The chilling premonition that stopped writer’s grandfather boarding the Titanic
ANDREW Britton has just published the first in a series of books on classic cruise liners...yet he wouldn’t be alive today if his grandfather hadn’t refused the job of orchestra leader on the Titanic.
Back in 1912 it was a last minute change of mind for Andrew’s granddad, Alfred Britton, after he and his new wife Nora watched the Titanic sailing into Southampton docks after completing sea trials just days ahead of its doomed maiden voyage.
“Our family story is that it was something about the way the liner sucked in the water and created some sort of vacuum around it that led to my grandmother having a premonition and begging my grandfather not to get on board,” says 56-year-old Andrew, who lives in Landor Road, Warwick.
“He was a principal violinst and bandmaster for the White Star Line and managed to make some excuse. Naturally, if he had sailed then my sister Ruth and I would never have been born because our grandmother couldn’t have given birth to our own father, John Britton.
“Not that grandad’s narrow escape has stopped my lifelong fascination with the world’s great ships.
“I’ve taught at primary schools in Whitnash, Warwick, Claverdon and Kenilworth and while I miss the children, it’s a dream of a retirement job to be writing about classic ocean liners for The History Press.
“During my childhood many of our relatives and friends were employed by the White Star Line, which merged with Cunard.”
Andrew was only a child when he was first taken to see the SS United States, which won the coveted Blue Riband for the fastest transatlantic crossing.
The luxury American liner was in service from 1952 to 1969 and is the subject of the first book in Andrew’s series.
He recalls: “I must have been only two or three-years-old when I got my first glimpse of the SS United States as it emerged through the mists at Southampton water in the late 1950s.
“When it docked and my father told the American crewman how my grandfather was leader of the orchestra on a rival Cunard liner we were instantly welcomed on board and given a behind the scenes tour.
“What stayed in my mind as a little boy was the fact that this ship could do 45 knots - just over 55 miles per hour, it had a swimming pool and diving board, a library, showed films in Cinemascope and that one of the sailors gave me the first soft ice-cream cone I’d ever eaten smothered in strawberry sauce.”
Needless to say Andrew’s book has a lot more factual information about the iconic American liner, gleaned from research, photographs and contacts via the World Shipping and Ocean Liner Societies.
He says: “Without my grandmother’s premonition I haven’t the slightest doubt that 100 years ago my grandfather would have gone down leading the orchestra on the Titanic as it played Nearer My God To Thee. He was that sort of man.”
In September The History Press will publish Andrew Britton’s second book on the RMS Queen Mary and in January the Mauretania followed by the Queen Elizabeth.
• SS United States can be ordered from most bookshops and costs £19.99.
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