RMS Titanic

In the early hours of April 15th, 1912 the RMS Titanic bade her final farewell to the world and sank to the depths of the North Atlantic after hitting an iceberg two hours and forty minutes earlier. I don’t think there’s much to be said about how and why this happened that hasn’t been said already but I would like to use this anniversary to share with you all my favourite Titanic-related videos.

Here is a video of the accounts given by five survivors of the disaster, among them 2nd Officer Charles Lightoller:

Titanic: Ghosts of the Abyss, a documentary by James Cameron and Bill Paxton (who played Titanic treasure hunter Brock Lovett in the 1997 blockbuster movie):

The Curse of the Titanic Sister Ships, a documentary about the ill fate suffered by the three White Star Line sisters, Titanic, Britannic and Olympic:

I hope you enjoy watching these as much as I did.

The King’s Army Parade

Yesterday was the last Sunday of January, which meant that the English Civil War Society gathered on The Mall to hold their annual King’s Army Parade to commemorate the execution of King Charles I on 30th January 1649. Elevated by his son, Charles II, to the position of a martyr, Charles I is immortalised in the form of a statue that stands on a traffic island in Trafalgar Square (this used to be the site of the original Charing Cross and it is from here that all distances from London are measured).

The Royalist division of the English Civil War Society sets off on a sombre march from St James’s Palace to Horseguards Parade and there the chaplain of the society gives a brief explanation of the goings-on (mostly for the benefits of any tourists watching) and afterwards reads from the Book of Common Prayer. Medals are being presented and more readings carried out by other participants and finally, three officers of the King’s Army proceed through the arches of Horseguards and cross busy Whitehall to hang a wreath on the metal railings outside Banquetting House, which is the spot where Charles I was executed. The parade is no longer allowed to continue onto Whitehall due to the inconvenience of having to close off the street for traffic.

Pics of yesterday’s parade can be seen on this site.

5 Facts You Always Wanted To Know About… Queen Victoria

Two days from now, January 22nd, marks the anniversary of the death of Queen Victoria, the longest-reigning monarch (63 years and 7 months) in British history, in 1901. To commemorate this, here are 5 facts about this queen that you may not know:

She proposed to her husband, Prince Albert.
In a time when it was the norm to have the men ‘pop the question’, Queen Victoria was an exception. As she was already queen when the match between her and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was decided on, he couldn’t propose to her, so she had to do it. She wore a white wedding dress, which set the trend for brides worldwide to start wearing white on their wedding day. Contrary to many royal unions of the time, Victoria and Albert’s marriage was a love match and Victoria is famous for maintaining a permanent state of mourning after Albert’s untimely death in 1861 (from typhoid fever).

She was more German than English.
Being the daughter of Edward, Duke of Kent, who was the fourth son of George III, and Victoria Saxe-Saalfeld-Coburg, Queen Victoria was primarily of German descent. Her first language was German, though she also spoke English, French, Urdu and Hindustani. Her German husband famously introduced the tradition of having a Christmas tree to England and the Royal Family to this day still opens their Christmas presents on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day, as is the custom in Germany as well.

She wasn’t very fond of babies.
Even though she had 9 children, Queen Victoria wasn’t very keen on the idea of giving birth (well, who can blame her, really?) and didn’t enjoy the company of her children during their infant years. In fact, she was so repulsed by them, she had them live in a different wing of the palace and frequently referred to them as ‘frogs’.

The phrase “We are not amused” is attributed to her.
Although there is no historical evidence she ever said it, many believe that the famous phrase “We are not amused” was first uttered by Queen Victoria. Russell T. Davies incorporated this into the script for the Doctor Who episode ‘Tooth & Claw’, in which the character of Rose Tyler repeatedly tries to get Queen Victoria to say it (and succeeds).

She is still called the ‘Grandmother of Europe’.
Victoria’s 9 children all married into the royal families of Europe (which is why most of them are still related to each other to this day, even though the custom of marrying among themselves has mostly died out) and she’s therefore often called the ‘Grandmother of Europe’. Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip are actually both great-great-grandchildren of Queen Victoria.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert with some of their children

Terra Nova Expedition

Every day we have been ready to start for our depot 11 miles away, but outside the door of the tent it remains a scene of whirling drift. I do not think we can hope for any better things now. We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker, of course, and the end cannot be far. It seems a pity but I do not think I can write more. R. Scott. Last entry. For God’s sake look after our people.

Thus reads the last journal entry by Captain Robert Falcon Scott from March 29th, 1912 while he and his team mates were on the return journey of their Antarctic expedition. They had tried to be the first human beings to reach the South Pole, had arrived at their destination on January 17th, 1912 after first setting off from Wales on June 10th, 1910 and 11 weeks after leaving their expedition’s base camp, only to find that Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and his team had beaten them by 33 days, having reached the South Pole on December 14th, 1911. The Terra Nova Expedition, named after the ship Scott and his team left Wales in, covered 1842 miles of Antarctica and was the longest continuous sledge journey ever made in the polar regions.

Sadly, not only were Scott and his team not the first to reach the South Pole, but also all 5 of them died on the return journey due to frostbite, malnutrition, dehydration and injury. In an attempt to save his comrades, Captain Lawrence Oates, who was suffering from a foot injury and felt he was holding his team mates back, walked out of their tent on March 17th into the freezing weather and was never seen again. The search party that set off in October 1912 to find out what had become of the expedition only ever found his sleeping bag a few miles south of the tent that contained the frozen bodies of Scott and his two companions Dr. Edward Adrian Wilson and Henry Robertson Bowers (another team mate, Edgar Evans, having died on February 17th already at a different location). They are believed to have died sometime around the date of Scott’s last journal entry from March 29th, 1912.

What I find the most interesting about this expedition and its fate are little tidbits about the characteristics of some of the team members and how they came to be on this ill-fated endeavour. First, there’s Edgar Evans, who was chosen by Scott to be among the 5-men-team to attempt the final leg of the journey towards the South Pole even though he is described as having been something of a “beery womanizer” who even fell into the water upon boarding the ship once because he was drunk.  Henry Robertson Bowers was originally only the storekeeper aboard the Terra Nova but due to his organisational skills and his bright and cheerful nature and dauntless spirit he became a valuable member of Scott’s team. Dr. Edward Adrian Wilson had been diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1898 (who would have thought he’d partake in an Antarctic expedition just 12 years later?) and had just married his wife only three weeks prior to setting of on Terra Nova. Talk about bad luck, eh?

Over the years there have been varying theories about who is to blame for Scott’s expedition failing in this tragic manner but I’m not going to comment on those simply because I know too little about what is important for such an endeavour to be successful. I’ll just go with the “bad luck”-theory because in my view we’ll never know for sure what really happened on that journey and blaming the adverse weather conditions – that even scientists have judged to have been unusually bad – is the safest option here (and a typically British one at that ;-)).

Scott and his team at the South Pole
L-R: Wilson, Scott, Oates
Bowers, Evans (seated)

A Night to Remember

Today marks the 101st anniversary of the sinking of one of the greatest ships of all time, the RMS Titanic. She sank at 2:20am in the morning of April 15th, 1912, 2 hours and 40 minutes after hitting an iceberg four days into her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York. More than 1,500 men, women and children died, making this one of the most catastrophic maritime disasters in history.

As I’m sure most of you will have heard the story about the ship and the sinking and how everyone thought she was unsinkable, I won’t bore you with the details. So let’s just enjoy a few pictures, both of the still and the moving variety, and remember this truly great ship as it once was.