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Monday, 06 July 2015

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Remembering the unthinkable fate

THE most famous maritime disaster in history has lost none of its impact in the intervening century.

Researching his latest book Titanic – The Last Night of a Small Town, the personal accounts Dr Welshman uncovered brought the tragedy sharply back into focus.

“When writing the book I kept having nightmares about the Titanic,” said Dr Welshman, local historian and lecturer of history at Lancaster University.

“If you were a man you would have died.”

Explaining Titanic’s enduring legacy Dr Welshman said: “It’s the combination of social history and human sacrifice you can identify with.”

His faction account acquaints the reader with 12 people of different ages, genders, social classes and continents, bound together by circumstance.

The title references historian Walter Lord’s famous book A Night to Remember, when he described the sinking of the Titanic as ‘the last night of a small town’.

With 2,201 people on board, the Titanic was a microcosm of pre First World War society. Now, 100 years on, Dr Welshman chronicles the story of 12 passengers involved in the disaster – a ship’s Captain, the Second Officer, the Assistant Wireless Operator, a stewardess, an amateur military historian, a governess, a teacher, a domestic servant and three children.

Their narratives begin before 1912, explain how they came to be involved in the doomed maiden voyage and ultimately uncovers what happened to them that fateful night.

Dr Welshman explained the premise for his book: “What I decided to do was focus on 12 people’s stories and I wanted to have a mixture of people from each of the social classes – men and women, adults and children, passengers and crew – people from the US, Africa, Finland and Lebanon. Some were quite well known and there are others whose stories are entirely unknown.

“Accounts have been published – some have been published privately in the US, some have been written up by family members and they did a pretty thorough search and I tried to find as many of those as I could.” The narratives are based on actual accounts to avoid sensationalism. Where embellishment exists it is to provide extra details.

The disaster is viewed through the eyes of the individuals and it’s their voice you hear through this account.

“It tries to be quite cinematic – but these are the real people,” said Dr Welshman.

“Five of my 12 people were migrating to start a new life in America and Canada – one from Finland, Canada, South Africa and another two migrants.

“These people will have descendants, but I didn’t interview them.

“I wanted to focus on these 12 and find out who they were and what happened to them. Some of the cast list choose themselves because their stories were so interesting or exciting I thought: ‘That person’s got to be in there’. I think the detail is unique – 2,200 people lost their lives. It’s the size of a small town but involved people from all social classes. I think we can all identify with what happened.”

Dr Welshman’s interest in the Titanic was ignited in his childhood.

“I grew up in Northern Ireland and I was aware of the story from an early age,” he said.

“Thomas Andrew came from Comber, a village near to where we lived, and when we drove through the village I’d be told ‘he designed the Titanic’.”

During his visit to Barrow Library Dr Welshman had the opportunity to meet others with a personal interest in the tragedy, among them Mayor of Barrow, Councillor John Murphy.

Cllr Murphy said: “Many years ago, in 1966, I was a fireman/stoker on the old Queen Mary and we used to sail across the Titanic sinking site on the old sea routes the Titanic took and we said a prayer. It was part of the folklore of the ship.”

The Titanic sailed out of Southampton towards its destination of New York with 2,201 people on board. She sank in the North Atlantic Ocean after colliding with an iceberg 100 years ago, on 15 April 1912.

The Evening Mail has a signed copy of Dr John Welshman’s book Titanic – The Last Night of a Small Townto give away.

To be in with a chance of winning this copy simply answer the question on the form and send it to Jo Davies, North West Evening Mail, Newspaper House, Abbey Road, Barrow, LA14 5QS by next Wednesday.


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