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Memorial unveiled to mark tragic loss of HMS Birkenhead.

A NEW memorial to one the worst 19th century maritime disasters has been unveiled in Merseyside 162 years after the tragedy.

The sinking of the troopship HMS Birkenhead entered British legend with the first recorded order of "women and children first" to the lifeboats after the paddle steamer hit an uncharted rock off the South African coast.

Soldiers stood to attention as the Birkenhead-built troopship sank and this protocol was immortalised by Rudyard Kipling in his poem A Soldier An' Sailor Too as the Birkenhead Drill.

Of 638 people onboard, only 193 survived the accident near Gansbaai, South Africa, on February 26, 1852. Many victims were taken by sharks.

The memorial was unveiled on Woodside Promenade by the Mayor of Wirral Cllr Dave Mitchell and the Lord-Lieutenant of Merseyside, Dame Lorna Muirhead.

Pebbles from Gansbaai beach, where survivors swam ashore, surround the memorial of three steel panels. The memorial, by Jemma Twigg, 18, of Irby, was the winning design from a competition among local art colleges.

It was judged by Andy Liston of New Brighton Lifeboat Station, who conceived the memorial idea, Cammell Laird managers and Wirral council memorials officer Peter Jackson-Lee. The memorial was built by Laird's apprentices and paid for by the company which is the successor to the original troopship's builder, John Laird.

The Mayor of Wirral, Cllr Dave Mitchell said: "I was honoured to welcome our armed forces and to bring together the people of Wirral and South Africa.

"Andy Liston worked tirelessly to help this memorial come about and to raise awareness of HMS Birkenhead's history."

Andy Liston, who represented the RNLI and the Republic of South Africa at the ceremony said his inspiration came from a wedding trip to South Africa and seeing places named after the tragic ship.

He said: "The fact I was born in Birkenhead drove me to learn about HMS Birkenhead. I was not alone on the voyage I took to create a memorial overlooking the sea to symbolise what HMS Birkenhead stood for." John Syvret, Cammell Laird chief executive officer, said: "It is important our apprentices understand the long history of Cammell Laird and what happened to the ships built here."

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NEVER FORGOTTEN: Student Jemma Twigg at the unveiling of the HMS Birkenhead Memorial Pictures: GARETH JONES

HONOUR: Veterans at the dedication ceremony
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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Geographic Code:6SOUT
Date:Mar 6, 2014
Words:386
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