WOMEN AND CHILDREN FIRST: HEROES OF THE TITANIC
Dance band on the Titanic
Sing "Nearer, my God, to Thee"
The iceberg's on the starboard bow
Won't you dance with me
- Harry Chapin
It is in time of horrible disasters that the hidden virtues of the Tattered Remnant are often revealed. Some in steadfastness and strength keep order so that those who can save themselves do so. Some simply withhold themselves from rescue so that the young, the weak, and the ladies may survive. And some deliberately sacrifice themselves so that others may live.
The sinking of HMS Titanic forms the left-hand bookend of the catalogue of horrors we call the Twentieth Century, with the 9/11 atrocities forming the right. On this bitter and terrible night remembered, that of April 14-15, 1912, when a shipload of over two thousand people went from sleep to wakefulness to alertness to panic to horror to death in the course of three hours, some 1500 people lost their lives in the cruel, cold North Atlantic.
Now, three paragraphs into this retelling of an oft-told tale, I'm going to mention James Cameron's 1995 film "Titanic" just to get it out of the way. I have a love-hate relationship with this movie. The plot for the first half of the flick is lifted directly from the 1980 classic weepy Somewhere in Time: all of the plot elements are there, including the setting of a luxurious castle in the middle of great waters (the Grand Hotel is on Mackinac Island in northern Lake Huron), the old lady actress recalling her young love, the Iconic Object From The Past, the traveling-back-in-time to Spring 1912, the young man dying for his lady, the again-youthful lovers reunited in the next world, etc etc. The main difference, of course, is that the Grand Hotel doesn't sink into the Great Lakes at the end. (And a good thing, too.)
Anyway. The movie has become so embedded into the popular consciousness that "Titanic" is the gold standard of Titanic memory. But this is not about fictional turnip ghosts -- but true heroes.
THE WALLACE HARTLEY BAND
Well, they soon used up all of the lifeboats
But there were a lot of us left on board
I heard the drummer sayin' "Boys, just keep playin'"
"Now we're doin' this gig for the Lord"
Their names, clockwise from the top left:
John Woodward (not pictured).
And in the center, band leader Wallace Hartley.
There is much to tell of the Titanic band members; Bill Whittle has done a marvelous job here; I cannot better his version.
But I join with him in saying: Remember these men.
They were, essentially, "deadheaders." The ship didn't employ them as crew; they were entertainers hired at dirt wages by some subcontractor for the privilege of entertaining the rich of First Class as they dined. They weren't paid by the contracting company, either; the assumption was that their tips would serve as their pay.
The Captain asked them to play happy and hopeful music as the ship began to go down.
So, they stayed and they played.
They played waltzes. They played ragtime. They played hymns of hope and hymns beseeching.
They played their lives away.
They were under no obligation to do so. They weren't under the Captain's command. As first class inhabitants (if not passengers) they had the best chance of any aboard the ship to survive.
But they remained.
They didn't play because they were ordered to. They played because music was their life. And in playing, they earned eternal memory by the human race, who look to them even now, a century later, as among the very the best to whom their people ever gave birth.
There are those who argue, perhaps rightly, that the stand of Englishmen against the Nazis were their finest hour. Perhaps. But the hour of music these men provided must surely rank as equal to the valor of their nephews of 1940.
None of them survived.
A contemporary news account stated that "the part played by the orchestra on board the Titanic in her last dreadful moments will rank among the noblest in the annals of heroism at sea."
Shut off, shut off the ragtime ! The lights are falling low !
The deck is buckling under us ! She's sinking by the bow !
One hymn of hope from dying hands on dying ears to fall-
Gently the music fades away — and so, God rest us all !
- Arthur Conan-Doyle
FATHER THOMAS BYLES
"There's no way that this could happen"
I could hear the old captain curse
He ordered lifeboats away, that's when I heard the chaplain say
"Women and children and chaplains first"
I love Harry Chapin, but Father Thomas Byles, a priest of Christ, surely gave lie to that last line.
