While watching a Titanic documentary, a commentator noted how many lives were cut short when it sank. Looking at a list of names one cannot appreciate who they really were. And sometimes it pops up in interesting ways. The Leamington College For Boys (Binswood Hall) in Warwickshire is being transformed into a retirement center so the local newspaper decided to list the notable pupils who graduated from it. And one of them was Rousell Davids Byles, who later became Father Thomas Byles, a Catholic priest, and was aboard Titanic when it sank.
Byles was the son of a congregationalist minister who converted to Catholicism while at Oxford and taking the name Thomas. He attended Beda College in Rome and was ordained in 1902. He then was assigned to St Helen’s Parish in Chipping Ongar, Essex in 1905. His brother asked him to officiate his wedding in New York, which led him to be aboard Titanic. While aboard, he said Sunday mass for Second and Third class passengers in their respective lounges. His sermon was on the need of a spiritual lifeboat to protect in times of spiritual shipwreck.
Words that would soon be put to a more real test. When Titanic was sinking, he was in steerage trying to provide comfort, hearing confessions, giving blessings. According to Titanic survivor Agnes McCoy:
“When the Titanic went to the bottom Father Thomas B. Byles stood on the deck with Catholics, Protestants and Jews kneeling around him. Father Byles was saying the rosary and praying for the repose of the souls of those about to perish. To many he administered the last rites of the Church. In the early stage of the disaster he heard a few confessions.”
He also declined to be put aboard a lifeboat allowing others to go in his place. Father Byles is one of those little-known heroes of Titanic. Well regarded back home in his parish of St. Helen’s, his death was met with great sadness. There is a memorial to him at that church. A door in his memory was installed by his brothers, along with a photograph and a stained glass window to commemorate Father Byles.
Perhaps forgotten in the Titanic story are those that went out to recover Titanic’s dead.
Two cable ships out of Halifax–Mackay-Bennett and Minia–brought back most of the bodies. Four bodies were recovered in May 1912 by Montmagny, a government tender from Quebec. The last body was found by the cargo ship Algerine out of St. John’s Newfoundland. On Friday, a plaque remembering those from Halifax (called Halligonians) who went out to collect the bodies was unveiled at Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.
Retrieving the bodies was important and also haunting, reports The Chronicle Herald. Pat Teasdale’s grandfather Francis Dyke was second electrician on Minia and wrote to his mother about it. “I honestly hope I shall never have to come on another expedition like this. … The Dr. and I are sleeping in the middle of 14 coffins.” Yet he was glad they could retrieve the bodies and not leave them in the water. 150 victims are buried in Halifax in Fairview Lawn, Baron de Hirsch, and Mount Olivet Cemeteries.
There is a minor mystery afoot concerning four rubber tablets found on Newquay beaches. Each tablet contains the word Tjipetir on them. According to This is Cornwall, that is an Indonesian rubber plantation from the early 20th century. The particular natural rubber, gutta-percha, was cargo aboard Titanic. While some speculate the rubber could be from Titanic, others are not sure.
Jenny Wittamore, assistant curator at the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth,points out there have been many ships that carried this cargo. And a shipwreck in the 1920’s, according to an investigator, could be the source of these rubber tablets.
There is no way to determine precisely what shipwreck the tablets came from. So the mystery continues.
(1) Titanic Belfast exceeded all expectations for 2012 reports BBC News. More than 800,000 people from 128 countries visited Titanic Belfast in its first year. Some doubted it would succeed and would need 290,000 visitors to break even.
(2) Titanic:The Artifact Exhibition is coming to Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland in June. Advance tickets are now on sale through the web site. The exhibition runs from 1 June 2013 through 5 Jan 2014.
(3) Alan Aldridge of Henry Aldridge & Son was interviewed recently by CBS News about the Hartley violin. Aldridge says that micro-analysis found evidence of salt water corrosion in the wood and metal screws on the silver plate. He also says he has no idea how much it will be worth when auctioned off.
There were high expectations for this Titanic miniseries. Julian Fellowes, well known actor, novelist, and film director was writing the script. It promised a fresh look at Titanic and was co-produced by Canada, Hungary, and UK production companies. Released in time for the 100th anniversary of Titanic’s sinking, it was seen by a world-wide audience on various broadcast networks. The miniseries has an astonishing 89 main characters, unheard of in most serials of this kind. Despite the wealth of source material to draw upon, the serial is part Upstairs, Downstairs tossed in with bits and pieces of action adventure. Oh and a strange love connection that makes no sense anywhere except in a television serial.
