Sunday, 15 April 2012, 08:25 GMT
Titanic sinking remembered 100 years on


A visitors takes a photograph of a display of the Titanic outside Belfast City Hall during Titanic commemoration events marking the centenary of its sinking at the ship's birthplace in Belfast, Northern Ireland on April 14./AFP

AFP

Around 300 people attended a short memorial service in the city's Beacon Park,

The 100th anniversary of the tragic sinking of the iconic passenger liner Titanic is being remembered in ceremonies across the world Sunday, with descendants of the victims leading the tributes.

Events marking the disaster started in Halifax, the Canadian port city from where ships sailed to retrieve bodies from the icy Atlantic waters and where 150 of Titanic's 1,514 victims are buried.

The centenary, however, is a global event with artists, scientists and museums engaged in months-long preparations for commemorations in Britain, Canada, Northern Ireland and the United States.

One century after Titanic's fatal encounter with an iceberg, more than 1,700 passengers on two cruise ships -- the MS Balmoral from Southampton and the Azamara Journey from New York City -- were at the site where the Titanic went down.

The Azamara Journey emulated a distress call that was sent out by the Titanic.

"Have struck iceberg ... We require immediate assistance," read the message. "Have struck iceberg and sinking ... We are putting women off in boats."

Passengers threw wreaths into the sea at 2:20 am (0520 GMT), the time that the ship sank, and where the drama unfolded about 800 kilometers (500 miles) southeast of Halifax.

Around 50 people on board the MS Balmoral have a direct family connection to the sinking.

Patricia Watts, 81, a retired teacher from Bristol, southwest England, is on the cruise. Her grandfather, George MacKie, 34, from Southampton, was a second class steward on board the Titanic.

The Titanic was built in the Northern Irish capital Belfast, and was sailing from the English port of Southampton on its maiden voyage toward New York when tragedy struck.

Thousands were expected to attend a commemorative service at Belfast City Hall Sunday, among them politicians and relatives of those who died.

The garden contains a nine-metre wide plinth bearing five bronze plaques engraved with the names of more than 1,500 victims of the disaster.

It is the first time the names of everyone who died has been recorded on one monument. Many existing memorials failed to include the Titanic crew or its musicians.

There is no distinction between first-class passengers and others, with names simply listed in alphabetical order.

"We've gone for a colour scheme built around blue, white, silver and green, reflecting water and ice," landscape architect Joy Hutchinson said of the garden.

"It is to try to encourage a sense of peace and contemplation."

US oceanographer Robert Ballard, who discovered the wreck in 1985, is in the Northern Irish capital and delivered a memorial lecture at the new Titanic Belfast visitor attraction on Saturday.

He said on visiting the site that the most striking moment was seeing where the victims landed on the sea bed and the empty shoes. The leather is the only part that has not perished.

"Hundreds of bodies rained down, a showering of bodies," he said.

Meanwhile in Lichfield, central England, more than 1,500 candles were laid Saturday at the foot of the statue of Edward Smith, the Titanic's captain.

Around 300 people attended a short memorial service in the city's Beacon Park, where the statue has stood since 1914. Smith was from Stoke-on-Trent in the Lichfield diocese.

On Saturday night, a commemoration at Belfast's Waterfront hall brought together stars from music and film. There was also a Requiem for the Lost Souls at St Anne's Church of Ireland Cathedral.

Some participants in the memorial events -- many of them history buffs or descendants of passengers of the doomed voyage -- came with personal stories about how the Titanic touched their lives.

Wendy Burkhart, a British Columbia resident who crossed the continent to attend the ceremonies in Halifax, told of how her ancestors narrowly missed a catastrophic trip on the ship.

"My great-great-grandparents, my grandmother and her sister were booked to travel on the Titanic," she said.

"Their destination was Canada, where they wanted to start a new life. But then there was a family argument and it was decided to leave in the fall, rather than ... spring."

Titanic 100 Society executive director Ken Pinto told The Chronicle Herald that memorial events held over the weekend would cement Halifax and Canada's place in Titanic's fabled story.

"The idea is not to have a carnival but an honorable marking of the tragic event," he said.

Late Saturday, participants in the memorial ceremonies gathered at the Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax and marched in a procession downtown.

Marchers carried battery-powered candles and followed a horse-drawn carriage bearing a casket, stopping at some Titanic landmarks.

The procession ended at City Hall for memorial performances, with more than 20 local musicians and a Canadian Forces band participating.

Warren Ervine, a geological engineer whose uncle Albert at the age of 18 was the youngest member of the Titanic crew, was among the participants.

"My father was always very sad," Ervine recalled. "Like people coming back from the war, they did not want to talk about it. I did not even know he (uncle Albert) was a crew member until 10 years ago. I looked for him on the passenger list."

Nova Scotia's Rhapsody Quintet played a selection of pieces reminiscent of music performed aboard the ship by the Titanic orchestra a century ago.