A Night To Remember

As we had had to put our clocks back one hour and 27 minutes at 2.00am this morning, we woke up very early after a very rough night in which the Balmoral was tossed about the wild Atlantic like a cork. We looked out of our window at large waves, one or two of which, on occasion, crashed against the window. The wake of the ship foamed a pale green immediately below us, but apart from that all we could see was the “big grey widow maker” as we’d heard the Atlantic referred to in Senan Moloney’s talk yesterday.

This morning we went along to the Lido lounge to hear the talk given by Barbara Rusch called “Titanic: From Dreams to Nightmare to Myth”. It was none other than Barbara from our table in the restaurant! 🙂 She was actually a very good, very eloquent speaker and some of the passages she read out brought a lump to the throat. It was impossible to imagine how, for those 2,200 passengers and crew, the voyage of dreams, the voyage of a lifetime, could have turned so quickly and so unexpectedly from joy into utter misery and desolation.

One hundred years ago today, as the Titanic steamed across the Atlantic as the Balmoral is doing now, no-one on board could have had any idea as to how the night would end. That thought was with us quite a lot today as we went about our daily activities around the ship.

After Barbara’s talk we went along to the Neptune lounge to see Commodore Warwick’s presentation about his dive to the Titanic wreck in 2001. Can you imagine how awesome that would be: to actually go two and a half miles down to the sea bed to see the ghostly remains of the Titanic herself? I remember being totally engrossed by the pictures when reading Dr Robert Ballard’s book The Discovery of the Titanic, but to go down there and experience it for real must be something else.

Consequently, Ron Warwick’s presentation was excellent. He had brought with him a piece of rock that he’d brought up from the sea bed; what was interesting about this rock was that it was a reddish colour; it was actually coated in rust that has come from the hull of the Titanic. He also showed us an ordinary polystyrene coffee cup of the type you’d get out of a vending machine; then he showed us a tiny shrunken version of the same cup. Before commencing the dive down to the wreck in a special submersible (a type of bathyscaphe) they had put the cup, along with some other things, in an mesh onion bag attached to the bottom of the craft so that we could see what happened to articles at a pressure of about 2.5 tons per square inch; inevitably all the air was squashed out of the polystyrene and it ended up a hard, compressed plastic. The Commodore also had a White Star Line red pennant of the same kind that was attached to the mast of the Titanic.

Once the presentation was finished we went along to the Morning Light pub for a pre-luncheon drink and to listen to the noon announcement from the Captain on the bridge. After being assured that “all is well” we went along to have some lunch. 🙂

The lecture this afternoon came from Alan Hustak and was all about the Halifax, Nova Scotia connection to the Titanic. The mortal remains of many of Titanic’s passengers were not recovered until five to seven days after the disaster (some of the bodies didn’t come to the surface straight away) so, while a lot of them were named and given a burial in Halifax, many remained unidentified and unclaimed. It is only now, 100 years later, when we have so much more technology available to us such as DNA analysis, that some of those unidentified unfortunates now have a name, and some of the gravestones have been changed to reflect this. Of course, a lot of the bodies (I believe over 300) were in too bad a condition to identify, and these were given a burial at sea. They are gone but, as this Memorial Voyage will testify, not forgotten.

Following Alan’s presentation we went back to our cabin to start getting washed and changed and ready for dinner. The sea now appeared to be much calmer and the Balmoral was steadier when walking around. A quick look out of deck, however, let us see there was still a brisk sea breeze and we needed to wrap up well if spending any time outside.

On our way to the Ballindalloch restaurant we made a brief stop-off to the Neptune lounge, where they had laid out some commemorative wreaths for committal into the deep later on. The wreaths were absolutely beautiful and so very poignant.

We partook of an excellent dinner as ever; I had a sort of beef ragoût typical of the dish served to 3rd Class passengers on the Titanic; it was actually very good. We enjoyed the usual convivial company on table #61 and left the restaurant just before 8.30pm; in fact we were the last to leave. 🙂

In the Neptune lounge this evening, the Grupetto Ensemble musicians were playing us their repertoire called “Last Waltz on the Titanic”. There were two violin players, a cellist, a pianist and a clarinet player, and they were all dressed in formal clothing with tail jackets. This was their tribute to Wallace Hartley’s band on the Titanic. The band leader read us out the timeline of what happened 100 years ago, and played the same tunes. A lot of the tunes the Titanic bandsmen played were upbeat ones, so we heard “Alexander’s Rag Time Band”, as well as “Shine On Harvest Moon”. Our band leader then turned to the rest of his musicians and said “Gentlemen, it has been an honour to play with you” before they launched into “Nearer, My God to Thee”. It was a lovely, totally fitting tribute to those eight brave bandsmen who perished that fateful night a century ago. 😦

After the show we went along to the Lido lounge for the Titanic Trivia quiz. It was really hard, such as “how many light bulbs were needed on board?” Who on earth would know that?! We didn’t do very well, only scoring nine out of 20.

We stayed a short while afterwards to watch the female singer before going back to cabin 4170 to get changed into warmer clothing as we wanted to be up on deck for about 11.25pm. From this point on, I’m going to write this blog to show the timeline.

11.35pm, 14th April 2012
From our position on deck 11 of the Balmoral, next to the ship’s funnel, we heard Captain Bamberg announce that we would shortly be holding two minutes’ silence to remember the events that started exactly 100 years ago. The silence would commence at the sound of the ship’s whistle.

11.40pm, 14th April 2012
The Balmoral gave a single blast of her foghorn at the exact minute 100 years ago that the Titanic struck the iceberg. Trevor and I stood at the starboard side of the ship, the side that had connected with the iceberg, and we gazed out into the blackness of the night, thinking of the events a century ago that had so shaken the world. After the two minutes’ silence, the Captain thanked us and we wandered around the deck for a bit. We looked over towards the stern and the first thing we noticed was the White Star Line pennant, where it had been hoisted aloft from the rear mast. What a great, truly apt touch.

11.50pm, 14th April 2012
Back in our cabin, we switched on the television where the narrator was reading out the names of all 1503 passengers and crew who had perished that fateful night. 100 years ago it was all happening; how many of those poor people had no idea that they’d never see the next sunrise?

12.15am, 15th April 2012
We went along to the Neptune lounge which had been set out like the inside of a church; the floral wreaths were at the front, as were some candles waiting to be lighted as well as a pulpit set up. On a large screen the names of the lost souls continued to be displayed and read out, one by one.

01.00am, 15th April 2012
Commodore Ronald Warwick was doing our memorial service; in the Ballindalloch restaurant the Balmoral’s padre was conducting another service simultaneously. This was to cater for all 1309 passengers on board the Balmoral. I am not at all a religious person but the service was really good; we sung appropriate hymns like Abide with Me and O God, Our Help in Ages Past. The sermon and the prayers were directly aimed at the victims of the Titanic disaster as well as seafarers in general. The overall mood in the Neptune lounge was respectful and sombre. Three candles were lit, one each to represent love, hope and light. We finished by all of us reciting the Lord’s Prayer in one voice, before being escorted outside to the open decks at the stern of the Balmoral at 01.45am.

On our way out, we were each given insulated mugs containing hot mulled wine, a thoughtful gesture on the part of Fred Olsen, as it was cold out on deck.

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