What this reminded me of was Winds of War, the ABC miniseries drawn from Herman Wouk’s book of the same name. Wouk’s book was historical fiction using real history as a backdrop. The fictional Henry family moved through the history at different levels (high and low). Real historical figures were mixed in with fictional ones. The result was a blending that one might forget is fictional. And Fellowes follows that formula by blending real historical characters with fictional ones. One character I thought that played well was Captain Edward J. Smith. Smith was known as a tough captain and did not tolerate officers or crew disobeying his orders.
Smith’s depiction in A Night To Remember was of a captain barking out orders after the iceberg hit. This serial gets it right (and also a little wrong too). The serial implies he had to be summoned when in fact he came out right away. He summoned Thomas Andrews and they both went below to access the damage. That was when, as depicted correctly, he realized the impact of what was to happen. Nearly over 1500 people were going to be thrown to the sea as the lifeboats, if filled to capacity, would hold 1,178. That realization is perhaps why Smith went into shock later and never barked out orders. He had to be asked to lower lifeboats and other things.
Other things seem out of place, such as Murdoch having reservations about increasing speed due to icebergs. Or the justification for sending out lifeboats half-full to prevent them from splitting (they were fully tested by Harland & Wolff). Ismay getting into a lifeboat as it is going down (which did not happen). We also have Catholic vs Protestants, Irish home rule, social revolutionaries like Lord Manton’s daughter Georgianna agitating for women’s rights, or violent revolutionaries like Peter Pubov (based upon the real figure Peter the Painter). More nauseating are some characters who just are rude, unpleasant, and would make you long to grab a lifeboat and row away (Muriel Batley, Lord Manton’s wife Louisa, Grace Rushton).
More confusing was how the serial was presented. It jumped back and forth in time in each episode. Instead of showing the whole thing in one continuous stream, we switch back and forth to learn more about various characters or historical situations. I found this odd for a historical drama. Italians were probably incensed at how they were treated on Titanic. One scene has the waiters for the Italian restaurant locked up and left to die because they did not want them running around on deck (fiction). There are genuinely sad moments as well, like when Jim Maloney finds his daughter Theresa below but they are trapped by a locked gate. Or when Annie Desmond finds Paolo in the rescue lifeboat dead.
In the end, Titanic was not the worst serial ever done but just not that good. Fellowes tried too hard to convey the social, political and other issues of that time. Nor was it all historically accurate in many places either (like the fictional debate over lifeboats). People who know Titanic history will shake their heads at the many historical inaccuracies conveyed. If you are going to do historical fiction, at least make the real historical characters do and say what they actually did.
Final score: **1/2
What to watch for: Good acting, decent sets.
Titanic(2012) is available on dvd and streaming (Netflix).
(1)The letter written by Titanic band leader Wallace Hartley to his mother was sold at auction for £93,000 (approx $141,600) reports Agencia EFE . Henry Aldridge & Son conducted the auction. The letter was sold to a private collector.
(2) Colne’s Titanic Museum plans to relocate away has resulted in a petition to keep the museum reports Pendle Today . Nigel Hampson, curator, says that he would prefer to keep the museum in the hometown of Titanic bandmaster Wallace Hartley. However the current place is too small, he notes, and needs better access to those with disabilities. Hampson wants to find a solution and residents have provided suggestions.
(3) Titanic musicians were remembered at Ballarat’s Titanic Musician Memorial. The memorial each year has a memorial band that plays music in its bandstand. Nearer My God To Thee is always performed at the event.
Note: The article implies there is only one memorial to Titanic musicians. There is one in Southampton. The first one was erected in 1913 next to the old library. It was destroyed during WWII by a German bombing raid. The memorial has been rebuilt and dedicated to all musicians who died aboard Titanic. You can read the Wikipedia entry here.
(4) More reaction to Clive Palmer’s Titanic II is reported in Irish Examiner. Opinion is stil divided, writes Hazel Gaynor. Dave Fredericks, descendent of a Titanic survivor, is supporting a petition to block the ship. Michael Molloy of Addergoole Titanic Society is more open to it. As is Molly Brown descendent Helen Benzinger. While many in Belfast wish it were being built there and not China, the replica will be welcomed.
