There are so many untold tales and now 100 years on from the Titanic tragedy, stories continue to be retold and others narrated for the first time, linked to the events that unfolded in the wake of the tragedy. Not only do we read accounts of those who were on the boat, but the event is used in fiction, a convenient device for eliminating a character such as the loss of the cousin and heir in Julian Fellowes Downton Abbey series, this event triggering the inheritance crisis that is at the centre of this drama. I read that if all the characters from fictional novels were indeed on the Titanic, it would more than triple the number of passengers she carried and sink it for sure.
Christopher Ward’s ‘And the Band Played On’ relates what happened after the sinking, the confusion and sometimes fictitious messages portrayed by the media, the arrival of the rescue ship SS Carpathia and the subsequent sailing and controversy surrounding the decisions made on-board the Mackay-Bennett, commissioned to return to the site to retrieve bodies. The author is the grandson of Jock Hume and Mary Costin; Jock was on the Titanic and his fiancé Mary awaited his return, three months pregnant with their first and only child.
The Daily Mirror assured its readers that all 2,209 passengers and crew on board the Titanic had been saved and that ‘the hapless giant’ was being towed safely to New York.
Jock Hume was a 21-year-old Scottish violinist who had made many sailings across the Atlantic; it is believed he lied about his age as he first went to sea in 1905, when he was 14 years old. On the Titanic’s embarkation list, his age is given as 28. He stood on deck with the other members of the band and they played music until it was no longer possible, the band knowing that their act of altruism would likely be the death of them. It is a memory that many survivors recalled, those who were fortunate enough to be waiting in a lifeboat, watching the tragedy unfold before them to tunes that would forever haunt them.
When it was no longer possible to stand, they strapped their instruments to their chests and jumped into the freezing cold waters together. None of the band members survived, however two of their bodies were recovered, Band Master Wallace Hartley (his violin case still strapped to him) and Jock Hume. Hours after the Titanic sank, White Star Line commissioned the Mackay-Bennett to recover the bodies of victims. Of the 209 bodies they brought back, 150 were laid to rest at three Halifax cemeteries. Jock Hume was buried in the Fairview cemetery, a site where visitors still pay their respects today.
The book shares little of the lives of Jock and Mary and focuses more on Jock’s father Andrew Hume, who was also a violinist. He paints an ugly picture of Andrew Hume as a difficult father, a fraudulent businessman and profiteer of his son’s death who rejected Mary and made disturbing accusations against her and the unborn child.
Ward recounts the trial of Jock’s 18-year-old sister Kate who pulled a prank on her father and stepmother in the form of a letter informing them of enemy involvement in her sister’s death during WWI; this escalated into a national outrage and the risk of contravening a newly passed Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) which gave the government wide-ranging powers for the duration of the First World War. Anyone charged under the Act would face a military trial by court martial with a maximum sentence of death by hanging or firing squad.
The account of well researched historical facts following the sinking of the Titanic, lend the story a credibility that kept me interested throughout the book. What left me somewhat bemused was the sense of judgement against the Grandfather Andrew Hume. True, he appears to have been less than the perfect father, but he was a successful and motivated businessman and musician, even if exaggeration and a few lies did assist him (doesn’t that continue today?). However, between these pages, there is little room for compassion for the man, we only see him in the most negative light, which I find a little sad in a story portrayed by his great-grandson. To lose a wife, a son and be subject to the murderous revenge of his daughter surely deserves an ounce of compassion, no matter how unscrupulous he was as a person.