AUTHOR and journalist Julie Cook tells the story of her great grandmother, a Titanic widow, in her new book, which focuses on the women left behind following the 1912 tragedy.

Her great grandfather William Bessant died on the ship, which sank 108 years ago today, and his wife and mother of his five children Emily was thrown into poverty. Emily Bessant was an entrepreneur ahead of her time and started out with her own version of a launderette, before buying a charabanc and taking people out on tours in it before later opening a sweet shop.

Mum of two Julie, from Dibden Purlieu, was fascinated by her story and it formed the basis of The Titanic and the City of Widows it Left Behind - the forgotten victims of the fateful voyage.

Julie told the Daily Echo: “I knew my great grandfather William Bessant had died on Titanic and I always heard my Dad talk about him and he’d mention in passing about Emily taking in washing to feed five children.

“As I got older I became more interested in women’s rights and had my own children and it got me thinking what about her? How did she cope? She had no rights, how did she manage? The women’s story has never really been told.

“This then culminated in me researching into all the other widows and children and the book is about their struggle to survive after their men died.”

Titanic fireman William’s wife Emily, aged 38 in 1912, lived in Henry Road, Freemantle with her five children and received a small allowance from the Titanic Relief Fund, but had to turn breadwinner overnight.

“How did Emily cope with five children and no money?” muses Julie. “I find it hard enough myself!

“I tracked down my great grandmother’s grave at Hollybrook and laid a rose down for her. 100 years separate us and I feel quite a connection to her.”

The book also focuses on several other female historical characters including Eleanor Earley who had already lost a toddler son in 1911 before her trimmer husband perished onboard Titanic and she died five months later in childbirth, leaving her son an orphan. “First of all I did wonder whether there was the appetite for another Titanic book but I pitched it to a publisher and they decided that, although there were a lot of books on Titanic, the women survivor’s stories had never really been told.

“I think part of people’s fascination with Titanic is that it was so luxurious and such powerful people - like the oligarch JJ Astor - went down on this ship, but that’s only a small part of it really. The fact that it’s still at the bottom of the ocean is of interest too I think.

“I sort of grew up believing that Titanic was a rich person’s tragedy with all the lavish interiors and the rich men and beautiful women of first class. I wanted to dispel that myth and make clear that this was very much a working class tragedy, particularly for Southampton. A whole generation was wiped out.”

Julie has been a journalist for about 20 years, mainly freelancing on the women’s magazines available with national titles including the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph, as well as working on Take a Break magazine.

Her book centres around Southampton and was researched in the city archive and Sea City Museum and using the quotes, pictures and historical documents produced by local people about their Titanic ancestors.

The Daily Mail has bought first serial rights to feature the book.

The Titanic and the City of Widows it Left Behind - the forgotten victims of the fateful voyage is available now via publisher Pen and Sword in online bookshops including Amazon, Waterstones and WHSmith.