Source: Sinking Feeling: Unease About Titanic II Plan (18 April 2013, Irish Examiner)
(5) An appeal for funds to restore the headstone of Titanic chief engineer Joseph Bell is being made. His memorial at Farlam Church in Kirkhouse is deteriorating. Approximately £2,000 is needed. You can view the memorial and make a donation at josephbellengineer.wordpress.com.
(6) The original ledger page of the insurance policy taken out on the Titanic by the Atlantic Mutual Insurance Company will go on the block at Doyle New York, one of the world’s premier auctioneers. Estimated at $30,000-50,000, the insurance policy was written on behalf of the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company Limited, better known as The White Star Line. The auction takes place on 23 April at Doyle New York
The 101st anniversary of Titanic sinking has come and gone. Unlike last year which had major events, this year was more subdued. That does not mean people did not hold memorials, watch Titanic movies, or visit a Titanic exhibit. It was just quiet. Perhaps I missed it, but none of the U.S. broadcast networks had any Titanic show. Probably it was explored on the network morning shows and that was it.
Checking the news, there was not much going on. Some notices of Titanic themed meals, a mention of Henry Aldridge auctioning off Titanic memorabilia. There were some interesting stories that passed my way. One was an update to a story about Millvina Dean. I reported a few days ago Bluestar bus line was going to name a bus for her. The BBC reports this has now happened. According to BBC:
Some will wonder the wisdom of naming a bus but I do not think it a bad idea. I suspect from everything I read of Millvina, she would not mind at all.
Wilfred Deable Seward is probably a name few are familiar with unless you scan the list of Titanic surviving crew members. Seward was chief pantry steward for second class passengers and was in his bunk reading when Titanic hit the iceberg. Though at first told there was no problem, the 25 year old helped get passengers into lifeboat number three, and helped row it away from Titanic. His description of what he heard that night resembles what others said they heard.
“As she went down I heard terrible screams, like people yelling wildly at a football match. Then there was nothing but silence.”
He continued working on ocean liners, including the Queen Mary. He retired in 1954 and resided in Ballymoney, where his daughter resided. He passed away in 1963, age 77 and was buried in the local cemetery in an unmarked grave. Many people were aware of his Titanic connection and last year it spurred a call to erect a proper memorial at his grave. And a local undertaker decided to do this. So on 12 April of this year, a service was held at his resting place with a great niece in attendance. Not forgotten anymore. Amen.
Many Titanic enthusiasts were first drawn to Titanic by the 1958 movie A Night To Remember. The movie was based on Walter Lord’s historical book of the same name. Another movie, Titanic (1953), starring Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck, was also around as well. The 1953 movie was fiction but placed the characters on the doomed ship. Of the two though, A Night To Remember is a more faithful retelling of the tragic story of what happened in 1912.
Cinema rarely presents history the way it happened. Writers, directors, producers like to embellish or change things that look good on screen. Cornelius Ryan’s The Longest Day recounts the events prior to and on 6 June 1944. The movie version does alter a few things, namely the landing on Omaha Beach. Anyone who has read the accounts, watched documentaries, or seen Saving Private Ryan realizes how bloody awful it was. From the moment the landing craft got near, they came under withering German fire. Many were killed in the landing craft, some drowned in the water due the heavy weight of their gear, many junior officers were dead moments upon arrival leaving it up to the sergeants and corporals to lead their decimated units. So it is no surprise that even a near faithful treatment of Titanic would take some dramatic license.
A Night To Remember opens up with a christening, something Harland & Wolff never did. They did have a ceremony where guests where invited to see the new ship slide into the water. The early scene with Lightoller and his wife on the train likely did not happen either. Lightoller is chastised by an older couple when reading aloud a soap advertisement (an actual one for Vinola) and making fun of it. They assumed he was critical of the ship but are forgiving when he is revealed as an officer aboard the ship and making fun of the advertising. We see different types of people from the very rich to the poor setting out on their journey to Titanic. We get a sense right away of the very stark differences in class that existed in that time. The poorest go with what they had and could carry while the rich came with servants and lots of baggage. Most of the characters used in the movie are based on real people and there are some composites as well.
We also see the stark differences between two other ships and captains-Captain Stanley Lord of Californian and Captain Arthur Rostron of Carpathia. Both of these ships play a critical role in the Titanic story. When Rostron is informed of the emergency message from Titanic, he quickly springs into action. Lord, since the radio operator is off-duty has no idea what is happening to Titanic and does not investigate when rockets are sighted. We also see the various characters react to the sinking and the acts of sacrifice that take place. Titanic captain Edward J. Smith appears decisive unlike what was learned later at the hearings. In fact, he had to be asked what to do by many of the officers instead of barking out orders as the movie depicts. Most likely the fact that many were going to die was something that weighed heavily on his mind.
