The Titanic disaster made many heroes, some remained below decks, keeping lights burning and steam flowing, others stepped back so that a stranger might live. Many sacrificed their lives on that night, we may never know who they were or how they met their ends, however a small group of men led by example, their efforts calming those around them, their contribution of incalculable value. These were the men of the orchestra of the Titanic.
W. Theodore Brailey.
John Frederick P. Clarke.
John Lawe Hume.
Percy C. Taylor.
J. Wesley Woodward.
Their leader, Wallace Hartley has become a legend in his own right. He was born at 92 Greenfield Road, Colne, Lancashire on the 2nd of June 1878. His father was a choirmaster for 25 years at Bethel Independent Methodist Church, Burnley Road, Colne. Wallace was first introduced to the violin and music as a pupil at George St. Wesleyan School and later gained experience as a member of Colne Orchestral Society. A school friend of his remarked that Wallace seemed `a nice lad, a bit what you might call roughish-a big tom boy. But he was very smart looking, a lad with a sense of fun.’ Wallace and a group of boys learned to play the violin when they were around 12 years of age. His friend recalled that Wallace didn’t show remarkable promise when they were learning but he `seemed to come on remarkably afterwards. At 17 Wallace was employed as a clerk with the Union Bank but in time he managed to persuade his parents to let him take up music as a career. He played at the Kursaal, Harrogate, Yorkshire, considered by many to be quite a privilege, and also led an orchestra in a Leeds cafe. He toured with the Carl Rosa Opera Company for three years and for a period was the leader of the Bridlington Municipal Orchestra.
He then turned his face towards the sea , joining the Cunard company as a bandmaster, crossing the Atlantic nearly 80 times, playing music for passengers and gaining fame and popularity with his fellow bandsmen wherever he played. It was only matter of time before his expertise became known to the White Star Line and he accepted a post to become the leader of the 8 bandsman who made up the Titanic’s orchestra.
History was made on the night of April 14 1912, when Wallace and his fellows picked up their instruments and proceeded to play their last music together as the passengers took to the lifeboats of the ill fated ship. Their last piece is shrouded in legend as the ship sank beneath the waves. It is known that Wallace had said that if he had been on a sinking ship he would do no better than to play “Nearer My God To Thee” or “Oh God Our Help in Ages Past.”
The body of Wallace Hartley was recovered from the Atlantic by the Mackay-Bennett, He was wearing evening dress with green facings and a brown overcoat. Strapped to his body was his music box and in his pockets, amongst other things, was a gold fountain pen with his initials W.H.H. The body was embalmed and returned to Halifax whereafter it was returned to England on board the SS Arabic, arriving on Friday 17 May. It was transported by road on a ten hour journey to Colne, arriving at one o`clock on the morning of May 18th. Later that day the funeral service began. An observer described it as `sombreness personified’. Bethel Chapel, where the funeral service was held was designed to hold 700 people, on that day around a thousand mourners crammed inside. Upwards of 30 000 people lined the streets of Colne, all paying their last respects to a man who had paid the supreme sacrifice. It must have been quite a spectacle and I’m sure the town has seen nothing like it since. What a pity that a young man like Wallace should have been deprived of what seemed such a promising career. But in retrospect, his death left the world with a splendid example of courage, patience and love; a shining light to us all.
Wallace Hartley found his rest in Colne cemetery.
A VISIT TO COLNE.
By Peter Farley.
Colne, a small textile town, is situated in a fertile green valley, flanked on either side by roaming hills. The diesel locomotive stops at Colne , it’s the end of the line. Up the long, straight road, climbing through the centre of the town. Part way along my journey, there is a monument set back from the road, in pleasant gardens and next to the municipal building. Etched into the face of it’s marble base is the following inscription:
“WALLACE HARTLEY-BANDMASTER OF THE R.M.S. TITANIC WHO PERISHED IN THE FOUNDERING OF THE VESSEL-APRIL 15TH 1912. ERECTED BY VOLUNTARY CONTRIBUTIONS TO COMMEMORATE THE HEROISM OF A NATIVE OF THIS TOWN.”
Entering the town’s huge central cemetery. Rows of vertical pieces of stone stand like erect soldiers on a parade ground. Each gravestone had some difference to its immediate neighbour; some extra blob of stone, perched on high, or some geometrical shape carved by the mason’s tools, all served to create an individual identity.“IN LOVING MEMORY OF WALLACE HARTLEY, THE BELOVED SON OF ALBION AND ELIZABETH HARTLEY, FORMERLY OF COLNE, WHO LOST HIS LIFE IN THE S.S. TITANIC DISASTER OF APRIL 15TH 1912 AGED 33 YEARS AND WAS INTERRED ON MAY 18TH 1912.”
A strange peacefulness pervades the air, a peace which only seems to be present on a vacated battlefield or as now, in a graveyard. The ground sloped steeply down the hillside and I picked my way down the tarred pathway, so as to not slip. I noticed the earth around the graves was sodden, a result of recently thawed snow. Thoughts started to fill my mind. How cold that Atlantic water must have been, which claimed the life of this Lancastrian musician. My mind told me I was walking down the same path on which the coffin bearers had trod so many years ago. On that day thousands of people had turned out to witness the funeral cortege of Wallace Hartley. Prominent people of the town, policemen, townsfolk, friends and his parents had all paid their respects, today there was only me, having traveled over 6000 kilometres to do the same.
I walked up and down the pathway and around the tombs, looking for the elusive resting place of the Titanic hero, but to no avail. I almost gave up looking, then, as I turned to walk up the path for the last time, there it was; a tall carved piece of granite stone with a replica of a violin carved at its base. I stood with excited admiration as I read the words;
The tributes to Wallace and his fellow bandsman have continued since. There are many memorials erected in their honour, the furtherest being in a town called Broken Hill in Australia. Even the house where Wallace lived at 52 West Park Street Dewsbury also proudly proclaims its heritage. Southampton has two Musicians Memorials: the first is on the junction of London Road, Bedford Place and Brunswick Place.
The other may be found in St Marys Cathedral.
THE BAND PLAYED?
The question of the last music that was played on the Titanic has been one of contention since the disaster. The most popular thought is that it was the hymn “Nearer My God To Thee”, however, this hymn, written by Sarah F. Adams, may be played to the tune “Horbury”, (as used in the movie “a Night To Remember”, composed by J.B. Dykes.), “Bethany” (composed by Lowell Mason) or “Propior Deo”. So not everyone may have been familiar with it as different versions are used in American And Britain. Wallace Hartley liked the hymn and had wished to have it performed at his funeral. Another contender is the ragtime tune “Songe d’Automne” (Autumn Dream), a popular piece of music at the time it may have been familiar to many passengers. And yet another is the Episcopal hymn “Autumn.” However, it appears that this little known hymn was more a case of mistaken identity. The fact is that many people heard many things that night but only 8 people could really say with any certainty what was played. A point was also raised that the prefix SS (Steamship) used on the stone was also incorrect, and that RMS (Royal Mail Steamer) should have been used on the inscription instead.
With thanks to Peter Farley for the article and photograph. Acknowledgements to Jack Greenwood and the British Titanic Society. 26/10/2014
DRW 2014 – 2020, recreated from original 04/03/2021.