Celebrate or commemorate
Published Tuesday, 17 April 2012
When it comes to Titanic, for Southampton at least, it's most definitely the latter. I travelled to the city on the south coast of England to mark 100 years since Titanic left the port on her first and last voyage.
On the centenary anniversary there was definitely no sense of celebration. More than a third of the people who died when Titanic sank came from Southampton. The city doesn't believe there is much to celebrate.
According to Southampton City Council, of the 897 RMS Titanic crew members, 714 were from Southampton. In total, 685 crew members lost their lives, with 538 registered to Southampton addresses. John Smith - Titanic's Captain - hailed from Southampton.
When Titanic left what was then a town on the 10th April 1912, the quayside was a hive of activity. In the throes of a coal strike, people were crying out for jobs. A job onboard the glorious and prestigious new White Star Line transatlantic cruise liner was a golden opportunity to gain resourceful employment at a time when work was hard to come by.
Families gathered at the docks to wave their loved ones off - men and women, young and old. The youngest crew member was 14-year-old W Watson - a Bell Boy in 1st class. The eldest (the same age as Captain Smith) was 62-year-old William O'Loughlin - a surgeon onboard the ship.
The ones who bagged themselves a job onboard the 'unsinkable' ship were the lucky ones, or so it seemed.
At noon on the crisp April day, Titanic roared her whistle. A brutal sound that echoed through the town. She was ready to leave and she wanted the world to know.
But within days, disaster struck. A disaster that would tear Southampton apart. Cutting a wound so deep that only now, 100 years on, do the people of Southampton feel ready to talk about the huge loss Titanic brought to them.
When Titanic sank, it's said that 1 in every 2 streets in Southampton were draped in black - representative of the loss of a loved one. A husband, a father, a son, an uncle, a cousin, a friend. When Titanic sank, those who worked onboard her had their wages automatically stopped by White Star Line. The families who were left behind found themselves, not just in mourning, but once again struggling to make ends meet.
A disaster relief fund was set up. Similar to the Disasters Emergency Committee that still operates to this day. The city came together to help those who were abandoned by the State.
And just as the proud population of this important UK port began to pick themselves up and try to move on, the First World War brought more misery and destitution for its people.
Titanic has become a legend. She is celebrated in Belfast - such was the engineering feat that created her. But Southampton chooses to commemorate. To reflect, 100 years on.
When I interviewed the daughter of a Titanic survivor in Southampton, I asked her did she think the interest in the tragedy would one day wane and did she believe that Titanic should be left to rest in peace. She said that "people are still interested in it and I think it will carry on. But one day I think it might die. One day, but not at the moment."
And those sentiments ring true. A new £15million museum was opened in Southampton on the 100th anniversary. For the first time, a permanent exhibition tells Southampton's Titanic story.
The story of a town that crewed a ship. A ship that sailed to disaster. The disaster that became a legend.