Post Memories: Volunteers resurrect the voice of Titanic survivor

Esther/Eva Hart

Esther/Eva Hart - Credit: Archant

Titanic: The world knows the name, and it conjures up thoughts of a vast white ship, heartbreaking last embraces, and a Celine Dion soundtrack.

Esther/Eva Hart

Esther/Eva Hart - Credit: Archant

But now people can hear the story of the world’s biggest ship from one of its oldest survivors, even though she passed away in 1996 and the ship herself sank 105 years ago.

Valence House discovered a recording of a talk in the old Barking Library by Eva Hart in the local archives, and volunteer Derek Alexander has had the recording copied professionally so the public can listen to her remarkable memories of that fateful voyage.

Eva Hart was born in Seven Kings in 1905, and her family’s finances suffered during the recession of 1911. A family friend from Canada persuaded her father, Benjamin Hart, to go into business with him in Winnipeg, where, he assured him, they would both become rich.

Eva’s “very down-to-earth and sensible” mother was unusually anxious of this overseas adventure, and tried to dissuade her husband.

Eva and Esther Hart, sentre and right, with an unknown woman, as they made their way back to England

Eva and Esther Hart, sentre and right, with an unknown woman, as they made their way back to England. - Credit: Archant

When asked why, she could only say: “I don’t know, only that we. must. not. do. it.”

A coal strike meant the family’s booking was changed from the ship the Philadelphia to the ill-fated vessel.

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Benjamin was thrilled, exclaiming: “We’ve got a berth in the Titanic! Isn’t it wonderful? The whole world is talking about the Titanic.”

On the tape, Eva recalls her mother asking “isn’t that the ship they say is unsinkable?” and his reply: “No, dear, that’s the ship that is unsinkable.”

Eva Hart pub. PICTURE: Ewan Munro

Eva Hart pub. PICTURE: Ewan Munro - Credit: Archant

His words, intended to reassure his uncharacteristically fretful wife, were met with the ominous response: “Then I know now why I’m frightened – because that is flying in the face of God.”

When she entered the “very lovely” second-class cabin onboard, Esther insisted that she would not go to bed at night on the ship and instead would sleep in the day.

Eva believes that this irrational reaction may have saved their lives. On the Titanic’s last night: “At ten to 12, sitting there sewing, she felt a bump.”

Her mother said it felt like pulling into a train station. It was, of course, the iceberg.

Other passengers on the port side barely felt what happened, but the Harts were able to make their escape quickly because Esther was awake to hear it.

“If my mother had been asleep the night the Titanic hit an iceberg, I wouldn’t be here. There is absolutely no question about that,” Eva said.

She remembers her father putting on a thick coat then: “He just swooped me up in his arms with a thick blanket on me.”

Of course, the Titanic had 2,200 passengers but only enough space on lifeboats for 800: “The people who were there first as we were, were able to get onto a lifeboat, and the people who were roused later and came up on deck, there was no lifeboat for them. So 1,516 of them had to wait two hours to die, because she took two and a half hours to sink.”

“So he put us in a lifeboat and stood back to help other women and children, and made no attempt to get in, and he just said to me “hold Mummy’s hand and be a good girl,” and that was the last I ever saw of him.”

Over the course of her life, Eva was a singer in Australia and a magistrate in Ilford for 20 years. She was awarded an MBE, and was involved with many films and documentaries about the Titanic, including A Night To Remember. There’s even a pub named in her honour.

The CD of the talk is for sale for £4 from the Archives and Local Studies Centre at Valence House, and on eBay. It can also be borrowed from Valence Library.