CROWDS gathered on the seafront at Woodside today for the unveiling of a special memorial commemorating the heroic actions connected with the sinking of HMS Birkenhead in 1852.

Designed by art student Jemma Twigg, the sculpture and plaque was revealed by Wirral's mayor Cllr Dave Mitchell, alongside Lord Lieutenant of Merseyside Dame Lorna Muirhead, at 11am, watched by an audience of more than 100 people.

As the plaque was revealed, a band played the hymn Nearer, my God, to Thee.

It is a fitting tribute to the courageous troops who perished in shark-infested waters off the Cape of Good Hope in 1852, after standing firm to allow passengers to safely board an inadequate number of lifeboats.

It gave rise to the "women and children" first protocol when abandoning ship. Famously used on board the Titanic it became known as the Birkenhead Drill.

The heroism of the servicemen aboard HMS Birkenhead inspired the Rudyard Kipling poem Soldier and Sailor Too.

Extracts from the poem were read out during the ceremony by Wirral’s Young Poet Laureate Xanthe Brennan.

Speaking prior to the unveiling Cllr Mitchell said: "It is sad to see that it has taken so long for something of such great importance to be recognised in Birkenhead.

"We know that the government erected a monument to the bravery of the soldiers and sailors shortly after the event – but it was at Chelsea Barracks."

The commemoration project was initiated up by Andrew Liston, a crewman at New Brighton's Lifeboat Station, who learnt more of the tragedy whilst visiting South Africa.

After discovering there was no tribute to the HMS Birkenhead in Wirral he joined forces with memorials officer Peter Lee to have a permanent memorial built to highlight the internationally important event.

Cammell-Laird bosses agreed to sponsor the project and provide half of the prize money, as well as agreeing to have their apprentices build the final design.

All Merseyside art colleges were invited to design a memorial of what the HMS Birkenhead stood for.

Watch a video of the ceremony below.