The Titanic's Welsh links
This month’s speaker, Mr Tony Waters of Burry Port personified a very special enthusiasm for his subject, the ill-fated Titanic. He explained that we are now only one year shy of the centenary of the fate of the “unsinkable” ship which has starred in so many films and plays and become a feature of even the most casual of historical acquaintances. He explained that his interest had been started when he viewed “A Night to Remember”, the second feature film of the sinking of Titanic in the 1950s.
The main features of the story of the Titanic are fairly well known, however Mr Waters’ talk was to concentrate on the Welsh links to the ship. The first link was an industrial one, since Britain in 1912 was in the grip of a coal strike. One third of the maritime coal at the time came from south Wales, notably the steam coal of the Ocean Coal Company (Ed.) As Titanic was preparing to leave Southampton for Cherbourg on the 10th April 1912 it did not have enough coal, however the White Star Line was determined that the ship would sail. His was as much to do with the Line’s rivalry with Cunard as a concern for the passengers and by filching steam coal from other ships in dock, the Titanic was able to sail.
Mr Waters then looked at those of the 2,207 passengers who had Welsh links. These included a crew member O W Samuel (a relative of the Astleys of Samuel Leeder fame), and another crew member from Swansea, Wilfred Foley who survived in lifeboat number 13. Mr William J Rogers of Ynysymond near Pontardawe was a fugitive of justice as he had abandoned his wife for a rather nastier fate. There were at least three miners who were looking for new opportunities in the USA, two of these (DJ Bowen and Leslie Williams) were professional boxers who were to fight in the states and travelled first class. Among the professionals on board were Mr A W Leyson, a solicitor of Swansea and William T Stead a social campaigner who had interviewed Evan Roberts during the religious revival of 1904. Ironically Stead had also written articles on maritime safety!!
Probably the most well-known Welsh character on the Titanic was Harold Lowe, fourth officer on the ship who was famously played by Ioan Gruffudd in the most recent film Titanic. Lowe had inspected the lifeboats during the Titanic’s curt sea trials lasting one day, and played a heroic part in the marshalling of the lifeboats during the sinking. The Birkenhead rules meant that men famously did not get into many of the lifeboats, since the rule had been wrongly prosecuted as women and children only as against first. Lowe survived the travails of the sinking (and his pay was stopped by the company since his ship had sunk) and went on to become a commander in the naval reserve in the First World War. He is buried in Llandrillo yn Rhos, though his tombstone bears no mention of his heroics on Titanic. Only 712 passengers and crew survived the sinking of the Titanic and the fact that it reached this number was mostly down to Lowe.
Mr Waters also showed a number of genuine articles from Titanic which are worth many thousands of pounds.
Mr Gwyn Thomas thanked Mr Waters for an excellent talk.