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Perhaps the most sorrowful part of the entire Titanic saga is hearing the survivor’s personal stories. It can be heart-wrenching to listen to their recollections. How they ended up on the luxury ocean-liner in the first place and how they dodged death on the night of April 14, 1912. Over 1,500 passengers perished in the ocean and only about 700 passengers, officers and ratings were saved.
Some stories speak of extraordinary human achievements. For example there is the story of Richard Norris Williams II who made it through after hours of darkness in the freezing Atlantic Ocean as he clung to a makeshift lifeboat. Throughout his ordeal, his body from the waist downwards remained immersed in the ice-cold water. When a doctor had him checked on RMS Carpathia, Williams was told he needed an amputation. Steadfast, he refused. He endured the terrible pain, he revitalised his legs by massaging them and he did recover. Eight years later, Richard Norris Williams II won the Gentlemen’ Doubles at the 1920 Wimbledon Championships along with Chuck Garland.
Other stories are not so inspiring, such as that of Jennie Louise Hansen from Wisconsin. She made it through the tragedy but was deeply traumatised by her ordeal and the sights of the suffering around her that shocking night. The trauma this woman endured damaged her nerves greatly. It is reported that Ms Hansen became incapable of ever shedding a tear again.
When Berthe Antoine Mayné tried to share her survival story with her close family, nobody believed what she was saying. The Belgian lady provided for herself by performing and singing in cabarets around Brussels. In the capital, she was a familiar face ‘in circles of pleasure and was often seen in the company of people who like to wine and dine and enjoy life,’ according to Het Laatste Nieuws.
Ms Mayné was reportedly in a relationship with Fernand de Villiers, a soldier from France who had served in the Congo, when she met Canadian millionaire, Quigg Edmond Baxter, at the end of 1911. Their amorousness apparently developed remarkably quickly.
Quigg Edmond Baxter was of wealthy parents and was originally a professional hockey player. But, after suffering a severe injury to one of his eyes, which impaired his sight, Baxter had to stop playing and became instead a hockey coach.
He travelled to Europe with both his mother and sister and the three of them planned to return to the United States travelling on the RMS Titanic. Though Baxter and Mayné had been seeing each other only for a few months, Mayné became the fourth companion on the voyage. The foursome boarded first-class from Cherbourg, France.
Mayné was probably thrilled at the thought of starting anew in the New World. These were, after all, the peak years of mass migration. Many people from all over the world but primarily Russia and Europe were keen on rebuilding their lives in the United States and Canada, further afield too such as Australia and New Zealand, South Africa and Latin America appealed to many.
From being a Brussels cabaret celebrity, there she was, with a first-class ticket on one of the grandest ocean greyhounds of the period.
In the spirit of good manners, Mayné was registered as ‘Mrs de Villiers’ on board the ocean-liner and she was booked into a separate cabin from Baxter. Unfortunately, the time to enjoy the ship and its beauty were short-lived, not only for Mayné and Baxter but for everyone on board. The horror began when the Titanic slammed into an iceberg some 300 miles southeast of Newfoundland.
When the ocean-liner sharply came to a halt in the middle of nowhere, Baxter went to find out what happened and came across Captain Smith and Bruce Ismay. The wealthy passenger approached them and the captain allegedly said, ‘There’s been an accident, Baxter, but it’s all right.’ Sadly, nothing was all right. Captain Smith then hurried to the bridge, and Ismay told Baxter to gather his family and take them to the boat deck.
Baxter quickly rushed everyone out of their cabins. Mayné put on a long woollen overcoat over her nightgown and was escorted to lifeboat number 6. The diva was hesitant to climb in without Baxter. Fervently, she pleaded to return to her cabin and pick up left-behind jewellery. However, an alert Molly (Unsinkable) Brown, probably the best-remembered survivor on lifeboat No. 6, talked Berthe out of such crazy ideas as the mighty liner was taking in water and sinking fast.
As the lifeboat was lowered to the dark ocean below, Baxter waved goodbye to his lover, to his sister and mother. This would be the last they saw of him. He was never traced among those few recovered bodies after the Titanic perished to the depths. Sadly, he was 24 at the time and the same age as Berthe.
Following the tragedy, Berthe Mayné remained with the grieving Baxter family, at least for a while. She eventually relocated to Paris, where she continued her singing career and she remained single for the rest of her life.
Upon retirement, the Belgian chanteuse moved back to Brussels. Though she didn’t have a husband or children of her own, Mayné still had a nephew and other close family members. None of them believed she had journeyed on the Titanic in her youth.
She had this heart-wrenching story to tell, but her family only realised it was true after her death in 1962, at 75 years of age. While sorting through Mayné’s belongings, her nephew came across a shoebox full of memories, letters, photographs, and other personal belongings. The memorabilia testified to his aunt’s ill-fated journey across the ocean.
Related books: The Leaving of Liverpool, Britannic Waives the Rules: Last of the White Star Liners, UNTOLD SAGAS OF THE SEA Volume I (The USA, The UK), UNTOLD SAGAS OF THE SEA Vol II (The USA, The UK), UNTOLD SAGAS OF THE SEA VOL. III ( The USA and The UK) UNTOLD SAGAS OF THE SEA VOL. IV ( The USA and The UK) and All I Ask is a Tall Ship by Liverpool writer Michael Walsh
Categories: Sea Stories