ON BOARD the Titanic was what must have been the finest Restaurant in the world.
The Ritz Restaurant (as it was called) was situated on B deck and was for the exclusive use of First Class passengers only. This restaurant was in addition to the already sumptuous First Class dining saloon.
The Ritz was under the control of the White Star Line, who appointed Mr. Luigi Gatti as manager, he had been poached from Oddenino's Restaurant (one of the best restaurants at the time in London).
Luigi Gatti was married and his wife and young son lived in a very nice house named, ''Montalgo'', Harborough Road, Polygon, Southampton.
The rest of the staff could have been called the ''International Brigade'' the majority (26) came from Italy, next strongest nation represented was France (17) followed by six each from England and Switzerland and one each from Belgium, Holland and Spain.
Eating at the Ritz was an ''Optional Extra'' and the cost was very high.
The rich and famous queued up for the privilege of dining at the Ritz, and passengers who booked a table for the whole voyage were granted a reduction on their fare by White Star.
Meals were available from 8am till 11pm daily and the tables were always fully booked.
Mr. Gatti was responsible for the complete administration of the restaurant and all employees were employed by him, not the White Star. He had his own Comptroller and accounts staff. Nothing was too much trouble for Mr. Gatti and his men, it was truly a case of the customer always being right and every wish and whim was pampered to.
A glance through the list of occupations of some of his men brings back a world of opulence and luxury, e.g.:- beside the humble waiters were Roast Cook, Assistant Roast Cooks, Pastry Cooks, Fish Cooks, Soup Cook, Iceman, Entree Cook, Wine Butler, Waiters, Barman, Glassman, Carver, Maitre D', Platemen and of course a couple of Page boys to take messages and do all the running about.
In all sixty-eight men and women were employed to give nothing but the best in service at all times.
That is the picture of the Ritz Restaurant and the devoted men and women that served there.
When the Titanic struck the ice-berg and was sinking, things changed more than a little for these unfortunate people.
Remember that they were not employed as crew nor were they passengers and consequently when the crunch came they were of little account.
There were not enough places in the lifeboats for half the passengers and crew so these poor men were expendable.
On the order ''women and children first'' the two cashiers - Miss R. Bowker and Miss M. E. Martin were found places in a lifeboat and after being saved by the captain and crew of the Carpathia and were landed safely in New York.
They were later to come home to Plymouth on the SS Lapland.
The only other member of the restaurant to escape the disaster was Paul Maugé the Maitre D', who escaped in lifeboat number five.
Paul Maugé gave evidence at the American enquiry and here is part of his statement: '
'Witness was berthed in the third-class corridor. Was awakened and went up on deck. Went down again and woke the chef. Going through the second-class cabin he noticed that the assistants of the restaurant were there ''and not allowed to go on the Boat Deck''. He saw the second or third boat on the starboard side being let down into the water, and when it was about ten feet down from the Boat Deck he jumped into it. Before this he asked the chef to jump, but he was too fat and would not do so. ''I asked him again when I landed in the boat, but he refused''.
When the boat was passing one of the lower decks some of the crew of the Titanic tried to pull him out of the lifeboat. He saw no passengers prevented from going on deck. He thinks he was allowed to pass because he was dressed like a passenger''. Source: Titanic, Colonel Archibald Gracie, Alan Sutton Limited, page 240.
What is not stated here is that in jumping into the boat Paul Maugé landed on a lady passenger and broke both her legs! Who can blame him for saving his life? There were only 41 passengers and crew in lifeboat number five and the capacity was 60 adults.
Paul Maugé also gave evidence at the British Inquiry as witness number 63, questions 20074-20187, he answered 113 questions on the 18th day, here is also described as the secretary to the chef of the a la carte restaurant.
So these were the three lucky ones, the other sixty-five members of the Ritz Restaurant were to perish. Whether they were kept herded in the second class saloon till the end is is not known. But from the fact that several bodies were picked up by the cable ship Mackay-Bennett and later interred in Halifax (in the Baron von Hirsch Cemetery), it seems that they must have been allowed on deck after all the lifeboats had gone. They then either jumped into the sea or were washed off at the end, when the Titanic sank beneath those icy cold waters.
Back in Southampton there was great sorrow in the strong Italian community that existed in the Queens Terrace area at the that time.
Henry Operti was the steward of the International Club, Orchard Place, Southampton, where many Italians lodged and in the mean streets off Queens Terrace there were several Italian hairdressers and a couple of Italian delicatessens etc.
The International Club was situated at Bowling Green House. There exists in Southampton, in St. Josephs Church, Bugle Street, near the Royal Pier a very humble memorial to the Men of the Ritz restaurant. It is a small brass plaque attached to a table leg, under the table top, and is inscribed:- ''In memory of the Restaurant Staff . . subscribed by Colleagues and friends''.
The table makes a fine piece of furniture but unfortunately being very portable there have been at least three attempts to steal the table and tablet in the last few years.
More details of the Ritz Staff were sought from the Italian Embassy in London but because of a disastrous fire there, no information was forthcoming and I have been unable to elicit any replies from Italy.