English author Nick Barratt’s new book on the RMS Titanic retells the story in a fresh way with dozens of obscure and rarely uses original eyewitness stories from the shipbuilders and surviving crew members and passengers, most of which have not previously been used in other accounts of the collision with an iceberg and subsequent sinking of the vessel on her maiden voyage across the Atlantic Ocean from Ireland to New York City.
I have read dozens of books on the Titanic disaster, perhaps the most celebrated shipwreck in history. After seeing the old movie “A Night to Remember” as a kid on TV and then reading Walter Lord’s book of the same name for a school project, I was hooked (and still am to this day). On a recent visit to the Hershey Museum, I learned of one of the doomed ship’s connections to central Pennsylvania. Milton Hershey and his wife originally had tickets for the maiden voyage on April 10, 1912, but postponed their sailing date. With so much carnage in the first class men, it is doubtful that Hershey would have survived. Another connection, York Daily Record blogger Jim McClure has pointed out other local ties, including the fact that the company who financed the construction and owned the White Star Line was headed by a York man, Philip Albright Small Franklin, who was president of International Merchant Marine.
Nick Barratt’s new book Lost Voices From the Titanic: The Definitive Oral History is a fascinating read, one that I had a hard time putting down when my airplane flight landed. His is a fresh take, devoid of any biased interpretations as to who was to blame for the disaster and free of the sensationalism that has marked some previous publications.
Titanic in its dock before the maiden voyage from Belfast to Cherbourg to Southampton to Queenstown to the iceberg in the open ocean of the coast of Canada en route to New York City.
Barratt simply recounts the story using newspaper clippings as the ship took form in the massive Belfast, Ireland, shipyards of Harland and Wolff and letters and memories of the men who actually constructed the ill-fated ocean liner, few of which I had ever read before in the dozens of books I own or have read on the Titanic. He places the ship in context of the era, which was marked with frenzied national pride between the English, Americans, and Germans primarily for having the latest, most fashionable, and fastest passenger and mail ships on the planet. At the same time, Winston Churchill and others in England were pushing for larger and more potent battleships, so the shipmaking industry was at its peak as the Titanic slipped into the water for the first time.
After some semi-technical material on the doomed ship’s layout, engines, capabilities, etc. that is easy to read and informative, Barratt’s book really shines when he allows the passengers and crew to speak for themselves (hence the title). Some of the accounts are letters sent by survivors to author Walter Lord in the mid 1950s as he was researching his landmark book, with mesmerizing details that even most Titanic junkies have not previously read. Other accounts only appeared in obscure English publications and had not had a global audience before this new book.
Barratt finishes by briefly discussing the official investigations into the causes of he disaster and the fate of some of the survivors, a few of whom were so haunted by the memories they later committed suicide or died young with broken health and spirit. For example, the lookout who first spotted the iceberg hung himself at the age of 76 two weeks after his wife, who was his support network,died.
Other tidbits the author brings forward include the discovery a few weeks after the wreck of a collapsible life raft with three bodies on board, which he speculates could have been the last three people to die of exposure on the open ocean before the rescue ships arrived. Barrett tells of another life boat, this one empty, that was found in the Bahamas months later, having drifted southward on the Gulf Stream current. He also presents a horrifying first-hand account fom a passenger on the German ship Bremen which encountered a vast field of dead bodies and debris floating in the ocean after the disaster but had to steam on.
Lost Voices from the Titanic is one of the better books I have read on the subject and easily captured my attention and interest on this week’s plane ride from Baltimore to the Midwest. If you enjoy shipwreck tales or the Titanic specifically, this one is clearly a must read.
Lost Voices from the Titanic
The Definitive Oral History
Palgrave Macmillan, March 2010
ISBN: 978-0-230-62230-2, ISBN10: 0-230-62230-5,
6-1/8″ x 9-1/4″ inches, 320 pages, two 8-page b&w photo sections.