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The Band That Played On
on 19 April 2011
Almost everyone, with any awareness of the story of the Titanic, have heard about the band that played on while the ship was going down. It is a story enshrined with heroism and self sacrifice. However, very little is known about the men themselves and I doubt many, but real Titanic enthusiasts, could name the musicians. Steve Turner does a wonderful job of bringing these men vividly to life: Wallace Hartley, Percy Taylor, Wes Woodward, Fred Clarke, Roger Bricoux, Theo Brailey, Georges Krins and John Law (Jock) Hume.
In fact, there was not one band on the Titanic, but two - a three piece and a five piece band. They were booked through C W & F N Black, in Liverpool and, although some members knew each other, they had not all played together before. The fact the musicians were booked through the Blacks was an important point, as they hired and sourced musicians for cruiseships and it meant that the members were not covered by insurance as they were not employees of the shipping line, not were they covered by the Workmens Compensation Act. It also meant that they were not obliged to play as the ship was sinking, as they were not ships crew, although opinions differ as to whether they were asked to play to maintain discipline and avert panic, or whether they simply expected that they should do so.
After the Titanic disaster, the musicians and their bravery and sacrifice, was a perfect media package. They were ordinary men, but showed outstanding courage and they were widely said to have been playing the hymn "Nearer, My God, To Thee" as the ship went down, giving a signature tune to memorial services around the world. There was dissent to this vision of sacrifice, most notably from H G Wells and Joseph Conrad, who both asserted that the sacrifice should have been unnecessary if proper safeguards had been in place. Wells also suggested that the music had caused lower class passengers to believe all was well, allowing first class passengers to escape the sinking ship. It was a fact that while 62% of first class passengers were saved, only 25% from third class were rescued and only 23% of the crew. This class division extended to the bodies being collected, when first class passengers were put into coffins, while lower class passengers were sewn into canvas sacks, or even thrown overboard if there was no identification. There was great anger about this, understandably, especially as only 712 of the possible 1,084 spaces in the lifeboats were used.
Regardless of these events, the musicians could only do what they could and that was to play. They were all young men, only one married, but three expecting to marry in the near future. Wallace Hartley, the band leader, was a devout Methodist and he believed strongly in his faith and in music as a healing thing which influenced moods. Under his guidance, the band played to the end and Wallace strapped his violin to his chest before being plunged into the sea. After their death, the musicians families had great trouble receiving compensation - the father of Andrew Hume was even sent a bill for his sons uniform alterations.
This book looks at the lives of every member of the two Titanic bands and relates their stories. At the time of the disaster, the band were regarded as heroes and there were several memorial services and plaques put up in their memory. However, within two years, World War I began and a whole new era of sacrifice and loss began, devastating whole communities. With loss of that scope, it was not that the victims of the Titanic were forgotten, but that new concerns took over the country. This is an extremely interesting story and anyone who wants to know more about these brave men will surely find it inspiring. For anyone with any interest in the Titanic, it is a must read. I read the kindle edition of this book and the illustrations were included. Highly recommended and a wonderful book.