Lancaster author John Welshman reveals untold Titanic stories

Lancashire author who discovered he is related to a Titanic stewardess reveals untold stories in the new book Titanic: Last Night of a Small Town

The passengers on the Titanic joking at dinner about chipping ice off passing icebergs for their whisky.

The baby handed in desperation to strangers on the deck who warm his toes in the icy air.

The engine room stoker who, after the collision, shivering in his singlet on deck, ruefully thinks of his soup left to heat on the red hot boiler below.

These are some of the stories told in the book Titanic:Last Night of a Small Town (OUP) by John Welshman of Lancaster University.

The Titanic’s Second Officer Herbert Lightoller survived the shipwreck – one of four he experienced during his adventurous career, which included a stint in the Gold Rush in America, a fire at sea and shipwreck on a desert island.

He refused a place in the Titanic lifeboats and jumped as the ship went down, but was sucked into a submerged airshaft.

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“I was drowning, and a matter of another couple of minutes would have seen me through. I was still struggling and fighting when suddenly a terrific blast of hot air came up the shaft, and blew me right away from the air shaft and up to the surface.”

He later sailed to Dunkirk to rescue soldiers in World War Two and he was played by Kenneth More in the 1958 film A Night to Remember.

Second class passenger Lawrence Beesley lost his wife Cissy to tuberculosis so he decided to visit his brother in Toronto. A teacher at Dulwich College, one of his pupils was the future crime writer Raymond Chandler.

Beesley survived the sinking but was  drawn to the filming of the 1958 movie. He faked an Equity card and dressed up in costume in order to sneak aboard the replica Titanic during the filming but was spotted by the director who ordered him to disembark.

Dr Welshman said ‘Growing up in Northern Ireland in the 1960s, I was aware of the Titanic from an early age because of the story of its designer Thomas Andrews who died in the disaster.  We are all still fascinated by the Titanic because we imagine what we would do if we found ourselves in that predicament. The silver slipper left in the cabin, the hot soup on the stove, this is the human detail of the real people that I’ve tried to breathe life into again a century later.”

 He has uncovered previously untold stories, like the couple emigrating from Finland – Elin and Pekka Hakkarainen - who claimed the third class passengers were locked in.

Dr Welshman even discovered that he is related to one of the first class stewardesses, Elizabeth Leather from Liverpool, who was seen by witnesses rowing the number 16 lifeboat on the night the ship sank on April 15 1912.

Able seaman Ernest Archer helped the passengers into no 16 and said he told Elisabeth she did not have to row “but she said she would like to do it to keep herself warm.”

Elizabeth gave evidence to the subsequent enquiry, describing how she had gone to bed and did not get up for up to 45 minutes after the collision because she did not realise how serious it was.

She went up to B deck where she saw the other stewardesses putting blankets and eiderdowns around the lady passengers so she returned to her cabin.

After being rescued by the Carpathia – whose captain Arthur Rostron was born in Bolton- she spent the rest of her life in South Africa.

Her story is one of 12 inhabitants of this floating community which represent a cross-section of society.

Among them are a young governess, teacher and servant, the wireless operator, and also children emigrating with their parents.

Seven year old Eva Hart, carrying a large doll that her father bought for her, is travelling in Second Class with her parents Benjamin and Esther.  The family are emigrating to Canada from London but her father drowns in the tragedy and Eva and her mother return to England.

Photos by George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress)

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