Built at the Harland and Wolff Shipyard in Belfast, RMS Titanic was a prestigious addition to the White Star Line and widely regarded as unsinkable, so much so that it put to sea on its maiden voyage with only a token number of lifeboats.
As a young man, my maternal grandfather was employed as a shipyard worker in the construction of this legendary vessel, along with that of its sister ship, the RMS Olympic, and often spoke to me of the pride and camaraderie of the men who were involved in the massive project at Queens Island.
When it was launched in May 1911, the Titanic became the largest ship afloat. On its maiden voyage it carried a total of 2,224 passengers and crew, of whom 1,517 were lost when it struck an iceberg in the Atlantic.
Its subsequent, tragic story is well documented and has generated a legion of books, plays and films.
Stiff-collared and stiff-upper-lipped,
they bade their womenfolk go first,
with children, into lifeboats
that were only there for show,
then, ramrod-straight on tilting decks,
they braved the icy, ill-starred night
or went below to congregate
with other men, pale, poker-faced,
in state-rooms loud with jokes and boasts,
to camouflage their growing fear,
as cocktails, spilled, or scattered cards
made nonsense of forlorn attempts
In that dark realm of bitter cold,
of signal-flares and glacial stars,
where massively impassive bergs
moved sure and silently as gods;
where all around, like tombstones, ranged,
squat ice-flows gleamed a ghostly white,
snow fell, in feathered silence, then
on black waves breaking endlessly
on lifeboats, where survivors prayed,
their upturned faces, pinched and wan,
for fathers, lovers, husbands, sons;
but when such supplication failed,
prayed for salvation.