IT was the story that gripped and shocked the world, filling newspaper columns for weeks.
And the Diss Express of 1912 was no exception.
It is nearly 100 years since the Titanic sunk on its maiden voyage in the early morning of April 15, after hitting an iceberg.
The Diss Express, then a broadsheet, was published that week on April 19, and the story was well covered, although not on the front page, with the headlines: World’s Biggest Ship. Titanic Sinks After Collision With Iceberg. Appalling Loss Of Life.
Then the Diss Express relied on telegrams for the national and global stories and the confusion after the event was clear. The Diss Express reported that initially, telegrams stated that all lives had been saved before the ship sank. Later telegrams revealed that Titanic’s owners, The White Star Line, admitted many lives were lost.
The Diss Express put the death toll at 1,300 to 1,400 four days after the event. Actually, 1,514 perished.
It accurately reported that the women and children first protocol was adhered to, but said it had been stated all first class passengers had been saved, although it noted some of those who were still missing.
Many first class passengers in fact died and although most of the women were saved, more than half of the men perished with the death count more than 100.
Many details were reported about the grandeur of Titanic, stating the best cabins with their own private deck promenade cost £870 for the voyage. This would be about £80,600 in today’s money.
Although the actions of those who gave their life to save others praised in the House of Commons, it is not until the end of the paper’s reporting that questions are asked about how it could have happened.
A statement was carried from White Star’s Mr Franklin, who claimed famously that the ship was unsinkable.
He said: “I made the statement in good faith and upon me must rest the error, since the fact has proved that it was not a correct description of the construction of the unfortunate Titanic.”
American newspaper, the Daily News, asked why so few lifeboats were provided for the 2,200 passengers. It asked why 16 lifeboats were on board, when she could carry 48.
The story was followed up a week later in much the same way as it would be today - getting the first-hand accounts of survivors and the human stories.
Where as the previous week, the story was reported fairly matter-of-fact, the April 26 edition is full of emotive language, including words like “horror”, “terrible” and describing the crew behaving like “heroes” who observed the “splendid British tradition” of women and children first.
It was that week, the Diss Express reported the famous news that the band on board played Nearer My God To Thee, until the rising waters “engulfed the players” as the ship went down.
Locally, at the Parish Church, Diss, Rev C.W Peck at the close of his sermon made a “touching allusion” to the terrible loss.
A memorial service was held at the Baptist Chapel, where hymns Nearer My God To Thee and Eternal Father were sung.
A retiring offertory at the United Methodist Church on behalf of the Titanic Sufferers’ Fund raised £1 and four shillings.
An update from the inquiry suggested an Italian man had dressed as a woman in order to take his place in a lifeboat.
But the Diss Express failed to pick up on one local angle - that of Titanic survivor Ellen Bird, originally of Old Buckenham.
She was maid to the wealthy Isidor and Ida Straus.
Mrs Straus would not be parted from her husband when the evacuation took place.
One survivor said the sight of the Mr Straus tenderly reassuring his partner “while death came” was “the sweetest picture I ever saw”.
A reference has also been made on a Titanic history website to J. Symonds, born in Diss, who died after being on board working as a saloon steward.
The old newspapers are owned by Andrew Rackham of Diss, and form part of a collection of papers he has found and bought.