WOKING-area residents who bought The Daily Mirror of Tuesday 16 April 1912 not only read the first reports of the sinking of the Titanic, but also of a fire that destroyed a caravan in Horsell and claimed the life of a young girl.

The White Star Line’s ill-fated RMS Titanic struck an iceberg and sank in the North Atlantic on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York in the early hours of 15 April 1912, claiming the lives of  1,514 of the 2,224 passengers on board.

The story dominated the next day’s edition of The Daily Mirror, but at the time the scale of it and the loss of life was not known. Inside pages carried headlines that included “Everyone Safe”, “Passengers Taken Off” and “No Lives In Danger”.

The newspaper reported: “Mr Franklin, the vice-president of the White Star Company, states the Titanic is unsinkable. The fact that she was reported to have sunk several feet by the head was, he said, unimportant. She could go down many feet at the head as the result of water filling the forward compartments and yet remain afloat indefinitely.”

Disaster at the Gypsy-Traveller encampment in Well Lane, Horsell, had unfolded two days earlier. The Daily Mirror published a picture that showed the few pieces of timber that remained of the caravan after the fire, with another caravan seen behind. There were also photographs of the two girls who were in the burning vehicle, and a caption reporting what had happened.

However, a report of the inquest into the tragedy that was published in the Surrey Advertiser on 20 April 1912 gives much more detail.

On the previous Saturday evening, Caroline and Amy Carey, aged 10 years and five years 11 months respectively, were left in the charge of their elder sister, Maggie, while their parents went into Woking to do some shopping.

Maggie put her sisters to bed at about 8.30pm, placing a lighted paraffin lamp on a chair. Later she left the caravan to attend to a baby in an adjoining caravan.

It appears the lamp had been overturned by the children, setting fire to curtains and other garments. The inquest heard that very soon the vehicle was a mass of flames.

A Mr WF Alexander entered the burning van and rescued Amy. Meanwhile, other people tried to put out the blaze with buckets of water from a nearby pond.

The children’s father, Albert Carey, told the inquest that at about 10pm he and his wife were “in the public hall watching the pictures, when a girl named Hoadley came and told him there had been a fire”.

He at once returned to the camp and found the children in their grandmother’s van. The two girls were then taken in perambulators to Woking’s Victoria Hospital.

Sadly, Amy died early on Sunday morning, while Caroline survived with burns to her arm and face.

The coroner told the parents this had all happened through them leaving the children in the care of a young girl. He said he did not know if any proceedings would be taken against them, but he could not help thinking that one, if not both, was liable for prosecution.

Thanks go to Mark Coxhead, who has a copy of The Daily Mirror featured here, and for his further research into the caravan-fire tragedy.

If  you have some memories or old pictures relating to the Woking area, call David Rose on 01483 838960, or drop a line to the News & Mail.

David Rose is a local historian and writer who specialises in what he calls “the history within living memory” of people, places and events in the west Surrey area covering towns such as Woking and Guildford. He collects old photos and memorabilia relating to the area and the subject, and regularly gives illustrated local history talks to groups and societies. For enquiries and bookings please phone or email him at: [email protected]