Titanic Choices

RMS Titanic was just a ship.

For all the mythology surrounding the Titanic — its voyage, its sinking and the aftermath through to the romance of Hollywood’s portrayal — it was just a ship.

It might have been the largest passenger ship, but that claim had been made before. It might have been intended to make the fastest passage to New York on its maiden voyage, but that claim had been made before, too.

It was said to be unsinkable, but any experienced mariner would shake his head at such an absurd claim.

There had been many other ships with their own claims to fame, and more were to come. The fact so few photographs were taken of its departure shows that while it was significant, it was not monumentally so.

Titanic was just a ship. 100 years ago today it was close to its collision, not just with the iceberg, but with history.

Much ink has been spilled over that disaster and its centennial has heightened the public appetite for details.

What is it about the Titanic that, alone of many marine disasters, keeps that interest alive?

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Vimy, Then and Now

I remember, when I was eleven years old, meeting a nice little old man over lunch one day in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.  My father, my grandmother and I had driven to Acadia University for the dedication and inaugural concert at Denton Hall, the new music building named for my grandfather, Harvey.

At lunch, he was sitting at a neighbouring table, so we went over and I was introduced.  Apart from the awkward attention I received posing for photos by the dedicatory plaque, the encounter with this little old man is the only clear memory I have of the occasion to this day.

His name also was Harvey, he told me.  He had been a good friend of my grandfather, and was pleased to meet his grandson. He also wanted me to know how much my grandfather had meant to so many people.

Afterward, when I asked about this little old man, I was told he was a long-time friend of the family, had worked as an accountant and had helped to get the building named after Grandpa.

Only years later, and thanks to Pierre Berton’s book Vimy, did I learn that ninety-five years ago this Easter Monday morning, then-Captain Harvey Crowell had led “C” Company of the 85th Nova Scotia Highlanders out of the trenches on the left flank to begin the final assault that captured Vimy Ridge.

The promised artillery barrage to lead the way did not materialize.  The men were standing in mud and water, loaded down with weapons, ammunition, and supplies, and the hour was at hand.  Without the barrage, the assault should have been just as disastrous as hundreds before had been, especially attacking uphill against German positions that had remained impregnable for most of the war.

Crowell stood up and signaled for the attack to begin anyway, and his company led the way.  Captain Percy Anderson, when he saw Crowell’s men moving, signaled his company on the right flank to move, and both groups (who had never seen battle before) stormed up the hill and well past their objectives straight into what has been called the defining moment in the history of Canada as a nation.

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