Thomas Andrews, the County Down chief designer of the ill-fated ship, has been immortalized as the hero of the RMS Titanic’s tragic tale.
When the “unsinkable” ship struck the iceberg it was Andrews who calculated how long it would take the ship to sink. On that dreadful night he stayed on the sinking ship and helped others to escape the inevitable.
Andrews had been overruled on two key issues when the ship was being designed. He wanted to double the number of lifeboats to 64 and wanted a double hull built extending up to the B deck which would certainly have prevented the disaster.
After he died on 15th April 1912, his father received a telegram from his mother's cousin, who had spoken with survivors in New York, seeing news of Andrews. The telegram was read aloud by Andrews Sr. to the staff of the their home in Comber: "Interview titanic's officers. All unanimous that Andrews heroic unto death, thinking only safety others. Extend heartfelt sympathy to all.”
The newspaper accounts of the disaster labeled Andrews a hero. Mary Sloan, a stewardess on the ship, whom Andrews forced to enter a lifeboat, later wrote in a letter: "Mr. Andrews met his fate like a true hero, realizing the great danger, and gave up his life to save the women and children of the Titanic. They will find it hard to replace him."
According to "Titanic Stories" Andrews was “last seen throwing deck chairs into the Atlantic in a desperate bid to save lives.”
John Stewart, a steward on the Titanic, reported that Andrews was last seen in the first–class smoking room staring at a painting, "Plymouth Harbour," above the fireplace, his life jacket lying on a nearby table. The painting depicted the entrance to Plymouth Sound, which Titanic had been expected to visit on her return voyage.
The survivors of the tragedy reported that Andrews met his fate with bravery and as the horror unfolded around him he saved other men’s wives and children in the full knowledge that he would never see his own wife, child and family again.
His great nephew John Andrews said “He epitomized the nature of all [the people] that helped save a lot of people’s lives on that night.”
The Down man was on board the RMS Titanic’s maiden voyage as part of a group of skilled men called “the guarantee group.” They were on board the ship to handle any snags and make sure standards on the ship were high. None of the group survived.
The "Titanic Stories" film said “Upon his death the Andrews family received many cables and letters praising the comfort and courage he showed to others before the Titanic sank.”
When Helen Reilly Barbour's husband, Andrews, failed to return, she was heartbroken. Their story is one of true romance. Eventually Reilly Barbour remarried and had four more children but she always kept his letters, photographs and mementos of their courtship and love.
Vera Morrison, Reilly Barbour’s daughter from her second marriage, has also kept alive his memory.
Speaking to BBC "Newsline" she said her mother “never really spoke about it and she never mentioned the tragedy.