Titanic was the technological marvel of her age – the ultimate symbol of mankind’s genius, his victory over the elements and a symbol of hope for the new century.
All human life was aboard Titanic.
It contained millionaires and penniless immigrants, the rich from New York and London, the poor from every corner of Europe, men – and women – who were capable of facing death calmly and others who would do anything to stay alive.
The men of first, second and third class on Titanic shared only this – in every class, the majority of them died.
They said goodbye to their families, lit cigarettes and waited for death, true to the old code of honour, “women and children first”.
Those men, from every part of the ship, waving goodbye to the women and children from the deck of Titanic feels like the last act of a lost age of chivalry.
Courage was everywhere that night.
Some wives refused to leave their husbands, and died with them.
The band, in their lifejackets, played as Titanic went down.
And Captain Edward Smith, who legend has dying alone on the bridge, was seen by Fireman Harry Senior in the water after the sinking of Titanic, holding a child up with his last breaths, while others claim he was seen freezing in that black sea, yet still urging lifeboats on, and saying he would follow his ship down.
But there was cowardice, too, and desperate self-preservation.
Bruce Ismay, chairman of Titanic’s owners, White Star Line, slipped into a lifeboat when there were still women and children on board.
Ismay did not look back to see Titanic sink beneath the waves and he was scorned as a coward for the remaining 25 years of his life.
Daniel Buckley, a third class passenger, slipped into a lifeboat by wearing a woman’s shawl – the only evidence of the legend that some men fled Titanic disguised as women.
A stoker who tried to steal a lifejacket from a radio operator was beaten unconscious and left to his fate.
And when Titanic was gone, and a thousand voices screamed in agony in the sub-zero waters of the Atlantic, those in the lifeboats lashed out at them with oars.
The terror of being capsized by the dying was overwhelming.
Titanic witnessed mankind at its selfish worst – and at its very best.
And for 100 years this single, great unanswerable question has haunted our dreams of Titanic – what would I have done?
Here is the inherent human drama of the Titanic. Who will live and who will die?
“You go and I’ll stay a while,” Dan Marvin, on his honeymoon, said to his young wife. He blew his bride a kiss as she stepped into the lifeboat. They never saw each other again.
“You must come with me,” insisted Mrs Walter Douglas. “No, I must be a gentleman,” her husband stubbornly insisted. They never saw each other again.
Mrs Isidor Straus, wife of the man who built Macy’s, refused to leave her husband. He, in turn, refused a place in the lifeboat offered because of his age (67).
“I will not go before the other men,” said Isidor Straus, and he sat with his wife in deckchairs, waiting for death.
The couple’s memorial service in New York was attended by 40,000 people.