Have you seen the scene in Titanic film where the small band play on as panic erupts across every layer of the sinking ship? The band leader was Wallace Henry Hartley and Iím here at his final resting place. On a cold Saturday afternoon I drove to Colne and parked outside a chip shop (window open, lovely smell.) I crossed the road and found, behind the chapel, a cemetery on a hill. Thankfully it wasnít too sprawling and I soon found the proud stone off the main path.
Wallace was born in this town in Lancashire and music was in the family blood. His dad was the choirmaster and Sunday school superintendent at the local chapel where the family worshipped. He studied at Colne's Methodist day school, sang in Bethel's choir and learned violin from a fellow congregation member (note the violin carving on the headstone.) Leaving school he worked at a local bank. The family moved to Huddersfield and Wallace joined the Huddersfield Philharmonic Orchestra. Music really did swish in the blood as at 25 he left home to the join the municipal orchestra in Bridlington (on the east coast.) At 31 he joined the Cunard Line as a musician, serving on some huge liners RMS Lucania, RMS Lusitania and RMS Mauretania.
Whilst serving on RMS Mauretania musicians were transferred from Cunard to the White Star Line which owned the Titanic.† In April 1912 Wallace was 34 and had proposed to his girlfriend so he was reluctant to leave her when he became bandmaster on RMS Titanic. However he decided to go as work on this prestigious liner would probably lead to more work. When the Titanic hit an iceberg panic sprinted across the decks. It was obvious the liner was going to sink so lifeboats were put into the water. Wallace and his fellow band members started playing music to help calm the passengers. Many of the survivors said that he and the band continued to play until the very end. Not one of the band members lived to confirm this.
Who knows if they did play on to the bitter end? A survivor who was on 'Collapsible A' lifeboat said Wallace and his band were stood near the entrance to the grand staircase. Three were washed off and the other five held on to a railing. How close this witness was is unknown but he said Wallace exclaimed, "Gentlemen, I bid you farewell!" as the bow pulled them under.
It was two weeks before he was recovered. He was fully dressed and wearing a cork and life jacket. Strapped to his body was a leather music case containing his violin. He was returned to Liverpool where is father was waiting to bring him back to Colne.† 30,000 - 40,000 lined the route of his funeral procession and 1,000 attended his funeral on 18th May 1912. Nobody knows what the last tune the band played at the liner sank. If it was Nearer, My God, to Thee it was probably the "Propior Deo" version he had learn at church in Colne. This version was played at his funeral.
In October 2013 the violin in the case strapped to Wallaceís chest was sold for £900,000 in 10 minutes at auction in Wiltshire. It had only two strings, was cracked and water-stained. It had been returned to his fiance (who never married) who kept it as a shrine to the man she never saw alive again. After her death it was given to her local Salvation Army citadel then later passed on to a woman in the 1940s. He son found it in her attic. More than 315,000 people viewed it during a three-month exhibition in the United States.
As I looked at the 3m high stone a man passed by with a small terrier. Three lads sat on a bench nearby with their bikes on the grass. I was going to draw their attention to the man who lay here. When you watch the Titanic film you donít quickly associate it with a man from a stone town in Lancashire.
A shot of Colne Cemetery from the rear...