The niece of a North Walsham Titanic survivor, who helped to solve the mystery of her aunt for a local historian, has died.

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Gladys Whitwood, of Walsham Grange, was the niece of passenger May Howard and was key in unlocking the tale of her 1912 journey to America.

Following a 1996 article in the Easter Daily Press appealing to people to come forward with information about the former domestic servant, Mrs Whitwood, then 73 years old, made contact with Norwich-based historian John Balls.

He said: “I began my research into the five Norfolk survivors using passenger lists and on November 4 an article entitled The Mystery of May Howard ran in the press.”

Mr Balls, who runs the Norfolk Titanic Association and is the author of Titanic - The Norfolk Survivors, said at the time all that was known of Miss Howard was that she was travelling aboard the luxurious liner to visit relatives in New York.

When the Titanic sank she was one of the lucky survivors who clambered aboard a lifeboat and once she arrived in New York she gave an interview to a Canadian newspaper reporter, telling him: “I lost my box, my money, everything.”

Despite the best efforts of historians and experts to find out more about her, she simply vanished, until Mrs Whitwood made herself known to Mr Balls.

He said: “After the article I was immediately contacted by Gladys. She told me her mother Emily Howard had been the sister of May and she had a lot of information from the family, including a telegram sent by May from New York.”

Mrs Whitwood revealed that her aunt was travelling on that fateful maiden voyage from Southampton to New York to emigrate to Canada, where her two brothers and a sister lived.

She had decided to move after her brothers offered to pay her fare as she dreamed of being a nanny near their home in Toronto.

Mr Balls said: “Gladys was very helpful in supplying all of this information and we became very friendly. I was able to reunite Gladys with relatives in America.

“She was a very well-known woman as someone who really helped a lot. Much like May, Gladys was a caring person.”

Mrs Whitwood worked in domestic work for most of her life and moved to Antingham after she married her husband George, who passed away in his 30s.

Close friend and neighbour Julia Arnold said: “She was always active in village life. She used to clean the church, was on the flower committee, and helped at the village hall.

“She was always doing something for someone and she was a lovely person who would have helped anyone.”

Mrs Whitwood returned to North Walsham in 1986 and died peacefully at her care home on June 6.

● The funeral will take place at St Margaret’s Church in Antingham tomorrow (Thursday) at 11.30am. Flowers may be sent to Murrell Cork Funerals, 57a, Mundesley Road, North Walsham by 9.30am.

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