ON BOARD MS BALMORAL (Reuters) - At the shrill sound of a ship’s whistle in the North Atlantic, relatives of some of the more than 1,500 people who died when the Titanic sank after hitting an iceberg remembered their ancestors in a poignant ceremony a century later.
On a still, starry night and with little glare from the moon, the memorial cruise ship MS Balmoral floated above the wreckage of the famous ‘unsinkable’ luxury liner precisely 100 years to the day it foundered.
“At 2:20 am all was quiet, as it would have been 100 years ago when it went deathly quiet, when the screaming stopped,” British Titanic historian Philip Littlejohn told Reuters on Sunday. Littlejohn’s grandfather, Alexander Littlejohn, was a 1st class steward in charge of lifeboat 13 when the ship began to go down.
About 700 people were rescued that night, including his grandfather, but there were too few lifeboats to save the rest.
David Haisman, 74, a retired seaman from the English port town of Southampton, mourned the loss of his grandfather who had been on his way to Seattle to start a new life in the United States with his wife and daughter.
“I’ve been brought up with the story but now I could feel it,” he said.
“My mother used to tell me how she got into lifeboat 14 and her feet became soaked with the 3 to 4 inches of water that remained in the bottom despite bailing.”
The last time she saw her father was when he cupped his hands and shouted “I’ll see you in New York”.
The story of the world’s most famous maritime disaster has gripped the world’s imagination, inspiring Hollywood films.
While some of those on board the memorial cruise were relatives of the victims, others had paid thousands of pounds in order to retrace the vessel’s fateful journey from Southampton to New York.
The ship, the biggest in the world at the time, foundered in frigid Atlantic waters off Newfoundland on April 15, 1912.
On Saturday, Balmoral’s ship’s whistle pierced the air at 11.40 pm, the exact time the Titanic hit the iceberg, followed by a two-minute silence.
“I had this feeling that this is the place where all the suffering went on,” said retired seaman Haisman of the somber moment.
Most of Balmoral’s 1,300 passengers then squeezed onto the deck for a service and hymns, and to watch three wreaths be thrown into the calm waters at 2.20am Sunday morning, the moment she sank.
Members of the Belgian quintet ensemble Grupetto played in honor of the band members who played on even as the Titanic went under the waves.
The sky was clear and the nearest iceberg was about 100 nautical miles north.
“It’s just so moving, it feels like you were part of something so special,” said Susie Millar, a journalist from Northern Ireland whose great grandfather Thomas Millar had worked at Harland and Wolff, the shipyard where the Titanic had been built, before becoming a crew member.
He was one of the people who lost their lives when it sank.
“As the wreaths went in, I thought of people in the lifeboats as the Titanic sank, who didn’t know whether they would be rescued or not,” she said.
“It all happened in real time and I thought that people wouldn’t have had time to say all their goodbyes, it all happened so fast.”
The anniversary was marked in other parts of the world too, including Belfast, the ship’s birthplace, where a plaque was unveiled listing the names of those who were lost, including 28 from the city.
Professor Robert Ballard, the American oceanographer who found the wreck in 1985, said he’d been moved to tears as he joined relatives of the dead for the Belfast ceremony.
Meanwhile, on a beautiful lakeside in Ireland’s west coast county of Mayo, people in the tiny village of Lahardane gathered to hear a bell toll for the 11 locals who died onboard, and three joyful rings for the three who survived.
Additional reporting by Ivan Little in Belfast and Georgina Cooper in Addergoole; Writing by Avril Ormsby; Editing by Andrew Osborn