Book Review of And The Band Played On

by JoHarrington

Most Titanic books end with the sinking. That's when this one begins. It's the shocking, heart-breaking story of two families left behind.

I tend to pick up books about the Titanic. As both an historian and a human being, it fascinates me. Therefore I'm sure that I'm close to having read and learned nearly all that there is to say on the subject.

Then I read this. I'd never heard most of what was told here, because it was a story which began about the time when all of the others sign off.

I opened to the front page, just to see what it was about. If real life hadn't intervened, I'd have been there until the last page in just one sitting. It is that good.

And The Band Played On...

The Titanic's band famously went on playing even as the ship was sinking. One of them had a pregnant fiancee back home.

The Heroism of the Titanic's Band

Seven men stood on the deck of a sinking ship, playing music even as the last lifeboat left; and with it their chance to survive.

We all know the tale, or do we?  As the news about the Titanic sinking starting to permeate through First Class, the band continued to play their music. 

At first, it was mainly to entertain or provide some background normality in an unusual situation. Then, as it finally became clear that this wasn't a drill, nor some sick joke, they played to maintain calm amidst the chaos.

The official inquiries later credited them with saving lives, as they staved off panic amongst the passengers.

Those seven men continued to play until they couldn't be heard over the death rattles of the Titanic breaking up, as a prelude to disappearing beneath the waves. There was never any hope of them being saved and, by then, it was every person for themselves.  None of the band survived.

One of them was John Law Hume, a 21 year old Scottish violin player, who was known to his friends as Jock. He had gone to sea to escape an abusive father.  During his shore leave, he didn't go home to him, but to his hand-fast fiancee, Mary Costin.

She was carrying his baby when he died that night. This is mostly her story.

The Scene as Envisaged in James Cameron's 'Titanic'

There's no obvious Jock Hume amongst the actors here, but he was there in real life.
(Apologies that it looks like it was filmed on a potato. If anyone finds a better version, please let me know.)

Jock Hume and Mary Costin - A Love Story

Two working class people in Dumfries, Scotland, were planning to get married. Then Titanic sank.

Jock's father didn't like Mary Costin. His step-mother called her a 'slut' on the doorstep. But then Andrew and Alice Hume didn't like a lot of people, their own children included.

Jock didn't care what his parents thought. He had moved out of their home months before to live with Mary and her mother.

In Scottish law and tradition, this was a hand-fasting. It meant that any children forthcoming during the next year should be considered legitimate, as long as the couple then married.

His voyage on Titanic would have earned him enough to pay for the wedding ceremony. It was planned for when he returned home from the Atlantic crossing. It would have happened anyway, but the news of the baby hurried things up. Both Mary and Jock were ecstatic at the idea of starting a family.

He must have been thinking of her, as he battled to stay alive in the freezing ocean. She wasn't even listed as his next of kin.

Unmarried and pregnant, in Edwardian Scotland, Mary had an up-hill struggle on her hands. It would take several court cases to even entitle her daughter to assistance from the Titanic Charity Fund. She did the absolute best that she could in the circumstances.

Most stories about Titanic's victims and survivors concentrate on the rich and titled. This biography is something different. It tells, in well-researched depth, the experiences of two working class families in the aftermath of the disaster.

Some of the details are absolutely shocking. For example, I already knew that the crew were all fired from their jobs at the instant that Titanic sank.  But I hadn't grasped what that meant. The reality was that their wages stopped at that moment too. White Star Line paid their next of kin what was owed until April 15th, 2.20am, and no more.

But that also included stoppages.  Jock Hume had been liable for his own uniform, as well as the White Star insignia and buttons. The costs would have been deducted from his pay, before it was given to him.  By the time that the ship sank, he hadn't earned enough to cover what he was wearing. His family received an invoice for the out-standing amount.

That is just one of the jaw-dropping details that you will learn when reading And the Band Played On...

Another Book about the Band that Played on the Titanic

The Band that Played On: The Extraordinary Story of the 8 Musicians Who Went Down with the Titanic

“They kept it up to the very end. Only the engulfing ocean had power to drown them into silence. The band was playing ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee.’ I could hear it distinctly. The ...

View on Amazon

A Biography Which Reads Like a Novel

Christopher Ward has a very easy to read style of writing. He's created a wonderfully crafted page turner.