Keen observers will notice some actors that became well known later. Honor Blackman, who was the first female accomplice on The Avengers and Pussy Galore on Goldfinger is in the movie as Mrs. Lucas. Those who remember Man From Uncle or like the character of Donald “Ducky” Mallard on NCIS will notice David McCallum as assistant wireless officer Harold Bride. Bernard Fox, whose Colonel Crittendon made live miserable for Colonel Hogan on Hogan’s Heroes, plays lookout Frederick Fleet (he was also in Cameron’s Titanic playing Colonel Archibald Gracie). Sean Connery plays a Titanic deck hand. Kenneth More, a well known British actor in the 1950’s, plays the role of Charles Lightoller. There are many others who will look familiar if you watched movies or television from this period.
The movie was done in black and white, but there may be copies out there in color. The Criterion Collection of this movie is the one to purchase or rent. Also this version has been digitally restored and some of the older copies are not that good. There are extras well worth considering if you plan to purchase. First the audio commentary by Titanic authors Don Lynch and Ken Marschall fills in a lot of detail as you watch the movie, often correcting what the movie does not depict correctly or adding lots of interesting details. A 60 minute documentary about the making of the movie and, perhaps even better, an archival interview with Titanic survivor Eva Hart.
I would encourage, if you can, to read the book by Walter Lord. The book is extremely well written and Lord had a knack for telling a good historical story. He wrote a sequel after Titanic was discovered in 1985 called The Night Lives On that deals with what was learned afterwards. He actually wrote a lot of history books. His one on Pearl Harbor attack (Day of Infamy) is still considered on the best in that area. His The Miracle of Dunkirk really nails what it was like to be trapped with Germans advancing on you with the only hope rescue from the sea. It also includes, for those who did not know, how Charles Lightoller (the same one from Titanic) became a hero rescuing soldiers and bringing them home to Britain. His book on the Battle of Midway (Incredible Victory)details how the battle came about. Some of his books may be available digitally.
So as you decide what to watch for the anniversary of Titanic’s sinking, consider the 1958 A Night To Remember. I think you will like it it. It will not have all the lush colors of Cameron’s Titanic, but it tells a story that will be worth the watch.
1. This is Surrey Today has an article detailing locals who survived or died on Titanic. One of the more noted was Jack Phillips, who was chief wireless officer aboard Titanic. Both he and Harold Bride were the ones who sent the now famous SOS signal to all ships in the area.
2. Belfast will remember those who perished aboard Titanic (which included 28 from Belfast) with a midday ceremony. The Lord Mayor and the president of the Belfast Titanic Society will lay wreaths at Titanic Memorial on City Hall grounds. Six men whose names were not known at the time the memorial was built will be honored as well.
3. A number Titanic Artifacts are at Titanic Experience in Cobh, Ireland. Items such as a blue leather suitcase bought at Harrod’s and the personal property of Lilly Odell are permanent. The exhibition includes photographs and items on loan to the collection.
Source: Historic Titanic Artifacts Returned To Cobh For Anniversary(11 April 2013, thejournal.ie )*
4. The Southampton SeaCity museum, which opened in 2012, is doing well reports Daily Echo. Critics had feared once Titanic centenary had faded that visitors would melt away. The project, called a white elephant by many locally, cost £15m. 143,000 visitors have passed through its doors since exceeding its target by 20,000. To keep people coming back, the museum plans to host other major national exhibitions.
There are many ways to remember people. Some are with statues, memorial plaques in parks or historical sites, music and books. Naming public transportation after people though is different but not unheard of. For instance, Caltrain (the regional commuter rail on San Francisco peninsula) names its engines after cities and politicians. Millvina Dean, the last Titanic survivor who passed away in 2009, will have a Uni-Link double decker bus run by Bluestar (no connection to Clive Palmer’s company building Titanic II) named for her.
According to Daily Echo, a ceremony will take place this Sunday with her nephew, Ron Dean, and sixty members of the British Titanic Society. A commemorative plaque will be unveiled at the ceremony. Then they will take the bus to a memorial garden named in her memory in Southampton to lay a wreath. Randi Newman, secretary of the British Titanic Society says it was a nice gesture on the part of Bluestar. Apparently she had been invited to unveil a bus in her honor but sadly passed away before that could happen.