Read The Band That Played On Online

Authors: Steve Turner

Tags: #Biography & Autobiography, #Historical, #Nonfiction, #Retail, #Titanic, #United States

The Band That Played On

BOOK: The Band That Played On
7.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


The Extraordinary Story of the 8 Musicians
Who Went Down with the


© 2011 by Steve Turner

All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, scanning, or other—except for brief quotations in critical reviews or articles, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Published in Nashville, Tennessee, by Thomas Nelson. Thomas Nelson is a registered trademark of Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Thomas Nelson, Inc., titles may be purchased in bulk for educational, business, fundraising, or sales promotional use. For information, please e-mail [email protected].

Scripture quotations are taken from the

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Turner, Steve, 1949–

   The band that played on : the extraordinary story of the 8 musicians who went down with the Titanic / by Steve Turner.

      p. cm.

   Includes bibliographical references and index.

   ISBN 978-1-59555-219-8

   1. Titanic (Steamship) 2. Musicians—Biography. 3. Musicians—History—20th century. I. Title.

G530.T6T87 2011



Printed in the United States of America

11 12 13 14 15 QGF 6 5 4 3 2 1

To my mother, Ivy Frances Turner,
who first gave me a love of history.



1. “That glorious band.”

2. “The world’s greatest liner.”

3. “A man with the highest sense of duty.”

4. “I will write to you on board the

5. “An exceptionally good performer on the piano.”

6. “A thorough and conscientious musician.”

7. “The life of every ship he ever played on.”

8. “An intellectual turn of mind.”

9. “The
is now about complete.”

10. “We have a fine band.”

11. “A solemnity too deep for words.”

12. “It is with great sadness that I have to give you the painful news.”

13. “If you think you have a legal claim.”

14. “A natural fruit of the evil of the age.”

15. “The sweets of notoriety.”

16. “I should cling to my old violin.”


General Bibliography

Printed Sources


Picture Credits

About the Author


First mention of sinking in Lloyd’s Weekly Shipping Index, April 18, 1912.


n the old music-business joke, a songwriter is asked, “What comes first— the words or the music?” and the writer answers, “The phone call.” When I am asked, “What made you write a book on the
?” the honest answer is, “The e-mail.” It came from Joel Miller, VP of nonfiction at Thomas Nelson Publishers, and after mentioning the launch of the
in May 1911 and the maiden voyage in April 1912, he said: “I’d like to do a one hundredth anniversary popular history, and think I have a unique angle for it, one that ties into two of your areas of expertise, biography and music. Are you free to discuss?”

I’d never read a book about the
and had only seen the James Cameron film after being dragged along by my wife and daughter. Biography. Music.
. It didn’t take many seconds to work out that he was probably going to ask me to write about the celebrated band on the ship that went down playing. Despite having seen both
A Night to Remember
, I still had a mental image of the band on the stage of a ballroom carrying on with their music as the dancers made for the exits and the water lapped against their music stands. In other words, I didn’t know very much.

But after spending a couple of days researching on the Internet, I quickly discovered that not only was this an absorbing story—one that had once transfixed the world—but it was also a story that had never been the subject of a book, despite the floods of
books since the 1980s. Everything that was known about the members of the band, with the exception of Wallace Hartley, could be fitted on half a dozen sheets of A4 paper. This seemed odd, given the multiple angles that had been employed over the years to open up the
story in fresh ways. I was sure there was a book to be written about them and that the key to it would be tracking down living relatives who may have inherited photographs, documents, and anecdotes. In 2009, when I accepted Joel Miller’s offer to write the book, I didn’t know what I would find, but I knew it would give me the sort of challenge that I thrived on.

The Band That Played On
is the result of my research. It’s a portrait of eight men who were thrown together on a maiden voyage, never having played together as a band, and whose names will be forever linked because of an extraordinary act of courage in the face of death. It’s also a portrait of the age in which they lived, a time when everything seemed to be going right and human ingenuity was about to surmount all the old obstacles and bring about a world that was faster, wealthier, more luxurious, and more peaceful.

