Man who helped recover bodies after Titanic disaster remembered 106 years later

On the 106th anniversary of the Titanic disaster, a Halifax woman reflected on her grandfather's role in ensuring some of the victims were laid to rest.

Francis Dyke was just 20 years old when he sailed out from Halifax to help search for bodies

Some 1,500 passengers and crew members died on April 15, 1912, when the Titanic struck an iceberg and went down in the North Atlantic, south of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. (Canadian Press)

On the 106th anniversary of the Titanic disaster, a Halifax woman reflected on her grandfather's role in ensuring some of the victims were laid to rest.

Some 1,500 passengers and crew members died on April 15, 1912, when the Titanic struck an iceberg and went down in the North Atlantic, south of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.

Cable ships were dispatched from Halifax in the aftermath to pluck bodies from the water when it became clear that only those who made it into the lifeboats had survived.

Francis Dyke was just 20 years old when he sailed out from Halifax to help search for bodies.

'He was very happy to do that work'

Over a century later, his granddaughter, 68-year-old Pat Teasdale, spoke Sunday as she held a scanned copy of a letter he wrote to his mother about his experiences.

She said he trained in England and was working as the second electrician on the Halifax cable ship Minia when the disaster broke.

"Even though it was difficult work, he was very happy to do that work and help bring these souls back to Halifax as a resting place," said Teasdale.

She said Dyke didn't share many details about the time he spent on the frigid waters.

"To my knowledge, he didn't share anything with his wife or any of his three daughters, one of whom was my mother," she said. "He was very young when this happened, and it was a traumatic event."

Grandfather had 'a very kind heart'

Teasdale said she learned of Dyke's involvement with the Titanic in the 1960s, when he showed her a picture frame the Minia's carpenter had made out of wreckage from the ship.

She discovered more details in the late '90s when she and her family found a letter he had written to his mother during the recovery efforts in a local museum.

"It really blew me away," she said. "It's detailed about what happened, but it's also personal. It's his reactions to what he was seeing and feeling."

The Fairview Cemetery in Halifax is one of the resting places of victims of the Titantic sinking. There are 121 passengers from the ill-fated ocean liner buried there. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

An excerpt from the letter reads "the MacKay (another ship tasked with retrieving bodies) had picked up over 200 bodies and had identified about 150 and had buried the rest."

Dyke went on to become the head wireless operator for the CS Cyrus Field and the SS Lord Kelvin before his death in 1972.

Teasdale said she's proud of her grandfather's efforts to put the victims of the disaster to rest.

"He was that type of man. He would help others with anything," she said. "A very kind heart."

Sunday's event recognized rescuers

Teasdale was at Halifax's Maritime Museum of the Atlantic on Sunday to share her grandfather's story.

The Titanic Society of Atlantic Canada hosted an event at the museum, both to commemorate those lost in the disaster, and to highlight those who helped with the rescue and recovery of survivors and victims.

Deanna Ryan-Meister, president of the Titanic Society of Atlantic Canada, said in an interview Saturday that it's important for every Nova Scotian to remember the Titanic disaster.

"It's honouring and remembering those who started their voyage with hope: hopes of good fortune, hopes of a good life and then the change to such a tragic, tragic thing," she said.

"Whole communities were affected."

Halifax is home to the largest Titanic gravesite in the world, with 121 victims laid to rest in Fairview Lawn Cemetery. About 30 others are buried in two other cemeteries in the city.