet below the promenade deck. Passengers getting into lifeboats see the band playing, with water up to the musicians’ knees.

Just after 2 am, there are still more than 1,500 people left on the sinking ship. The wireless operators are released from their duties.

Captain Smith tells crew members: "It's every man for himself," and returns to the bridge. The ship’s builder, Thomas Andrews, is seen alone in the first class smoking room.

Titanic's bow plunges under the waves.

Many passengers and crew jump overboard. The forward funnel collapses, killing several of the swimmers. At 2.18 there is a roar across the ocean. All moveable objects crash towards the submerged bow. The lights blink once, and go out forever.

At 4:10 am the first lifeboat, number two, is picked up by Carpathia. Just over four hours later the last boat, number 12, is hoisted aboard. The Carpathia heads for New York with 705 survivors including baby Millvena Dean and Mr Ismay..
Standing here today, I feel humbled by the many stories of heroism, death, and the devastating effect on families.  Many people watching and taking part in our ceremonies will have had relatives aboard the Titanic.   I recently discovered that my great uncle died in the sinking, aged 47.

His body was never identified. I was astonished to discover my links with the tragedy when Meridian filmed an item on my family tree. James Richard Dinenage lived at 4 Cawte Road in Freemantle, Southampton.  He served aboard the Oceanic and later joined Titanic in Southampton as a first class steward. He left a widow and a 20-year-old son…...and they received five shillings a week from the Titanic Relief Fund.  A welcome boost for the family, following the loss of the main breadwinner.

“We remember those who perished
100 years have gone
Now well into the future
Their memories live on”


A City in Mourning

In Southampton, rumours begin to spread. More than 600 homes have men and women aboard. The rumours spread through the streets, across the city. The families know that, in the event of a tragedy, the crew will be most at risk. They will be expected to do their duty.

The window of the Southampton Times carries a notice that the Titanic is “probably sinking”. Crowds gather outside the offices of the White Star Line in Canute Road and the Seafarers’ Union in Terminus Terrace.

There is hope, with talk that Titanic has been holed but under tow and being taken to Halifax in Nova Scotia.

A notice is posted outside the White Star building: “Titanic foundered about 2.30 am on April the 15th. About 675 crew and passengers picked up. Names of those saved will be posted as soon as received.”

The Hampshire Independent reports that crowds are increasing outside the White Star offices and the west gate side of the docks….a pathetic scene. The street lamps flicker on hundreds of faces, grey with anxiety. The crowd is dense around the entrance to the company’s offices, with an occasional gap to allow grieving relatives through to ask for news.

There is a vigil, day and night. Workmen come and nail blackboards to the railings. The names of those saved will be posted there.

One woman waits with two babies in a pram, and a toddler holding her hand. The woman receives news, and turns her head away away to hide her tears.

The crowds anxiously scan the blackboards to check for their loved ones. The scale of the disaster is becoming apparent. Entire streets are decked out in black.

At one school in Northam, half of the 240 pupils lose their fathers. Of the 899 crew who sail on the ship, 686 die.
Mrs May in York Street now has 10 children to bring up on her own. Another woman has just given birth to twins. The woman hears that her husband, a fireman, has drowned. She dies from shock.

More than 1,500 passengers and crew lose their lives….including 53 children.

“The day a city is torn apart
The day a city loses its heart”


Asleep on the Ocean Bed

The wreck of the Titanic lies at a depth of two and a half miles, about 370 miles from Forgotten Point in Newfoundland.

She split apart, probably a short distance under the surface, before falling to the seabed.

Now explorers, tourists, fimmakers and salvagers are constant visitors. Thousands of items are brought ashore from the field of debris and put on display.

100 years ago, RMS Titanic set sail from Southampton.. Now memories of the ship, her passengers and crew remain in our hearts…..as they lie asleep on the ocean bed.



© David Meikle

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