A sad hero

It was another rubbish weather day in Frensham. It wasn’t too bad early on but the day descended to one long drizzly cloud of water. Miserable.

And technology let me down first thing when I tried to Skype with mum and dad. The desktop application wouldn’t work so, eventually, I used my tablet. We still managed a good chat.

Day-z and I attempted a few walks but, basically, we stayed indoors and worked on the history of the Belfast shipyard, Harland & Wolff. This was for work because I’m not allowed to devote too much time to individual businesses in my researching. According to Nick at work, it’s far too important a company to leave with current blank records.

It was during my research that I came across Thomas Andrews. I’m sure a lot of people have heard of him. He was a designer of ships and his greatest design was also his last.

He was born in 1873 in County Down and, from an early age, had a great interest in boats. He made so many that it earned the nickname of ‘Admiral’. In 1883, like so many other members of his family, he attended the Royal Belfast Academical Institution where, rather than study, was an exceptional cricketer.

Leaving school, he served an apprenticeship at Harland and Wolff and for five years worked in just about every department. He ended up in the design department and, by 1905 was the boss of it. In 1907, he was managing director of the entire company. Truly an amazing guy.

At around this time, the White Star Line and Harland & Wolff drew up an agreement. Harland & Wolff would be the sole builder of their ships. This was a genius move by the two companies, assuring them both continued prosperity. Then came the order to end all orders.

The White Star Line wanted the biggest ship to sail the Atlantic. Bigger and better than such rivals as Cunard’s Lusitania and Mauritania. So Thomas Andrews took Alexander Carlisle’s initial designs for the Titanic and made them a reality.

Once completed, he was justly proud of it, remarking that she was “…as nearly perfect as human brains could make her.”

One of the things that Harland and Wolff always did was send a team on the maiden voyage of any of their ships. This team was called the Guarantee Group and was made up of various members of staff who worked on the ship. It was their job to study the vessel as she sailed, noting anything that could be improved on or any glaring problems. For the Titanic’s maiden voyage, Tom headed the group.

As luck would have it and in one of those extraordinary twists of fate, Lord Pirrie, chairman of Harland & Wolff, had intended joining the group for the maiden voyage but was prevented by falling ill. Pirrie was described by contemporaries as “…the greatest ship builder since Noah.” It seems he was also the luckiest.

Poor Tom was one of the 1,517 people who perished when she hit the iceberg and went down.

It would be wrong to blame him as the designer. If anyone was to blame, the White Star Line has to take a big chunk of responsibility. It was them that decided they didn’t want lifeboats ‘cluttering’ up the decks. Because of this commercial decision, there were not enough boats for all the passengers. To quote a Titanic website, there was room for 64 lifeboats, 48 originally planned and 20 actually carried onboard. They had enough room for just a third of the people she carried.

Anyway, Thomas Andrews was one of those amazingly heroic people who pushed people into lifeboats, ordering them to leave the ship and generally thinking nothing of his own safety. According to one of the survivors, “Mr Andrews met his fate like a true hero, realising the great danger, and gave up his life to save the women and children of the Titanic. They will find it hard to replace him.

I’ve heard lots about the Titanic, the great unsinkable ship, but I’ve never heard of Thomas Andrews. I’m glad this changed today.

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1 Response to A sad hero

  1. hat says:

    Wow poor man but as you say what a hero, and what a story.
    love mum and dad xx

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