Titanic scratch model created by veteran with sight loss to tour world as part of international exhibition

Posted: 11/04/2019 | Scottish War Blinded

A scratch model of the iconic Titanic, created in painstaking detail by a Wilkieston veteran with sight loss, will journey the world as part of an international touring exhibition.


Bernard Matthews, 73, overcame the challenges of living with eye condition glaucoma to build the fascinating model with the aid of strong magnifiers and lighting at Scottish War Blinded’s Linburn Centre in West Lothian.


Bernard says he feels “privileged” that his impressive model – a year in the making –of the famous vessel has now joined Titanic Honour and Glory Limited.


And he’s overwhelmed by plans for the model’s first stop to be the United States, at one of the world’s largest Titanic attractions.

The Titanic model with Bernard standling proudly to its right


“When I started this project I didn’t realise this would take off on such a large scale,” said Bernard, who is originally from, Lochgelly, Fife.


“I feel really privileged this is going to happen. It’s nice to know it’ll be a learning thing for the young ones too.”


Bernard was inspired to take on the project after Sean Szmalc, Director of Titanic Honour and Glory Limited, visited the Linburn Centre to give a talk on the legendary ship to the charity’s veterans.


Created to scale at 1:279 metres, the model is made from various materials, including, polystyrene, cotton, wire, clay, metallic sheets and around 1000 pins.

The Titanic model with Sean Szmalc dressed in uniform and Bernard standing to the right


In memory of those who lost their lives in the sinking, on board the model also features tiny cut outs of passengers who were photographed on the Titanic herself before she set sail on her tragic voyage.  


Throughout months of hard work in the Linburn Centre art room, assisted by Art Instructor David Grigor, Bernard was undeterred by his limited sight and consistently applied his knack for problem-solving.


Bernard said: “We had to get drawings of the ship at different angles and look at how to reduce it to a scale model from start to finish. Then I just focused on a bit at a time. It was a bit tricky.

Bernard's model of the Titanic


“I had to use a big magnifier light to work on it. I was surprising myself. I can see, but not very well. I had to take my time, that’s probably why it took so long. I worked on it most days when I was at Linburn. 


“I could see it progressing and kept wondering when it was going to be finished. 


“I learned a lot about the history of the Titanic as well while I was working on it.” 


Sean Szmalc, who runs Titanic Honour and Glory Limited with his wife, Sheila, did not hesitate to adopt Bernard’s model as one of his hundreds of Titanic artefacts.


The Titanic enthusiast brings the story of history’s most famous ship to life, working with schools, galleries and museums across the world.


And Sean says he can’t wait to show the model to the public and share Bernard’s story.


Sean explained: “I’m proud, privileged and honoured to have Bernard’s model as part of our exhibition.


“I have contacts at two of the world’s largest Titanic exhibitions – the Titanic Exhibition in Branson, Missouri, and the exhibition in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. We are hoping to have the model exhibited in the United States for the rest of the year.


“Items like Bernard’s model in our exhibition make sure history is never forgotten. 


“I think Bernard is inspirational. We will be focusing on the personal story of the model and the fact that a veteran with sight loss has made it. It’s a great privilege to have it on display.


“It’s the first time we’ve had an exhibit that’s been created by someone with sight loss, and I want to raise awareness about that. The fact that he’s a veteran as well is so important. I think the more people know about it, the better. 


“When I meet the veterans at the Linburn Centre, I’m honoured to shake their hands. It’s a great place.” 


David Grigor, Art Instructor at the Linburn Centre, added: “It’s been educational and inspirational to support Bernard on this project. We have very talented veterans who visit the centre and take part in the art room activities.


“The Titanic project has been an adventure, working out all the different technical elements and picking out all the finest details of the ship. It would be challenging for anyone.


“Whenever we’ve had visitors at the centre, they’ve been wowed by the model. It’s been really nice to see people’s reactions.”


Bernard, a former army cook with the Army Catering Corps who served from 1963 to 1966, joined Scottish War Blinded five years ago.


He lives close to the Linburn Centre, attending regularly to take part in the various activities on offer to veterans with sight loss – with the art room and cookery sessions as some of his firm favourites.


Scottish War Blinded have also provided him with a CCTV magnifier at home, free-of-charge.


“The CCTV reader makes a big difference to my independence,” he said.


“Linburn is a very important in my life day-to-day. I’ve got something to get out of bed for, whereas before, I was retired and stuck in the house.


“I also do the gym at Linburn and I like the skills kitchen because I was a cook in the army and I like to keep my hand in. I like going to the IT room too - I learn as much as I can with the computers, and in the woodwork room I made a bench that I have at home now.


“I wouldn’t have dreamed of being able to do all this before I came here.”


And as the Linburn Centre bid farewell to Bernard’s beloved Titanic, the crafty veteran is already back to work on another project: a scratch model of the Queensferry Crossing.


He added: “I think if you’ve got sight loss you’ve to reach out to organisations that can help you - like Scottish War Blinded if you’re a veteran. If you don’t, you’re going to be stuck at home.”


Scottish War Blinded gives free support to former servicemen and women of all ages, no matter if they lost their sight during or after service.


The Linburn Centre and Hawkhead Centre offer activities with transport provided free of charge. Call 0800 035 6409 to refer a veteran to the charity.


For more information on Titanic Honour and Glory Limited, contact Director, Titanic Honour and Glory Limited, Sean Szmalc on 07833 630 287 or email enquiries@titanichonourandglorylimited.com.