Encyclopedia Titanica

Titanic and the Belgian Connection

In my Family tree, I have at least four people who were on that fateful voyage.


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To the east of the old town of Southampton, over the river Itchen, lies Woolston. At its northern end was the village of Itchen Ferry; I say 'was' because in an attempt to disrupt nearby Spitfire production the Luftwaffe pretty much destroyed it. As the name suggests, this was the point at which, for centuries, passengers and goods were transported across the river. Eventually, these small boats were replaced by a chain ferry and then in the 1970s by a toll road bridge. Southampton folk still remember the 'Floating Bridge' with nostalgia: I won't say what they think about the Toll Bridge.

As well as the ferrymen, Itchen Ferry was home to generations of seafaring families. Not the discovering the New World type, just the kind that are the lifeblood of ports like Southampton, Liverpool and Belfast. The young men went to sea as fishermen, steamer men or on the Channel Island trade. The young women went into service until they eventually came home to marry a sailor. Families such as the Parkers, the Noyces, the Spragues and the Diapers. These men were so familiar with the waters around the English Channel and the Isle of Wight that Sir Thomas Lipton chose Itchen Ferrymen to crew his America's Cup yacht 'Shamrock' (mostly Diapers as it happens).

So what about the Titanic?

Southampton has always had links with the Atlantic Ocean; despite what anyone else may try to tell you, Mayflower sailed from there. As the luxury liner business developed the town provided a ready supply of willing hands. 725 of the Titanic's crew were from the Southampton area. Of those 54 gave their address as Itchen but very many more would have been born there or had family there.

In my Family tree, I have at least four people who were on that fateful voyage. Albert 'Bert' Copperthwaite (fireman), my third great uncle, perished. His body was never recovered and he was euphemistically listed as 'did not disembark'. Another fireman John Joseph Diaper, my 1st cousin 3x removed, survived but then went on to be wounded in action twice during WW1. He died at the age of 70. Less fortunate was my 3rd cousin 4x removed, Charles Edwin Smith (bedroom steward ), his body was recovered by the ship Montmagny and is buried in Fairview Lawn Cemetery, Halifax, Nova Scotia. One of Charles' direct ancestors was Mark Diaper (1750-1812) who owned the Itchen Ferry.

John Lovell Diaper (his mother was Louisa Pheobe Diaper) was a grill cook. My 3rd cousin 3x removed. His body may have been recovered but was never identified. John was born in the local workhouse. Not as harsh as it may sound. In those days many poor women would admit themselves for the period of their confinement. Particularly for a first birth or if their home circumstances weren't good. They would get fed. More importantly, in the days before our wonderful NHS, there was access to free healthcare. As his mother was not married at that time, his birth certificate reads John Lovell Diaper. Lovell being his father's name. That's the surname he used when signing on with White Star.

Is this many Titanic crew members in one family tree unusual? I doubt it. Not if you have roots in Itchen Ferry and definitely not if your family have more than a few generations in Southampton. It's difficult to comprehend the devastation that the tragedy inflicted on the working class of this proud town. The ghost of this anguish can be glimpsed in the BBC South film 'Titanic Southampton Remembers', which is still available on YouTube.

I am greatly indebted to an article on the Diaper Heritage Association website entitled The Search for John Diaper. I suggest that anyone who has an interest in things seafaring has a look at this site. There are tales of everything from ocean racing yachts to cannibalism on the high seas.

Oh, I nearly forgot the Belgian Connection.

In Flanders (now in Belgium) there's a little town called Ypres. Most famous for the First World War battles. In the middle ages it was more famous for the production of fine cloth. This was employed, among other things, for the napkins used for communion wine (incidentally called a diaper). During this time a few people from Ypres crossed the English Channel. Like so many before and since they were seeking a better and safer life for their families. The natives probably didn't welcome them with open arms but at least they didn't persecute them. When questioned ' Where you from mate?' , they said d'Ypre (from Ypre). Within a couple of generations they intermarried and became more English than the natives. Some of them slowly migrated northwards to Suffolk and a few travelled west until they ended up on the banks of the River Itchen. Their descendants became a proud seafaring people.


First published in the Atlantic Daily Bulletin, Journal of the British Titanic Society


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Encyclopedia Titanica (2021) Titanic and the Belgian Connection (Titanica!, ref: #397, published 9 April 2021, generated 22nd November 2022 04:25:22 AM); URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-and-the-belgian-connection-397.html