Friday, November 6, 2015

Survivors Stories of the Titanic


Rating: 4 Stars


I feel kind of wrong in reviewing or even rating this one. I mean, seriously, how do you review someone's recollection of what is likely the worst night of their lives? A tragedy of this magnitude can't really even be imagined by those who did not experience it, no matter how many times we might watch Jack and Rose trying to survive.

This neat little volume is a compilation of three accounts of the sinking - Colonel Gracie, Second Officer Lightoller, and Harold Bride, the assistant radio operator.

Colonel Gracie's account is first and the most detailed - also very objective. It is certainly unlike new texts written about the sinking that play on emotion. It is very detailed, and but also almost technical - perhaps that does not make a lot of sense, but it might should you decide to pick this one up. Gracie's account begins far before the sinking, and we get glimpses of several other passengers, including some brief commentary on Mr. and Mrs. Straus. They became more real - and their story that much more heartbreaking, when here we are given a new account instead of the usual anecdote about how Mrs. Straus refused to leave her husband's side and so they both perished. I have always found it especially heartbreaking that though she refused to leave him, even in death they were still separated, as her body was never recovered.

Naturally for those who do still enjoy the movie, there will always be the habit of comparing the film to real-life accounts. I found myself a little disappointed in Office Lowe based on testimonies given at the British and American Inquiries, which were relayed in at least in part in Gracie's account. In the movie, Lowe is the one to start lashing the lifeboats together and shuffling passengers in order to return to pick up any survivors from the water. But varying accounts given disagree on certain aspects - disparaging remarks made about those not 'worthy' of rescue and such. Other testimonies claim he acted with the utmost care and respect. I'd like to believe the latter. 

My thoughts as I finished Gracie's account add up to this: No matter how may times I read about it, it still infuriates me as to how few people were placed in some of the lifeboats. I hear Victor Garber's voice echoing in my head every time with his line, "Rubbish! They were tested in Belfast with the weight of 70 men! Now, fill these boats, Mr. Lightoller, for God's sake man!" I like that he used testimony from both Inquiries, and I wish Ismay had shown half the courage that Captain Smith had in going down with the ship.

I enjoyed Lightoller's account as much as I did Gracie's, inasmuch as you can enjoy the subject matter. It was interesting to have a crew member's perspective to compare to that of a passenger. I found this quote to be fitting, as I have always had a special spot in my heart for the much-maligned-by-some Captain Smith, "Captain 'EJ" was one of the ablest skippers on the Atlantic, and accusations of recklessness, carelessness, not taking due precautions, or driving his ship at too high a speed, were absolutely, and utterly unfounded; but the armchair complaint is a very common disease, and generally accepted as one of the necessary evils from which the seafarer is condemned to suffer." Though Lightoller's account was much shorter, it was still very sound and full of detail. As the highest ranking officer to survive, I think we can and should take his word at face value and stop putting all blame on Captain Smith.

The final section was brief, just a few pages. Bride was the assistant Marconi operator and his account of the night, though short, gave us a good view of Jack Phillips, who worked ceaselessly until the last possible moment to try and summon any possible help that he could. Like the stories of the band continuing to play, I find Phillips actions heroic. He continued sending out distress signals a full fifteen minutes after being released from his duties by Captain Smith. it is a shame that having survived the ship going under, he was unable to survive the night. But, we have Bride's account here to ensure that his bravery is not forgotten.

I definitely recommend this collection for those who love Titanic history. It was a refreshing change of pace to read survivor accounts as opposed to the rehashing of the tragedy by historians today, who are quick to quote survivors and then put their own spin on the information.

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