A life marked by memories of the 'Titanic'

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The Independent Online

Eva Hart, who survived the Titanic disaster in 1912, was finally overtaken by cancer on Wednesday at the age of 91.

At her modest flat in Chadwell Heath, east London, home now to a vast collection of porcelain frogs which are to be given, one each, to those attending her memorial service next month, the telephone has not stopped ringing.

"Eva collected people," said her biographer, Ronald Denney, a retired forensic scientist who has pieced together with painstaking tenderness her remarkable life. "She took to everyone - and everyone took to her."

He remembers a woman marked as a survivor from the time she and her mother fled the ship they said could never sink. Her father, a builder who was taking his family to Canada to build the new city of Winnipeg, did not survive the disaster. Seven-year-old Eva, for whom the memory of that terrible night never faded, remembered him giving his coat to her mother and refusing to get into the lifeboat so that more women and children could pack in.

"Her memories of that night were so vivid, that I began to tape them when Eva came to stay with my wife and I," said Mr Denney.

"She believed that her life was saved by her mother's premonition. Her mother felt it was flying in the face of God to say a ship was unsinkable and she was afraid of what might happen, and so she slept in the day and kept vigil at night in the cabin. Then one night she heard a little bump and that gave them chance to escape." Most of the passengers on the Hart family's side of the ship were among the 1,503 people who drowned, as evacuation began from the other side.

"Eva never let her fear of boats conquer her," said Mr Denney. "She sailed to Australia and Malaya and she said that after spending the first few days hiding in her cabin, she took a deep breath and overcame it."

Although she will be remembered by the world as surviving the Titanic, Eva Hart will be remembered by east London as its first lady. For many years she was a welfare worker in the factories around Chadwell Heath and she was also a music hall singer, a dedicated justice of the peace, the founder of a family planning association and a Women's Royal Voluntary Service director. The latter earned her an MBE.

For decades she was also president of the local Conservative Association, where at 50 she befriended Mr Denney, a teenage Young Conservative inspired by her great passion for the party.

"I will miss her terribly," said Mr Denney, who as executor of her will, was yesterday going painfully through drawers of frogs and papers. "Someone who has such a huge spirit leaves a great gap."