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* T was on the telly again last Saturday and with all this rain, staying in to watch DiCaprio and the lovely Kate Winslett meet and fall in love across the social divide aboard Titanic was our best option. At least we kept our feet dry. Now, 100 years on from the sinking of the unsinkable, will we ever forget the tragedy of it all? Not a chance.

Interestingly, after the initial shock and resulting publicity, details surrounding the loss of 1,517 souls in one of the worst maritime disasters of all time had largely been relegated to the history books. Then Hollywood stepped in. Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck starred in the 1953 telling of the story, after which, in 1958, Walter Lord's book, titled knowingly A Night To Remember, was turned into a film starring Kenneth Moore and Honor Blackman.

When James Cameron's epic broke box office records in 1998, a third generation was hooked. Add in exhibitions and museum displays on both sides of the Atlantic and it's little wonder that today there is a vast and growing demand for Titanic memorabilia. Leading the field in unearthing the latter are auctioneers Henry Aldridge & Sons, of Devizes, Wiltshire. It stages its second centenary sale of maritime antiques and collectors' items later this month, when more than 400 lots go under the hammer.

One particular lot should be purchased without hesitation and saved for the city of Liverpool: the gold medal awarded to the rescue ship Carpathia's Second Officer, Liverpool-born James Bisset. The Maritime Museum would, I'm sure, be only too pleased to put it on display.

Shortly after 12.30am on the fateful night of April 14-15 1912, the wireless operator aboard Liverpoolregistered RMS Carpathia received the message that the pride of the White Star Line, Titanic, making her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York, had struck an iceberg.

Rapid calculations told Carpathia's Captain Arthur Rostron that the stricken liner lay 58 miles away. Carpathia's normal top speed was a mere 14' knots but by putting on extra stokers, the sedate 13,500 ton Cunard liner with 700 or so passengers managed an unheard-of 17' knots through a calm but bitterly cold sea.

The ship's three doctors were each assigned a post of duty and all her public rooms and officers' cabins, including that of the captain, were given up to Titanic survivors, while all of Carpathia's steerage passengers were placed in one section of third class so that vacant berths could be given to people from Titanic's steerage.

Rostron then ordered "all gangway doors to be opened, powerful lights to be hung at the gangways and strung over the sides, a chair to be slung at each gangway to help getting the sick and injured aboard, and canvas bags to be made ready to haul up small children". Ladders, and blocks and tackle were strategically positioned and oil was prepared for pouring down the forward heads to make the water alongside the ship as smooth as possible.

Tea, coffee and hot soup were made ready, and with the men of the Stewards' and Purser's Departments assembled at the gangways, the Carpathia's Chief Officer reported at 2.30am that everything was in the best order possible.

By 3.55am, Carpathia was nearing Titanic's last known position but there was no sighting of her. At about 4am Carpathia's engines were stopped and, some 300 yards ahead, a green light could be perceived low on the water. Lines were thrown out and at 4.10, the first of Titanic's survivors were taken aboard from the Fourth Officer's Lifeboat No. 2.

In the breaking dawn, a ragged fleet of lifeboats came into view amid a sea littered with icebergs, some towering up to 200ft in height. Over the next four hours, 705 survivors were taken aboard, among whom were the widowed Madeleine Force Astor, escorted by Carpathia's senior hospital attendant to the infirmary, and Crosby-born Bruce Ismay, chairman of White Star Line, ushered below to one of the doctors' cabins to contemplate the full implications of the disaster.

Many others, still clinging to the vain hope that loved ones from whom they were separated might have been saved by other ships, were comforted by Carpathia's crew. At 8am Rostron made one last circle of the wreck site that had by now claimed 1,522 victims, and turned Carpathia back to New York.

Scarcely 24 hours after being rescued, a group of First and Second Class Titanic survivors formed themselves into a committee, firstly to raise money to help provide for destitute steerage passengers and secondly to reward Captain Rostron and his crew.

Before reaching New York, committee members including Frederick Seward, Mrs William Bucknell and the Denver heiress Mrs Margaret Brown, destined to become known as "The Unsinkable Molly Brown", had collected $15,000 among themselves. The fund was placed subsequently with JP Morgan & Co. and was personally administered by Mr Morgan himself, and the head of International Mercantile Marine, the trust which owned Titanic.

The Survivors' Committee settled on the New York firm of medallists Dieges & Clust to create the iconic Titanic-Carpathia medal, now coveted by medallists and collectors of Titanic memorabilia worldwide.

Rostron and 13 of his senior officers received gold medals. Junior officers received medals struck in silver while bronze medals were presented to the remainder of the crew. The obverse of the medal depicts dolphins and an anchor and the crowned head of Neptune with long beard flowing around a depiction of the Carpathia attending to Titanic's lifeboats in an iceberg field. A ladder has been lowered to one lifeboat from the ship, with other lifeboats in the water around it. On the reverse is an inscription in relief which reads: "Presented to the Captain officers & crew of RMS Carpathia In recognition of gallant and heroic services, from the survivors of the SS Titanic April 15th 1912.

All Carpathia medals are rare. The gold is among the rarest pieces of Titanic memorabilia existing today. That presented to James Bisset is only the second in gold to be offered in the last 25 years and is estimated at pounds 32,000-pounds 36,000.

Later Sir James Bisset CBE, KBE - he was knighted in 1945 - had a glittering career from a lowly start. He attended St Saviour's Infant School and Granby Street Board School and at 14 was apprenticed as a clerk with the London and Provincial Marine Insurance Company in Liverpool, which he did not complete. He subsequently served a four-year apprenticeship as an ordinary seaman.

Studying at the Mercantile Marine Service Association navigation school in Liverpool from 1903, he passed for his Extra Master's Certificate in 1907 and landed a posting as Fourth Officer with Cunard. After the Carpathia incident, he served as a Lieutenant in the Navy during the World War I, returning to Cunard as First Officer on the Mauretania. Appointed Captain of Cunard's fleet in 1931, World War ii saw Bisset in command of Franconia, the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth acting as troopships and was named Commodore of the Cunard Line in 1946. Later that year he captained the Queen Elizabeth on her maiden voyage as a passenger liner to New York before retiring to Australia the following year.

Titanic sets sail from Southampton


Rare Titanic and Olympic souvenirs, estimate pounds 2,000-pounds 3,000 The original case given to the family of the last Titanic survivor, Millvina Dean, in New York in April 1912, estimate pounds 8,000-pounds 10,000 ? The sale is on July 28. Fully illustrated souvenir catalogues (pounds 20 plus P&P) are available from or 01380 729199 James Bisset''s gold Carpathia Medal (right) will be sold with this photograph of Commander Bisset with Winston Churchill and his wife, and a letter from the wartime leader thanking Bisset for the arrangements he made for the couple while aboard the Queen Mary in 1944. Together they are valued at pounds 32,000-pounds 36,000
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jul 21, 2012
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