A dramatic and haunting new perspective on the sinking of the Titanic has been revealed after a crowdsourced translation organised on Reddit.
A set of letters apparently written by Titanic survivor Rose Amelie Icard was posted on the site on Tuesday, with a request for help in translating the text.
"I own the only set of letters written by Rose Amélie Icard (longest French living titanic survivor) describing a first hand account of what happened as the titanic sank," wrote the original poster. "It's written in French & I would love to have it translated so I could have them framed."
The letters can be seen below, as hosted on Imgur. Highlights follow (in English).
Almost immediately Reddit's community set to work, in a brilliant example of internet cooperation at its best.
What they revealed was a long and quite disturbing new insight into the awful events of 15 April 1912 when more than 1,500 people died in the freezing Arctic ocean.
In the letters, Icard - who was 83 at the time they were written - described the sinking of the passenger ship as her "most tragic memory".
They deserve to be read in full, but among the most vivid passages are those which describe the initial shock of the impact when Titanic hit the iceberg - but she was told to go back to sleep:
"We were intending to find out what was happening, when a passing officer told us "It is nothing, return to your cabin." I answered "Listen to that loud noise, it sounds like water is flowing into the ship."
Her daughter arrived in a panic, yelling "Mommy, quick quick, get up it's very serious."
I helped Mrs. Stone to dress, she took her lifebelt and told me "come quickly." I was trembling, and still in my bathrobe, I took a coat, my lifebelt, and followed her on deck.
Icard describes how she almost went belowdeck to recover her companion's jewels but made a wrong turn - which ended up saving her life.
She then describes the loading of the lifeboats:
"At this moment we witnessed unforgettable scenes where horror mixed with the most sublime heroism. Women, still in evening gowns, some just out of bed, barely clothed, disheveled, distraught, scrambled for the boats.
Commander Smith yelled, "Women and children first". Firm and calm, in the throng, officers and sailors were taking the women and children by the arm and directing them towards the lifeboats."
Near me were two handsome elderly [people], Mr. and Mrs. Straus, proprietors of the great store Macy's of New-York, she refused to go into the boat after having helped in her maid.
She put her arms around the neck of her husband, telling him. "We have been married 50 years, we have never left each other, I want to die with you."
Icard describes the crew of the Titanic singing a hymn, knowing they would soon be dead, and how she rowed until her hands were bleeding to get away from the vortex that would be created in the ocean when the Titanic sank beneath the waves.
As we were receding in an almost calm sea, weakly lit by the lantern that the officer was holding, I didn’t take my eyes off the shining Titanic. Suddenly, there was darkness, whole and inscrutable, shouts, horrible yells, rose in the middle of the creaks of the boat, then that was it. … The waters were calm and bare, and nothing could suggest that the sea giant was engulfed there. Alone, in front of us, two cathedrals of ice which were pinkening under the first sunlight offered a spectacle of rare beauty.
She concludes with a harrowing portrayal of those who survived struggling with the enormity of their loss:
The young women were there without their husbands, mothers without their sons; a young mother whom a wave had snatched her child from had gone insane, and mistaken for her child a child that was presented to her.