....was born Roussel Davids Byles in Leeds, Yorkshire, the eldest of seven children of the Reverend Dr. Alfred Holden Byles, a congregationalist minister, and his wife Louisa Davids. He attended Leamington College and Rossall School, Fleetwood, Lancashire, between 1885 and 1889, then went to Balliol College, Oxford in 1889 to study theology, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1894. While at Oxford, Byles converted to the Roman Catholic faith, taking the name Thomas. In 1899, he went to the Beda College in Rome to study for the priesthood, and was ordained in 1902. He was assigned to St. Helen's Parish in Ongar, Essex in 1905.Father Byles was walking the deck, reciting his breviary, when the iceberg struck. As the ship descended into chaos, he held his place, guiding women and children to the boats, and is credited to getting Margaret Brown to hers. He was said to have refused a lifeboat at least twice.
He gave his last moments in offering confession, absolution and perhaps even eternal life to those who turned to him their final minutes. He too chose to go down with the ship rather than turn his back on his calling. While he was neither a saint nor a martyr in the strict sense, it is clear that his actions in his last minute showed that he had the makings of both.
Father Boyle did not say "...and chaplains first." He died at his ultimate duty station, and if there is any truth to Catholic theology at all, it is entirely possible that his death bought the salvation of the souls of many. There is no finer way for any Christian to end his life; for no greater love hath a man.....
"He died a martyr of charity, performing the most perfect act of love of his God and of his neighbor." - The Vicar General, Society of Jesus, 1912
Mama stood cryin' at the dockside
Sayin' "Please son, don't take this trip"
I said "Mama, sweet Mama, don't you worry none"
"Even God couldn't sink this ship"
- Harry Chapin
The man who built the ship, he took full and total responsibility for its failures and its design flaws, unknown to him at the time of the sinking. but ultimately revealed to be the short rudder and, possibly, bad steel and rivets that went into the hull.
He was seen below decks during the evacuation, making a last check to be sure that as many people from the lower levels of the ship as possible had a life jacket and an opportunity to survive.
He was last seen in life staring into a painting in the clubroom, waiting for the last call, contemplating in melancholy the painting of Southampton port.
Like the Captain, he chose to go down with the ship that he had made. The accident that occurred could not be attributed fully to him, but he still took responsibility for whatever contribution to the loss he had made by choosing to go to the end with those who died as a result of the catastrophe.
Well, the whistle blew and they turned the screws
It turned the water into foam
Destination sweet salvation
Goodbye home sweet home-Harry Chapin
Of all the distortions of the movie "Titanic" the denigration of William Murdoch was possibly the most outrageous.
He was First Officer, on duty on the bridge when the ship struck the berg. He it was who desperately attempted to port around it; he it was whose hand was at the conn when the accident occurred. But in no way did he shoot any passengers and certainly he did not take his own life like a coward, as portrayed in the film.
After the collision Murdoch was put in charge of the starboard evacuation, during which he launched 10 lifeboats, containing almost 75 percent of the total number who survived. He was last seen attempting to launch Collapsible Lifeboat A. He was never seen again after Titanic disappeared into the Atlantic Ocean on the morning of 15 April 1912. His body, if recovered, was never identified. .... Several members of the crew, including the ship's lamp trimmer, Samuel Hemming, and Second Officer Charles Lightoller said they saw Murdoch attempting to free Collapsible A from the falls on the Boat Deck just before the bridge submerged in the final stages of the sinking, when a huge wave washed him overboard into the sea. Surviving wireless operator Harold Bride later stated that he saw Murdoch near Collapsible Lifeboat "B," but that he died in the water.A great memorial fund was established in his memory in his home town: a fund that was much enhanced when an executive from the movie studios responsible for the film flew to Scotland and made a public apology, as well as a great donation to the fund.
