Barbara Joyce Dainton, who has died aged 96, was the last but one British survivor of the Titanic disaster. As Barbara West, and at just 10 months old, she was one of the youngest individuals to come through the sinking alive, but almost invariably refused to discuss it.
A mere babe in arms, Barbara, her pregnant 33-year-old mother and her elder sister were rescued and returned safely to England, but her father, Arthur West, aged 36, drowned along with some 1,520 other passengers and crew when the “unsinkable” White Star liner RMS Titanic, bound for New York on her maiden voyage, struck an iceberg shortly before midnight on April 14 1912.
Barbara Joyce West was born on May 24 1911 at Bournemouth, the daughter of Edwy Arthur and Ada West. She was 10 months and 18 days old on the day the following April on which the family left Britain for America, en route for Gainesville, Florida.
The family boarded Titanic at Southampton on the morning of Wednesday April 10 1912. The group comprised the infant Barbara, her parents and elder sister Constance.
Embarking aft of C deck through the main second class entrance with its red-carpeted stairway and light oak railings, the Wests joined 274 other second class passengers at Southampton, on a family ticket – number 34651 – that had cost Barbara’s father £27 15s.
At 11.40pm the following Sunday, Titanic struck an iceberg some 280 miles south of Newfoundland. At 12.25am the order was given to take to the boats, and Barbara West’s father waved farewell to his young family.
Along with her mother and sister Barbara was bundled into a lifeboat (possibly number 10, but exactly which is uncertain) which was lowered into the freezing Atlantic and roped together with four others.
People were transferred between boats to ensure even distribution, and amid the confusion families and loved ones were separated from each other.
It was a bitterly cold night but several hours later she and her family were picked up by the Cunarder Carpathia and disembarked at New York the following Thursday, April 18.
Although some 700 others survived, her father – like many of the men – perished because there were not enough lifeboats. Among the second-class passengers, all 24 children aboard were saved and more than half the women.
The surviving Wests eventually returned to England on another White Star liner, Celtic, docking at Liverpool on May 6.
All her life, Barbara – an intensely-private woman -made it an ironclad rule never to discuss the Titanic disaster outside the family circle, and repelled historians, authors and film-makers alike, saying she wanted “nothing to do with the Titanic people”.
She partially relented, however, when approached by the British Titanic Society, with whom she remained in contact until her death and who continued to respect her desire for privacy.
In 1952 she married William Ernest Dainton. In old age Barbara Dainton lived at Truro in Cornwall, where she was reported to be active in voluntary work. She was also a visitor guide at Truro Cathedral, where there is a memorial tablet to her drowned father. Latterly she became incapacitated and required full-time care.
Barbara Dainton’s husband predeceased her. Her mother subsequently had a third daughter. For years it was believed Barbara’s younger sister married a bank clerk and settled in the Bahamas, where her husband had a successful career in the prime minister’s office. Although her identity remains unclear, the sister is understood to have died while still young, of cancer.
Such was her aversion from publicity that Barbara Dainton left instructions that news of her death should be withheld until after her funeral, which was held at Truro Cathedral.
Barbara Dainton’s death, on October 16, leaves only a single living survivor of the Titanic sinking, Elizabeth Gladys “Millvina” Dean, who was 10 weeks old when the liner went down.
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