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Prayers and silence mark Titanic centenary

By Lefteris Pitarakis

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, April 15 2012 9:40 p.m. MDT

Helena Beaumont-Jones from Airlie Beach, Australia is overcome with emotion as the MS Balmoral Titanic memorial cruise ship approaches the wreck site of the Titanic in the Atlantic Ocean, Saturday, April 14, 2012. A century after the great ship went down with the loss of 1,500 lives, events around the globe are marking a tragedy that retains a titanic grip on the world's imagination - an icon of Edwardian luxury that became, in a few dark hours 100 years ago, an enduring emblem of tragedy.

Lefteris Pitarakis, Associated Press

ABOARD MS BALMORAL — With prayers, a hymn and a moment of silence broken by a ship's deep whistle, passengers and crew on a memorial trip marked 100 years to the moment since the Titanic sent more than 1,500 people to a watery grave.

As the 1912 disaster was commemorated around the world, the city that built the vessel — Belfast, Northern Ireland — looked back on the tragic sinking with a distinctive mixture of sorrow and pride.

In the North Atlantic, passengers lined the decks of the MS Balmoral, a cruise ship that has been retracing the route of the doomed voyage, as the ship stopped early Sunday at the spot where the Titanic went down in the early hours of April 15, 1912.

After a short service and a moment of silence, three floral wreaths were cast onto the waves as the ship's whistle sounded in the dark.

Jane Allen from Devon in southwest England, whose great-uncle perished on the Titanic, said the moment vividly reminded her of the horror of the disaster.

"All you could hear was the swell splashing against the side of the ship. You could see the white breakers stretching out to sea," she told the BBC. "You are in the middle of nowhere. And then you look down over the side of the ship and you realize that every man and every woman who didn't make it into a lifeboat had to make that decision, of when to jump or stay on the ship as the lights went out."

Another cruise ship, Journey, which traveled from New York, also held a service at the site, 400 miles (640 kilometers) off the coast of Newfoundland.

The Titanic, the world's largest and most luxurious ocean liner, was traveling from England to New York when it struck an iceberg at 11:40 p.m. on April 14, 1912. It sank less than three hours later, with the loss of all but 700 of the 2,208 passengers and crew.

A century on, events around the globe marked a tragedy that retains its grip on the world's imagination.

In Belfast, a memorial monument was unveiled Sunday at a ceremony attended by local dignitaries, relatives of the dead and explorer Robert Ballard, who discovered the wreck of the Titanic on the ocean floor in 1985.

A brass band played as the granite plinth bearing bronze plaques was uncovered beside Belfast City Hall. Officials say it is the first Titanic memorial to list all victims alphabetically, with no distinction between passengers and crew members, or between first-, second- or third-class travelers.

"We remember all those who perished and whose names are herein inscribed — men, women and children — who loved and were loved, their loss still poignantly felt by their descendants," the Rev. Ian Gilpin told the crowd.

After a minute's silence, a choir sang "Nearer My God To Thee" — the hymn Titanic's band is reported to have played as the ship went down.

Belfast spent decades scarred by its link to the disaster, but has come to take pride in the feats of engineering and industry involved in building the ship. Last month, a gleaming new visitor attraction, Titanic Belfast, opened on the site of the shipyard where the doomed vessel was built.

"The focus of the world is on Belfast and we are doing her proud," said Una Reilly, chair of the Belfast Titanic Society. "We are all proud of this ship. What happened was a disaster; she was not."

On Saturday, thousands attended a memorial concert in Belfast featuring performances by Bryan Ferry and soul singer Joss Stone. At St. Anne's Cathedral in the city, a performance of composer Philip Hammond's "The Requiem for the Lost Souls of the Titanic" was followed by a torch-lit procession to the Titanic memorial garden in the grounds of city hall.

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