They were burnin' all the flares for candles
In the banquet they were throwin' in first class
And we were blowin' waltzes in the barroom
When the universe went CRASH!
- Harry Chapin
"The Unsinkable Molly Brown" of course is most famous for having received that most American of tributes, a musical comedy written in her honor.
In spite of that, her actual achievements, and not just those on the night of the sinking, deserve to be remembered. First, Wikipedia:
Margaret helped others board the lifeboats but was finally convinced to leave the ship in Lifeboat No. 6. She would come to be regarded as a heroine for her efforts to get lifeboat 6 to go back to look for survivors. After the Titanic sank, she and several other women passengers took control of Boat 6, rowing "to keep warm" but headed back, against the demands of the head crewman, to find survivors in the water ... However, some sources report that no survivors were found, except by Lifeboat No. 12. Onboard the rescue ship R.M.S. Carpathia, Margaret Brown took a leadership role among the women passengers.When the Carpathia reached dockside, Margaret went to considerable expense to have made a silver loving cup to be given to the crew of the Carpathia; furthermore, she had commemorative medals made for the individuals who crewed the rescue ship.
Her heroism and strength showed itself again after the event. Almost exactly two years later, in the town of Ludlow, Colorado, some 20 people were killed when the Colorado National Guard assaulted a tent colony of striking coal miners. Wikipedia reports that two women, eleven children, six miners and union officials and one National Guardsman were killed.
On the morning of April 20, [1914,] the day after Easter was celebrated by the
many Greek immigrants at Ludlow, three Guardsmen appeared at the camp ordering the release of a man they claimed was being held against his will. This request prompted the camp leader, Louis Tikas, to meet with a local militia commander at the train station in Ludlow village, a half mile (0.8 km) from the colony. While this meeting was progressing, two companies of militia installed a machine gun on a ridge near the camp and took a position along a rail route about half a mile south of Ludlow. Anticipating trouble, Tikas ran back to the camp. The miners, fearing for the safety of their families, set out to flank the militia positions. A firefight soon broke out.
Molly Brown's connections to the Colorado mining industry -- which had given her and her husband their riches -- combined with her fame from the Titanic disaster, gave her "good offices" to serve as an intermediary and a badly needed moderating influence between management and labor.
The fighting raged for the entire day. The militia was reinforced by non-uniformed mine guards later in the afternoon. At dusk, a passing freight train stopped on the tracks in front of the Guards' machine gun placements, allowing many of the miners and their families to escape to an outcrop of hills to the east called the "Black Hills." By 7:00 p.m., the camp was in flames, and the militia descended on it and began to search and loot the camp. ...
[Three] captured miners were later found shot dead. ... During the battle, four women and eleven children had been hiding in a pit beneath one tent, where they were trapped when the tent above them was set on fire. Two of the women and all of the children suffocated.
Margaret, who had connections in both the West and the East, went to Ludlow, in answer to urgent appeals for help from both sides, each seeing her as an ally. Margaret struggled to maintain a middle ground, refusing to join radicals calling for the resignation of the governor, while also challenging Rockefeller on his harsh business practices. As the two sides became further entrenched, Margaret spoke out about miners’ rights and pressured Rockefeller with the resulting negative media. Rockefeller eventually softened his stance and agreed to make concessions. The conflict at Ludlow was ultimately resolved and, in many ways, marked the end of the radical wing of the workers’ movement in America as the new PR savvy of industrialists like Rockefeller grew more and more effective.She also went on to work in France providing war relief before American entry.
She died in 1932 at the age of 65, her money almost all spent.
KINGS OF THE WORLD: THE MEN OF THE TITANIC
Dance band on the Titanic
Sing "Nearer, my God, to Thee"
The iceberg's on the starboard bow
Won't you dance with me
- Harry Chapin
"Thank you, no; we are dressed in our best and are prepared to go down like gentlemen. But we would like a brandy!"
