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A lecture about the Titanic

Posted on Saturday, October 4, 2014 in Humanities, My life

The other night my mother and I went to listen to a lecture about the Swedish connections to Titanic. There were more than I could have guessed.

The lady who held the lecture is from Liverpool, but I think originally, her family must come from Ireland, judging by her name, which was, at least to me, very Irish. Now she’s living in Sweden and working in a museum in a town not that far from here, with an interesting past.

Having grown up in Liverpool, with its connection to Titanic, she’d always been fascinated in all kinds of shipwrecks, but mainly the Titanic. Before starting the lecture she lit a candle for the victims of the Estonia, since it’s been almost exactly 20 years since that disaster.

She started out telling us about a similar lecture she’d given the week before to a group of Somali refugee women. None of them had higher education, so the lecturer expected them never to have heard of the Titanic but she showed them a photo of the ship and asked if they knew what it was. They all answered together ‘It’s the Titanic!”. So clearly, everyone, everywhere knows something about the Titanic.

We got a chance to look at a photo of the menu for the third class passengers. Since so many of the passengers were Swedish, they had a Swedish type of breakfast, with oatmeal and herrings.

It also turns out that the mechanism that is to lower the lifeboats into the sea, even if the ship is lying on its side, was designed not very far from here, in the town with the movie industry. At the time no one expected the lifeboats to be needed, but this little industry took their responsibility very seriously and did a great job. Apparently, many of the few people who were saved, could thank this mechanism, among other things, for their lives.

During the lecture we were introduced to a number of passengers from the West of Sweden, some of which survived, and some, who didn’t.

There was a young woman, Dagmar, who was going to Chicago to visit relatives, accompanied by her brother, who would serve as her interpreter and, possibly, chaperon, and her fiance. On the fateful night, when they reported to their designated lifeboat, the two young men were told they were not allowed in it. At the time, they didn’t realize there weren’t enough lifeboats. Dagmar said she’d stay behind as well, but the men told her they’d take a later one, and Dagmar reluctantly agreed to depart. Not surprisingly, only Dagmar survived, but was traumatized for the rest of her life.

There was also a young engineer by the name of Kvillner. He had a deprived background, but had worked hard as a waiter, to put himself through a famous technical college. He headed to the UK to board another ship, but due to a coal workers’ strike, he had to take the Titanic instead. Before departing, Kvillner wrote and sent a letter to his fiancee. By the time she received it, he was already dead.

Finally, there was a young man who had escaped to Denmark, to avoid doing his military service. From there, he’d made his way to the UK, then because of the coal strike, was put on the Titanic, instead of the ship he’d been intended to go on.

He and his two friends were hoping to get to know some charming young ladies, but had to content themselves with making new male friends and learning all the ins and outs of the parts of the ship they were allowed on.

The three young men were in the bow of the ship and on the night of the disaster, they were woken by water coming in through the side of the ship. They ran up on deck, aided by their knowledge of the ship. The young man we were told about, had in his hurry left his coat and shoes behind. It was cold up on deck, so he returned to get his outer garments, but when he came downstairs, he found that his cabin was no longer available. The sea had broken in everywhere. He ran upstairs again, to find that the last lifeboat had left.

He looked into the eyes of his two friends and everyone else standing on that deck, reading the same feeling of hopelessness there as he felt. Despite that, he made a desperate vow not to die that night. He thought of his mother and what losing her only son would do to her and determined that he would fight for his life.

Eventually, he ended up in the water, and since he was young and strong, he was able to make his way to an upturned lifeboat. It was already occupied in a way, by several others. Later, the young man was to write about that night, when he ‘did things he didn’t want to remember’. He was one of the few who survived to be picked up by the Carpathia.

Ironically, he who had gone to such lengths to avoid the draft, ended up being drafted into the US army and sent back to Europe to fight in the trenches. He later remarked that if he’d known what he’d had to go through to get to America, he wouldn’t have bothered. But he survived the war and returned home to his town in America, where he was always known as ‘Titanic man’.

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