I HAVE always thought Wallace Hartley did not get the credit he deserved.
He was the bandleader on the Titanic who gathered a small group of musicians together to continue playing as the great liner sank after hitting an iceberg.
The tragedy happened 100 years ago on Sunday.
There have been many films and dramatised versions of the events but he and the band get only a passing nod of acknowledgement as the action focuses on other issues such as who was at fault, the locked gates to third class, brave officers with stiff upper lips, the cowardly male passenger with the wobbly lower lip dressed in a frock and the fictitious love story of Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Hartley was born and brought up in Colne, Lancashire. He lived for a time with his family in Almondbury and played with Huddersfield Philharmonic Orchestra, before moving to Dewsbury. He played with orchestras in Leeds and Bridlington and then joined the Cunard shipping company.
He was head-hunted to lead the orchestra on the maiden voyage of the White Star Line’s Titanic.
As it sank with the loss of 1,517 lives he and his fellow musicians proved to be the most unassuming of heroes. They didn’t shout “women and children first” or guard a lifeboat with drawn revolver. Instead, they played ragtime to calm the nerves of the passengers.
Hartley’s last words were: “Gentlemen, I bid you farewell.”
As the liner began to sink, they performed the hymn Nearer My God To Thee. Or did they?
The actual tune has been in dispute ever since. A reader tells me: “The curious thing about this is that there are several versions of the tune to which this hymn is sung.
“The version used by members of the Church of England in 1912 was called Horbury, composed by a chap from Hull called Bacchus Dykes. In America, they used a tune called Bethany by Lowell Mason. But Methodists, like Wallace Hartley, and other English non-Conformist churches used a tune called Proprior Deo by Arthur Sullivan.
“The American version was virtually unknown in England at the time so this begs the question, which version did Wallace play? Just to confuse matters, the wireless operator said they played a tune called Autumn.
“Apparently, in the film A Night to Remember (starring Kenneth More) they played Horbury but James Cameron had them playing Bethany in his Titanic on the basis that American audiences would have been left wondering what they were playing.
“On Hartley’s gravestone at Colne (his body was recovered with his violin tucked inside his coat) the opening bars of Proprior Deo are carved.
“Hartley had once said that he would like this hymn at his funeral and would play it if he was ever on a sinking ship – but he didn’t say which version!”
It is, he says, reminiscent of the bride who asked for “the Robin Hood song” to be played at her wedding. She meant the Bryan Adam song Everything I Do, I Do It For You from the Kevin Costner film Prince of Thieves. She got Richard Greene.