14 Februari, 2009

I'm selling Titanic relics to pay for my nursing care

AGED just nine weeks Millvina Dean lost her dad after they were separated during the sinking of the Titanic.

Now 97, the only living survivor of the disaster is hoping her connection to the legendary liner will come to her rescue.
You would think she had seen enough tragedy for a lifetime. Yet she is in danger of losing the cosy room where she hoped to spend her twilight years.
Determined to remain, devastated Millvina is auctioning the last of her Titanic memorabilia to pay monthly bills of up to £3,000.

The Woodlands Ridge Nursing Home where she lives is on the outskirts of Southampton, from where Millvina set sail aboard the Titanic on April 10, 1912.
When the “unsinkable” vessel struck an iceberg four nights later she was wrapped in a mail sack and loaded on to lifeboat number 13 with her mother, Georgetta.
Moments later the passenger liner slipped under the freezing waters of the Atlantic.
A post bag — the one Millvina thinks kept her warm — is among 17 items she is selling through Henry Aldridge & Son auctioneers in Devizes, Wilts, in April.
They are expected to raise several thousand pounds, possibly running into five figures.

Millvina says: “It was a very cold night when the Titanic sank and I suppose in the rush I was bundled into whatever was most handy.

“That happened to be a mail sack. And it did a fine job of keeping me warm and dry. For years my mother held on to such a canvas bag and it could be the one I was put in when the Titanic went down
“I’m also selling a one-off Waterford Crystal Titanic model presented to me when I visited the factory in the late Nineties.

“The Titanic’s builders, Harland & Wolff in Belfast, gave me a large picture of the ship with my name on a plaque below it in April 1996. That’s going too.
“I don’t want to part with my possessions, but given the circumstances, I have no choice.”
Although wheelchair bound, Millvina remains outspoken and spirited — perhaps aided by the shot of Tia Maria liqueur she enjoys in her coffee every morning.

She was eight when her mum first told her about the luxurious ocean liner which hit an iceberg at 11.40pm on Sunday, April 14, 1912. Only 705 of the 2,228 passengers and crew survived.


Before then Georgetta was too traumatised to speak of the events and couldn’t bring herself to mention her darling husband Bertram, 27, whom she lost in the tragedy.
Millvina says: “After later returning to England from the States my mother fell in love with a local vet called Leonard Burden. She married him in 1920.

“She felt I should know he was my step-dad and told me about what happened to the Titanic.”

Millvina’s mum died in 1975 aged 95. By then she had shared all the tragic details of the fateful night in 1912 with her daughter.
Millvina says: “My father got a letter from cousins in Kansas telling him to come to the United States for a better life.

“He sold the pub he owned in London, made a down-payment on a tobacconist’s in Wichita, Kansas, and bought third-class tickets to the New World.
“The night of the sinking my parents were in bed when they heard a crash. Dad rushed up to the deck and came downstairs yelling at Mum to get the children.
“My brother, Vere, was almost two and with the help of a sailor we struggled into the open air.

“There was room in a lifeboat for my mother and I but Dad wouldn’t board because of the ‘women and children first’ policy.
“My parents embraced and Dad said he would see us later. Mum never saw him again.”


Four hours after receiving the Titanic’s distress calls the Cunard liner Carpathia picked up the lifeboat containing Millvina and her mum.
They had been separated from Vere, so Georgetta was overjoyed to find him already aboard the rescue ship. From there the liner sailed to New York.
Millvina says: “Mum left England with her husband hoping for a new life.

“The situation she faced in New York couldn’t have been more different. We had no father, no money and no clothes.
“The Americans were extremely kind and provided clothing and food but Mum just wanted to get back to England to her family. The dream was well and truly over.
“We spent three weeks in St Luke’s hospital while Mum recuperated.
“We were given tickets back to England aboard the Adriatic, where I became a bit of a celebrity.

“I have a photo of my mother and I on the journey home. It’s something I’d never sell.”
Back in England Millvina was raised on her grandfather George Light’s farm in Bartley, in Hampshire’s New Forest.
She recalls a glorious, outdoors childhood spent looking after animals and making hay bales.

Millvina, who never married, went on to live an unremarkable adult life, working in the Ordnance Survey office and for an engineering firm.
Then, in 1985, Robert Ballard — from Wichita, where Millvina was to have started her new life — discovered the wreck of the Titanic two miles under the Atlantic and Millvina developed a fascination with the ship.

She says: “I got invited to conventions all over the world and travelled to the States, Canada, Germany, France and many other countries.
“Everyone made such a fuss because I was the Titanic’s youngest passenger. That’s how I ended up with so many mementoes. I had emotional meetings with other survivors too. But now I’m the only one left.”

Slipping three heaped sugars into a half cup of tea, Millvina struggles to explain the huge interest still surrounding the ill-fated ship.
“I suppose it’s because it was said to be unsinkable. It was also the most luxurious liner ever.

“Multi-millionaires went to their graves alongside steerage passengers such as my father.
“Naturally I wouldn’t choose to be linked with the Titanic. I would have dearly loved to know my dad, who was such a handsome man.”
Ironically, her connection with the Titanic now provides her only hope of further professional care.

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