The Sunderland man who survived when the Titanic sank, and other connections

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Sunderland man who spent two hours getting women and children into lifeboats

One hundred and twelve years have passed since one of the most famous moments in maritime history.

RMS Titanic sank in the North Atlantic Sea on April 15, 1912, taking around 1,500 people with her after striking an iceberg.

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It had been her maiden voyage and today, we are looking at the links that Sunderland had to the ship which had been deemed unsinkable.

A game of cards in the smoking lounge

Charles Whilems was born in Sunderland and his story was shared with the Echo in 2012 by his relative Olive Stephenson.

Olive Stephenson with the Census containing details of her relative Charles Whilems who survived the Titanic disaster in 1912.Olive Stephenson with the Census containing details of her relative Charles Whilems who survived the Titanic disaster in 1912.
Olive Stephenson with the Census containing details of her relative Charles Whilems who survived the Titanic disaster in 1912. | se

She showed us the Census which included details of Charles as a 10-year-old boy living in Bishopwearmouth in 1891.

By 1912, he was a foreman at a glassworks when he boarded the ship as a second class passenger on a £13 ticket.

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He was enjoying a game of cards in the Second Class smoking lounge just before midnight on April 14, 1912, when he felt Titanic suddenly shudder.

A huge, white iceberg went whizzing past

Throwing down his hand, the 31-year-old dashed up to the deck with his fellow players – where they spotted an iceberg, "huge and white against the dark blue sea," as it went "whizzing past" the ship.

As Titanic sank, he spent the next two hours helping women and children into lifeboats before stepping in to one himself.

He said in an interview: "The first boat had scarcely any passengers. I think there were only eight. I think I was in the last boat. There were about 55 others with me, of whom all but about eight were women."

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He eventually died in 1940 when he was 58 and living in Ilford, Essex.

The Southwick man on a nearby ship

Marine engineer Albert McFarlane never forgot the sinking of Titanic and his story was shared with the Echo, also in 2012.

Sunderland councillor Bob Francis told the Echo at the time that Albert was his grandfather.

Councillor Bob Francis with a picture of his grandfather Albert MacFarlane, who was on a ship close to the Titanic when it sank.Councillor Bob Francis with a picture of his grandfather Albert MacFarlane, who was on a ship close to the Titanic when it sank.
Councillor Bob Francis with a picture of his grandfather Albert MacFarlane, who was on a ship close to the Titanic when it sank. | se

Albert was fourth engineer on the Sunderland-built tramp ship SS Detmold at the time the Titanic sank.

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His navigation officers later calculated they had been close to the suspected site of the Titanic.

Never known a night at sea like it

Albert, the son of a shipyard worker, was born in Sunderland in 1890 and lived in Trinity Street, Southwick, as a young child before moving to Middlesbrough for a few years.

He went on to be apprenticed as a fitter, turner and millwright at George Clark's Engineering and, after finishing his training at 21, signed up as an engineer on the SS Detmold in November 1911.

Albert signed on for a second spell with the Detmold in March 1912, with his destination this time being America – putting him within the general area in which Titanic sank.

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On the night of the sinking, Detmold's seawater intakes were closed because it was so cold, the sea was unusually calm and there was no moon.

The engineer told the crew he had never known anything like it.

Gruel and cheese for their final meal

Yet Detmold’s sailors knew nothing of the sinking of the ship until a pilot jumped aboard the ship as it approached the Chesapeake estuary in Philadelphia, and said ‘The Titanic has gone down.”

The final meal of Titanic’s ill-fated guests was served by a Durham pub to mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking in 2012.

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The anniversary of the sinking was commemorated in a Durhgam pub which had the original bar from Titanic's sister ship.The anniversary of the sinking was commemorated in a Durhgam pub which had the original bar from Titanic's sister ship.
The anniversary of the sinking was commemorated in a Durhgam pub which had the original bar from Titanic's sister ship. | se

The Lambton Hounds Inn, in Durham, had the original cocktail bar fitted in the RMS Olympic, the sister vessel of the Titanic.

The pub served a rich rice pudding, cabin biscuits and cheese during the evening, as that was what was served to those travelling in third class for their supper before the Titanic began to sink.

Tell us if you have a family link to Titanic, by emailing [email protected]

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