ON a bleak, cold day the ship’s crew gathered on the open deck to perform the mass burial of victims from Southampton’s ill-fated liner, Titanic, more than 100 years ago.

The haunting, original photograph, taken just days after Titanic foundered after striking an iceberg on her maiden voyage in 1912 is an exceedingly rare glimpse of one of the less well known chapters in the story of the White Star Line vessel.

Taken by R D “Westy” Legate, fourth officer of the cable ship Mackay Bennett which had been chartered to undertake the grim task of recovering the bodies of those who died on Titanic, the photograph is expected to fetch up to £5,000 at auction later this month.

The image shows the Rev K C Hind presiding over the committal of body number 177, William Peter Mayo, aged 27, from Southampton, to the depths of the Atlantic.

William, who had given his address as Cable Street, Northam, was one of 17 children born to  Peter Mayo, a wood chopper, and Rose Onions. He earned £6 10s (£6.50) a month.

Andrew Waldridge of auctioneers Henry Aldridge & Son of Devizes Wiltshire, where the photograph will go under the hammer on October 19, said: “The photograph dispels the myth of the process being an ordered one as we can see bodies piled two or three high in sacks on the deck.

“This photo illustrates the horrific conditions that would have been experienced on deck.

“The cable laying ship Mackay Bennett took part in the recovery of more than 300 bodies from the loss of Titanic, including that of bandleader Wallace Hartley.

“Material relating to Mackay Bennett and this chapter in her history is extremely scarce.

However, this archive comes directly from an officer onboard during the Titanic recovery mission making it exceptionally important.

“Despite the number of bodies buried at sea visual records of the burial and service, such as this photograph, are almost non-existent, even in period publications.”

The Rev Hind presided over 166 burials at sea aboard Mackay Bennett.

Later in his diary he wrote that for each body he offered the same prayer beginning: “For as much as it has pleased Almighty God to take unto Himself the soul of our dear brother departed, we therefore commit his body to the deep.”

According to the record books William was married in Southampton in late 1909 to local woman Eliza Ford and their son, William James, was born in 1910.