As the wreaths of red roses and white lilies bobbed into the darkness, the thoughts of all on board were on the vessel that now lay crushed and broken two and a half miles beneath the waves.
Services in memory of RMS Titanic and the 1,500 passengers who died when the vessel sank exactly a century ago took place around the world yesterday. In the north Atlantic, the darkness of night was illuminated by two cruise ships, MS Balmoral, which had traced Titanic’s Atlantic crossing from Southampton, to Cherbourg in France, then Queenstown in Ireland, and the Azamara Journey, which had travelled from New York, the destination the fateful vessel never reached, to rendezvous at the exact spot, 400 miles off the coast of Newfoundland, where, at 11:40pm on 14 April, 1912, it struck an iceberg and sank two hours and 40 minutes later.
Today, what was once the largest, fastest, most powerful ship in the world, lies broken in two, being slowly crushed by the enormous weight of water.
Fifty of the 1,309 passengers onboard the Balmoral were relatives of those on board. The three-hour remembrance service began indoors at 11:40pm on Saturday night, the exact moment when the Titanic struck the iceberg, and concluded with the reading of the names of all 1,500 who lost their lives, at 2:20am when the vessel finally sank.
As she stood on board the Balmoral, floating over the exact spot where her great-uncle, Thomas Pears, lost his life 100 years ago, Jane Allen couldn’t help but shed a tear.
“It was just so eerily quiet,” she told the BBC. “And then you look down over the side of the ship and realise that every man and women not fortunate enough to get into a lifeboat had to make that decision of when to jump or stay with the ship, until the lights went out. And when the lights went out, it must have been horrendous. We witnessed that tonight.”
A relative of Melinda Norris, a fellow passenger on board the Balmoral, was more fortunate. Charles Lightoller was a crew member and managed to survive. She said: “You get a chill just looking at that water, imagining you have to go into it. We’ve listened to the names of the 1,500 people who died. It’s just an unimaginable amount of suffering took place here, so it’s surreal to be here.”
Richard Hyman’s great-grandfather was one of the fortunate survivors. Mr Hyman told a reporter: “You imagine: it’s pitch black, freezing cold, nothing is anywhere near you other than an iceberg.
“The fear that must have been with all those people who were either stuck on the ship or in a lifeboat, not knowing whether they were going to survive or not. And people did freeze to death as well, even though they’d survived the disaster.”
Remembrance services were held not only mid-Atlantic and in Belfast, where the ship was built, but also in Southampton, its port of departure, and Nova Scotia, where more than 100 victims lie buried. Services also took place in Las Vegas, San Diego, Houston and even Singapore.
Yesterday afternoon, a service was held in Southampton, from where the majority of the 500 crew who lost their lives lived.
The Rev Dr Julian Davies led the service at St Mary’s Church, where he was joined by the Bishop of New York, who had been invited to give an address.
Among those who attended was Mary South, whose grandfather died on the ship. She said: “When I was about eight or nine I asked my father why I didn’t have a grandfather from his side and he said he died on a big ship – and that was that.
“My grandmother went into what can only be described as a deep depression, they called it a decline then, and it was two years before she came out of it.”
In Belfast, a plaque featuring the names of those lost was unveiled. It is unique in that it lists everyone alphabetically, with no distinction between first class and third, or passenger and crew. It was unveiled by Jack Martin, a 12-year-old descendant of Dr John Simpson, the assistant ship surgeon, who told reporters: “I am proud that I am keeping the memory of my ancestor alive.”
Among those who attended the Belfast service was Dr Robert Ballard, who discovered the site of the wreck in 1985.
In the past, Belfast was ashamed to be associated with Titanic, which was built in the Harland & Wolff shipyard, but in recent years the city has taken pride in the feat of engineering and a Titanic visitor’s centre has been opened.
As Una Reilly, head of the local Titanic society, said: “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, a performance of composer Philip Hammond’s Requiem for the Lost Souls of the Titanic was followed by a torchlit procession to the memorial.
The requiem, performed by male choristers dressed as ship’s crew and female performers in black, included words by Glenn Patterson, a Belfast novelist who imagined what the victims of the tragedy would think now.
He wrote: “We passed into myth, launched a library full of books, enough film to cross the Atlantic three times over, more conspiracy theories than Kennedy, 97 million web pages, a tourist industry, a requiem or two.
“We will live longer than every one of you.”