When she left Belfast for Southampton in April 1912, the RMS Titanic had only a bare bones crew and staff. Also on board were a group of Harland and Wolff workers, being rewarded for their labour in building the ‘Ship of Dreams’. Who were the Guarantee Group?
Few people alive know and understand the Titanic story more than Robert Ballard. His frequent claustrophobic visits to the wreck and a steady trickle of in-depth documentaries have placed him at the pinnacle of what are affectionately known as ‘Titanoraks’. Before he visited Belfast, though, he had never heard of the Guarantee Group.
It took a Duke to fill him in.
Who are they?
According to Ballard in an interview with Bloomberg Business, it was on a visit to Titanic’s shipyard, Harland and Wolff in Belfast, where he first learned of the Guarantee Group:
“This time, we decided to make Belfast part of the story, and so we went over there, and that’s when I walked into this old building and there was this Guarantee Group. [I asked,] “Who are they?”
Ballard describes being included in the Guarantee group as ‘It was sort of like being employee of the month’. Close. It was more like employee of Harland and Wolff’s most important build ever.
Head of the Guarantee Group was Titanic’s Naval Architect, County Down man, Thomas Andrews. Before the ship sailed, Andrews instructed his four top men to in turn choose four apprentices who would join them and sail on Titanic’s maiden voyage. It was a gesture of faith, confidence and generosity on the part of Harland and Wolff. It was also a practical one.
Image for a second that something went wrong with Titanic’s plumbing, electricity or fittings. Wouldn’t it be prudent to have on board the most skilled and knowledgeable men to solve the problem? In fact, when the ship struck ice, it was Thomas Andrews, the man who knew Titanic’s from her guts to her gilded mirrors, who Captain Smith sent to the boiler room to assess the damage.
When Titanic sank in the icy waters of the Atlantic in the early hours of April 14th, she took Thomas Andrews and every member of the Guarantee Group down with her.