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Sligo Independent 28 September 1912


Captain Smith called through his megaphone, “Be British,” and that became the rallying cry of officers and men.

Proudly the great ship night and day
     Swept on, with a conqueror’s pride,
Fearing nought that could check her way,
     Unheeding of wind or tide.
But, slow and cold, from the ice-bound shores
     Moves the berg, in its silent might,
Till its sword strikes through to the good ship core,
     In the calm of the April night.

And a thousand, and more, in manhood’s flower,
     Gallant and strong and brave,
Yield their chances of life in that awful hour,
     To the weak they must help and save!
Braver than fiercest battle cry
     The Captain’s voice rings clear:
“Be British!” and silent acts reply,
     Better than answering cheer.

“Be British!” the call with its mystic spell,
     Thrills the hearts so brave and true;
To honour the name they love so well,
     How much would they dare and do!
Now, ’tis theirs to die–in that dear name–
     And His–Who died to save,
The helpless and weak. They own the claim,
     And yield Him the life He gave.

Round the wide world the tale is told–
     How duty is no dream–
How British courage ne’er grows cold
     In the stress of a need supreme!
How a glory nobler than that of strife
     Lights our banners undefiled,
When the rich and the poor alike give life
     For the woman and the child!

“Be British!” ’mid the changing hopes and fears
     The words keep their passion still,
That God hath wrought through the storied years,
     His mission to fulfil;
And never–when passing from thought to lip–
     May their impulse lower fall
Than that which breathed through their stricken ship,
     In the Captain’s midnight call.

The Titanic disaster occured on 15 April 1912 and was widely reported in the local newspapers. This poem relates to a story, possibly apocrophal, that from the bridge, Captain Smith called through his megaphone "Be British," and that became the rallying cry of the officers and crew. These are also sometimes referred to as Captain Smith's last words and are included on the plaque on his memorial in Lichfield.

There is no clue as to the origin or author of this poem. It is not mentioned in lists and websites devoted to the vast quantity of "Titanic poetry" so it may have been written by a local unionist, from Sligo or one of the adjacent parts of Ulster.

Though there is an absence of any reference to the current Home Rule debate and the Unionist opposition, the call to "Be British" had resonances for Ireland at that time.

It appears that there were seven Sligo people on the Titanic and that only one survived. Sligo Champion report November 2012. The local newspapers at the time found it difficult to get exact details. The Sligo Times said there were four Sligo people on board and named Alfred Middleton, an electrician on the ship, as one of the dead.

The others lost were Mary Delia Burns, Kilmacowen; Catherine 'Kate' Hargadon, Carraroe; Henry Hart, Ballisodare; Janie Carr, Castlerock, Aclare and John Meehan, Carrowhuane, Curry, all third class pasengers.

The survivor is named as Margaret Devaney from Kilmacoen who was travelling with Mary Delia Burns and Kate Hargadon.

The full list of Titanic victims is available here.

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