Published: 26 November 2015
On the last day of my trip to London I took the train to Liverpool where Andy Liston met me and took me on a short sightseeing trip of Liverpool and then on to Birkenhead in the borough of Wirral. I was then taken to the Town Hall where I met the Mayor, Councilor Les Rowlands. I was able to tell him about Gansbaai and of course in detail about our commemoration ceremony each year on the 26th of February when we remember the tragedy of the Birkenhead which sank in 1852. We then proceeded (in the rain!) to the monument that has been build there and which was unveiled in 2013. They had made a wreath for me and the mayor and myself laid our wreathes as part of Remembrance week which was being commemorated in London at the time.
As manager of Gansbaai Tourism I have been involved in arranging the Commemoration here for many years and I was part of the 150th commemoration in 2002 where many of the descendants came out to Gansbaai and I was privileged to meet them. Victims of the worst maritime disasters of the 19th Century have been remembered in a wreath-laying ceremony in Wirral. HMS Birkenhead, a light steam frigate built by John Laird’s shipbuilders, sank off the coast of Gansbaai, South Africa in 1852. Of the recorded 638 people onboard only 193 survived. The disaster is recognised as the origin of the term 'women and children first', the so-called 'Birkenhead Drill' by which women and children would be the first to the lifeboats in the event of a maritime disaster.
The wreath laying ceremony took place at a memorial in the town on Friday. In attendance was Wirral's Mayor, Cllr Les Rowlands, and Glenda Kitley, manager at Gansbaai Tourism in the Western Cape South Africa. Cllr Rowlands said: “I am particularly honoured to be able to welcome Glenda Kitley from South Africa in a spirit of friendship and solidarity.” Glenda Kitley said: “Having been associated with the HMS Birkenhead in Gansbaai for the past 20 years it was a great honour and emotional moment to be able to lay a wreath at this monument in Birkenhead.”