- attr. Benjamin Guggenheim, April 15, 1912, 12:30 AM
In the Waterfront section of Southwest Washington, DC, not far from the now-bitterly poor neighborhood called "Anacostia," there is a battered memorial. In one of those strange rituals that only a capital city can long support, there has been a tradition that, at midnight or so of April 14 of every year, a society of men gather at this monument and, as the clock strikes twelve, they raise a toast in commemoration of the men who chose to follow the ancient custom of "Women and Children First."
Those numbers were very great. Wikipedia reports that, for instance, of those men in Second Class on the Titanic, some 92% died, giving their places to the women and children on board. All but one child in first and second class survived; only 20% of the men survived, compared to nearly 75% of the women.
It is unknown if this rule would still be respected in this bitter era of sexual equality-as-battlefield. I think it would be, for I think it is one of those eternal rules of human decency that is written in every human heart (even if it is disregarded by many).
I should also note one of the many women among those who stayed behind: Ida Strauss, husband of former Congressman Isadore Strauss. Although a first class passenger, she refused a place in the boat, choosing to honor her vows to her husband and stay with him to the bitter end. "Not I—I will not leave my husband. All these years we've traveled together, and shall we part now? No, our fate is one."
(And of course we also remember the mothers who had small children that they protected as best they could as the waters came to enclose them.)
But that said, let us not forget those men who chose not to step on a lifeboat so that others might live, for it is this selfless act that made them all "Kings of the World."
For they are the truest embodiments of the Tattered Remnant that could be.
All societies are based on rules to protect pregnant women and young children. All else is surplusage, excrescence, adornment, luxury, or folly, which can — and must — be dumped in emergency to preserve this prime function. ... Attempts to formulate a "perfect society" on any foundation other than "Women and children first!" is not only witless, it is automatically genocidal....
- Lazarus Long (Robert A. Heinlein), Time Enough for Love
ADDENDUM I - ROSE DEWITT BUKATER
I've always loathed "Titanic's" lead character. Rose Dewitt Bukater -– portrayed at the age of 17 by Kate Winslett and her two best friends, Port and Starboard -– is most decidedly not one of the Tattered Remnant, but is a self centered rhymes-with-witch who stops at nothing to get her way. She humiliates her family in public at every opportunity. She later makes her unmarried granddaughter wait in her hand and foot.
She deliberately tosses a zillion-dollar blue diamond that belongs to the insurance company (or should be left to the granddaughter) into the drink. The alternate ending on the CD -- where Rose throws the rock into the sea in full view of her hosts on the Russian research vessel -- needs to be seen (once).
(But, either way... didn't she realize how many billable hours in litigation she prevented? Doesn't she know there are starving lawyers in Ethiopia?!)
It could be argued that the sinking of HMS Titanic was her fault--since she was on the deck smooching with Jack, distracting the first officer and the seamen in the crow's nest from paying proper attention to their jobs.
More seriously, she was remarkably cruel, in that she let her own mother believe, for the rest of her (the mother's) life, she was dead in the sinking, which if you think about it is about a 9.5 on a logarithmic Nastymeter.
Really, I always figure that the alternate universe in which Cameron's "Titanic" takes place would probably have been better off if somebody else had gotten to the floating bedstead.... but that would not have made a very good movie, would it?
ADDENDUM II - ELBERT HUBBARD
Mr. and Mrs. Straus, I envy you that legacy of love and loyalty left to your children and grandchildren. The calm courage that was yours all your long and useful career was your possession in death. You knew how to do three great things—you knew how to live, how to love and how to die. One thing sure, there are just two respectable ways to die. One is of old age, and the other is by accident. All disease is indecent. Suicide is atrocious. But to pass out, as did Mr and Mrs Isador Strauss, is glorious. Few have such privilege. Happy lovers, both. In life they were never separated, and in death they are not divided.- Artist Elbert Hubbard, 1912
On May 7. 1915, Elbert Hubbard and his wife Alice perished in the sinking of the Lusitania.