Belgian had secret love affair on the Titanic

On 15 April 1912, the Titanic sank off the coast of Labrador and Newfoundland. On board were 27 Belgians, with only 7 surviving the disaster. Some of them later established a new life in the United States. Three Flemings even went on tour in the United States to earn some cash by telling their heroics before an audience.

Most of the 27 Belgians on the Titanic were from West or East Flanders, and most of them were workers who decided to try their luck overseas hoping to find a better future, as they were confronted with a heavy economic crisis in Belgium.

25 Belgians boarded the Titanic as passengers, mostly small groups of friends or families. Two Belgians worked on the Titanic during its maiden voyage. Georges Aspeslagh from Ostend was an assistant plateman in the à la carte restaurant in first class. He was responsible for the crockery among other things (the silver had to shine!). The other one was Georges Krins from Liège, a musician who played the violin in the little Titanic band. Georges Krins is mentioned on some memorial plaques in Britain. Nor Krins, nor Aspeslagh had a chance to survive.

The poor Van Impe family from Kerksken, near Aalst, couldn't afford the tickets but decided to sell everything they had in order to pay for the trip. Jean-Baptist Van Impe, his wife Rosalie Govaert and their daughter Catharina all perished in the disaster.

Two Belgians travelled in first class: cabaret actress and singer Bertha Mayné and the Jewish diamond trader Jacob Birnbaum. Bertha Mayné started a secret affair with the Canadian hockey player Quigg Baxter on the ship. It is said that only during the rescue operation, both had to come out with the "news" to his mother who was travelling with them.

Jacob Birnbaum shouldn't even have been on the Titanic. He had booked for an earlier trip, but his family convinced him to spend the Easter holidays in Antwerp first, which is why he ended up on the Titanic after all.

On tour in the United States

Seven Belgians survived, including three men: Jean Scheerlinck, Jules Sap and Theodoor De Mulder. All three gave different accounts about how they survived, saying they jumped in the water just before the Titanic sank completely, but it is also possible that at least one of them was able to obtain a seat in one of the lifeboats.

The three probably either invented a story or added spectacular details as they knew they would have to explain later how they survived. It was women and children first during the rescue operation and men would be seen as cowards if they entered a lifeboat. Anyway, Jules, Jean and Theodoor arrived in New York without a penny as they had lost everything in the disaster.

They decided to go on tour to tell their stories before an audience to earn some money, but their manager ran away with the money. Later, they were given a compensation by the Red Cross as victims of the Titanic drama.

Jules Sap became the most famous of the Belgian survivors. Back in his home country, he told his story in Belgian cinemas when the film "Atlantiek Breedte 41°" played. "He was a real celebrity", the Belgian journalist Dirk Musschoot says. "He is the only one who was really able to put the shocking story completely behind him mentally. The others kept suffering from it one way or another." (photo: Jules Sap (centre) with his sons Georges and Cyriel).