Beyond the Headlines

A week to remember

Posted: Apr 6, 2012 9:54 AM ET Last Updated: Apr 6, 2012 9:54 AM ET

The sinking of the RMS Titanic has become a titanic industry.

That's never been more evident than in the lead up to the 100th anniversary of its sinking.

By now you have probably read or seen countless news stories about the ship and its legacy, and over the next week we will see dozens more, as every possible angle of the story will be examined and re-examined.

There will be Titanic cruises and tours, concerts, plays, lectures, film festivals - there's even a dinner theatre where guests get to eat from the menu the passengers would have enjoyed the evening the great ship sank to the bottom of the North Atlantic.

It seems everyone is set to profit from the disaster that claimed the lives of 1,514 men, women and children.

To be fair, the people organizing the major events, are struggling to reflect the sombre nature of the tragedy that has fascinated so many, for so long.

But it's easy to forget the enormity of the disaster, and the impact on the families of those who died.

In his book, The Band That Played On, author Steve Turner documents what happened to the families of the eight musicians who played to calm the passengers while the life boats were loaded, and continued to play as the Titianic went down.

Even as they were celebrated as heroes by the popular press, and feted with concerts, songs and memorials, their families had to fight for compensation. White Star Lines refused to pay because they weren't technically employees but on contract from a booking agency.

That agency didn't want to pay either, and even billed one of the musicians' family for alterations done to his uniform prior to the ship's departure.

Only three of the musicians' bodies were found (picked up by the CS Mackay-Bennett out of Halifax) and two are buried here. This letter, from White Star Lines, to the families of some of the victims may explain why their bodies weren't sent home:

      "We regret that we do not see our way to bring back home the bodies of those recovered free of expense, and in cases where it is desired for this to be done, it can only be carried out provided the body was in a fit state to be returned, and upon receiving a deposit of £20 on account of the expenses. The remains of those not returned to England we are arranging to have buried at Halifax, each in a separate grave, with a suitable headstone, and we hope this latter arrangement will commend itself to you."

Over the next few days we'll see lots of stories about the band, the ship, the passengers and the legacy of the Titanic.

100 years after the tragedy it's hard to resist the urge to romanticize the whole affair.

But as we take in all the events of the next week, we should not forget, as with the tragedies we've experienced here in Nova Scotia in our generation - the Westray coal disaster, and Swissair 911 - the heartbreak and hardships suffered by those who were left to mourn.
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About the Author

Brian DuBreuil is a veteran journalist with CBC News. He has won two Gemini awards for his work, and neither involved dancing or singing on a reality show.

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