I’ve not attempted to write another history of the
, as such, but to focus on a group of men who were on that ship and whose biographies have necessarily been defined by what would otherwise have been another few days of routine work. I’ve included essential information about the ship only inasmuch as it helps the story of the musicians along. I don’t attempt to determine whether the craft sank because the rivets were too short or the steel plates were too thin and neither do I spend pages speculating as to whether it broke up and sank or sank and then broke up. My assumption is that if readers want that type of detailed information they can be well supplied elsewhere.

I began the research knowing very little about the band and have finished the writing feeling that I know just about everything that can be known about them without the discovery of a hitherto unknown cache of letters, diaries, and journals. I met the descendants of their brothers and sisters and the son of the only known child of any of the bandsmen. I traveled up to Oxford, Liverpool, Dumfries, and Colne, across to Walthamstow and Notting Hill and down to Eastbourne and Southampton. I saw the homes they lived in, the schools they studied in, the rooms they played in, and the offices some of them worked in. There were times when information was so elusive I felt I was banging my head against a wall and other times when stories fell into my lap without really trying.

Why does the story of the
continue to fascinate? There have been bigger and more costly disasters. There have been more obvious examples of human error and natural calamity. I think it’s because there are not many stories where people who are neither ill nor caught up in a conflict have a few hours to contemplate their imminent deaths. We automatically ask ourselves how we would react in the same situation because we know that our choices reveal our deepest values and beliefs. Would we do absolutely anything to get a place in a lifeboat or would we gladly put someone else first? Would we stick to husband or wife, or could we live with the possibility of being parted? Would we carry on playing music, or pack up our instrument and leap overboard?

The musicians faced this ultimate challenge. I hope that I have done their actions justice. I hope that some deserving stories will have been drawn back into the light. I’d like to think that if Wallace, Georges, Roger, Theo, Percy, Fred, Jock, and Wes were to read this book they’d think I was spot on.

London, September 2010


n the night of April 18, 1912, a dimly lit low-slung steamer with a single black funnel graciously eased its way up the lower reaches of the Hudson River headed toward Cunard’s Pier 54. Never before had the arrival of one ship been the focus of so much anticipation and speculation. New York’s traffic was gridlocked, police barriers had been erected around the west end of 12th Street, and the eyes of the world were focused on a gangway that would soon connect lower Manhattan with the British steamer

More than fifty tugboats manned by journalists had been nipping at the vessel as she made her approach, hoping to be rewarded with shouted-out answers to questions or handwritten scraps of information that would put them one step ahead of their competitors in the scramble for headlines. Reporters with megaphones made offers of $50 or $100 for firsthand reports, while photographers lit up the side of the ship with their flashes of magnesium powder. Some of them even tried to invade it when a rope ladder was let down for the river pilot to climb on, and they had to be forced back by Second Officer James Bisset.

The object of all the attention was not the ship’s prebooked passengers who’d set out for the Mediterranean exactly a week before, but the more than 706 survivors of the world’s worst shipwreck who’d been hauled on board from the freezing Atlantic.
had gone down almost four days previously, and the story of its loss had dominated the front pages of newspapers around the world. But beyond knowing that it had collided with an iceberg, and that the majority of the crew and passengers had died, very few hard facts had reached the shore. An early report had suggested that all were safe, and a wrongly attributed wireless message gave the impression that the damaged
was being towed slowly back to port.

Speculation had developed that a cover-up was being mounted, that the meager output from the
’s wireless room—a provisional list of survivors—and the refusal to answer press inquiries was a stalling tactic to give the chairman of the White Star Line, J. Bruce Ismay, himself a
survivor, time to concoct an official explanation that would absolve him and his company of negligence charges. An intercepted wireless message from the
indicated that Ismay wanted the
to let its passengers off farther downriver to avoid the press.

The public naturally wanted to know how this apparently invincible liner had come to grief on what should have been a routine Atlantic crossing, but for most of the curious the explanation would have little or no immediate impact on their lives. For the friends and families of
passengers, the need to know was vital to their peace of mind. Many of them gathered in the shed at the entrance to Pier 54 uncertain as to whether they would see their loved ones emerge. For newspapers, getting an accurate record of this event was a professional duty and an unparalleled editorial challenge.

BOOK: The Band That Played On
7.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

The Pioneers by James Fenimore Cooper
A Christmas Peril by Michelle Scott
Espresso Tales by Alexander McCall Smith
Cocoa by Ellen Miles
Windows 10 Revealed by Kinnary Jangla