Jock and Mary were the author's grandparents. Christopher Ward's mother was the unborn child, whom Mary was carrying, on the night that the Titanic went down. It's therefore a genealogy which underpins this whole tale.

However, Ward is no amateur writer.  He has had a long career as a tabloid journalist, before turning his hand to writing his family history.

The result is more than readable. In part, it appears like a novel, penning thoughts and reactions which could only have been deduced. Though some of those must have come from the memories of the major players themselves.

The rest consists of cold, hard facts, compiled in such a way that they too become fascinating to devour. I have never, for example, read about the grisly task of the CS Mackay-Bennett in such detail. This was the boat deployed to the scene to recover the bodies of Titanic victims. They had not sank in death, but were kept buoyant by their life-jackets.

Ward used the ship's log, a crewman's diary, and archivist cuttings in Halifax, Canada, to piece together that journey in minute detail.  It was relevant.  One of the bodies recovered was that of his grandad, Jock Hume.

I found that I couldn't put this book down.  I even took it out with me to a shop, where I knew there would be a long queue. I had to be prompted by a fellow customer, when it was finally time for me to be served!

This is not your usual Titanic book.  The disaster itself is a catalyst and something which set off a whole chain of events. The consequences of that sinking went on and on.

Hear the Music Played by the Titanic Band

My Other Articles About Titanic

On April 14th 2012, the 100th anniversary of Titanic striking an iceberg, her home city showed me the human cost.
On April 15th 1912, RMS Titanic sank in the Atlantic Ocean. The story has fascinated generations ever since. But why?
Votes for Women or boats for women? In 1912, the press pushed to make it either/or and the Suffragettes were left floundering.
Since before Titanic sank, on April 15th 1912, there have been strange stories connected with it. Prepare for a voyage into the unknown.
Updated: 07/26/2014, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 03/09/2014

You're very welcome. They were undoubtedly brave men.

Mira on 03/09/2014

Came back to this article. I find the bit about the band playing on so amazing. Thanks, again, for this article.

JoHarrington on 08/07/2012

I certainly intend to one day.

The violins in Elie Wiesel's film were real too.

If you're interested in that whole story, then there's a book and movie called 'And the Violins Stopped Playing'. It's about the gypsy, Sinti and Roma people killed in the death camps; and how some survived by playing soothing music as others were killed. Such a terrible period in history, and scarily close to happening again.

When its referring to Jews, it's the Holocaust. When it's about the Roma, its the Porajmos. I wrote about it here:

It's something that I know a bit about, as that's what I did my BA dissertation on.

Mira on 08/07/2012

Right, I think we should do more book reviews here on Wizzley :-). I enjoyed yours very much! That thing about workers being fired, getting an invoice for outstanding debt, and that girl fighting to get her money from the Fund -- amazing. And yes, I remember those violins (I think) playing from when I watched the movie. There are some violins in Elie Wiesel's Night as well. Both scenes, one from the movie, and the other from that book, moved me deeply.

JoHarrington on 06/14/2012

I do recommend it. I was raving about it to everyone I met, then passed the book itself onto my mother.

marciag on 06/14/2012

Awesome review, I've got to get this book now.

JoHarrington on 06/10/2012

I love your husband's idea of assuaging your nerves before he went to sea!

That music in the dark must have been so atmospheric. Did they play 'Nearer My God To Thee'?

Digby_Adams on 06/10/2012

My husband is an engineer who spends a lot of time at sea. When we first met this was very worrisome for me. For some reason, one time he took me to see a play about the Titanic the night before he shipped out. The play staging was dreary at best and it was really dragging one. Then the person at the wheel yelled, "Captain we've hit an ice berg." And all of the lights in the theater went out. I thought this is the best part of the staging. Well it was a real power failure. The theater orchestra in an act of theatrical brilliance got up on stage and continued to play in the dark as we left the theater. For some reason that moment has stuck in my brain and I've always had a soft spot for the Titanic band. As always, a great piece of writing, rated up!

JoHarrington on 06/08/2012

Oh cool! Thank you. I'll have to check that out.

Shonna on 06/07/2012

Johnny, a friend's publishing company out of Nova Scotia just published one a few years after Titanic sank...Titanic Ashes is the title and it's one I think you'd enjoy. X

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