Iceberg Charly

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Brass bugle in museum display

White Star bugle on display in the Maritime Museum. Image courtesy of the Liverpool Daily Post and Echo.

I remember my brother’s bugle – a bright brassy one he used in the Scouts – but until recently I never knew they blew one on the Titanic.

It was with trepidation that I pursed my lips and gave the instrument a quick blast and the noise that came out almost deafened me.

Titanic had strong links with Liverpool but never visited her home port - by 1912 the White Star Line had switched its transatlantic liners to Southampton.

The organisation of her maiden voyage, including choosing the officers, was supervised by Charles Bartlett, the shipping line’s marine superintendent based in Liverpool.

Ironically he was known as Iceberg Charly because of his skill in smelling ice or sensing when there were dangerous bergs in the vicinity.

At least 90 members of Titanic’s crew on her tragic maiden voyage – about 10 per cent – were from Merseyside or had close links with the area.  Most of her key officers and crew had originally sailed from Liverpool for White Star.

In Merseyside Maritime Museum’s Titanic, Lusitania and the Forgotten Empress gallery there is a display of White Star items from the pre-Titanic era.

A chief officer’s frock coat was worn by William Lightfoot of Litherland, Liverpool, about 1900. Titanic’s officers wore similar coats as can be seen in photographs. There is an officer’s cap badge and uniform button.  

A White Star bugle was made by RJ Ward & Sons of Liverpool about 1885. A bugle like this was used to call Titanic’s passengers to meals.

A First Class china coffee cup and saucer of about 1905 was supplied by the famous Liverpool store Stoniers Ltd. The same design, featuring the White Star house flag, was used on Titanic. Stoniers also provided the1900 cobalt blue and gold china soup bowl made by Spode Copeland.

An iron rivet is engraved with the White Star emblem and RMS Titanic 1910. It is probably a shipyard worker’s souvenir taken from the slipway.

Bartlett joined White Star in 1894 and was given his first command in 1903. Titanic’s slightly-larger sister ship Britannic was commissioned as His Majesty’s Hospital Ship (HMHS) G618 on 13 December 1915 in Liverpool. Bartlett took command the following day as medical equipment was installed.

Britannic struck a German mine on 21 November 1916 in the Aegean off the Greek island of Kea. When he saw there was no way to save the stricken vessel, Captain Bartlett issued the order to abandon ship.

A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo. A paperback – Mersey Maritime Tales (£3.99) – is available from the museum, newsagents, bookshops or from the Mersey Shop website (£1 p&p UK).

If you have an iPhone you can now download a free virtual 3D model of the Titanic based on the model in Merseyside Maritime Museum.