1912 Suspicions of French and Italians


RJ Emery

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Walter Lord, in his 1955 book A Night to Remember, wrote on page 74:

The staff of the First Class à la carte restaurant were having the hardest time of all [escaping the sinking ship]. They were neither fish nor fowl. Obviously they weren't passengers, but technically they weren't crew either. The restaurant was not run by the White Star Line but by Monsieur Gatti as a concession.

Thus, the employees had no status at all. And to make matters worse, they were French and Italian -- objects of deep Anglo-Saxon suspicion at a time like this in 1912.
What did Walter Lord mean by that last line?

I post this query in this forum because I feel it may play into my contention that the mystery steamer seen by the Titanic was a rogue vessel carrying (war) matériel, and that by 1912 Germany was actively engaged in surreptitious war preparations. I leave open the question for whom this particular cargo was destined if the ship existed at all.

Both the French and Italians were allies of Great Britain in WW I, so why the suspicions "at a time like this in 1912?"
 

James Smith

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Dec 5, 2001
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RJ, my understanding is that the tensions were more ethnic/racial than political.

--Jim

[Moderator's Note: This thread, originally in the "Ships that may have stood still" topic, has been moved to this pre-existing subtopic addressing similar subjects. MAB]
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>What did Walter Lord mean by that last line?<<

Probably some old ethnic axes being ground at the time. Yes, they were ultimately allies in The Great War, but historically, France and Great Britain at least had been enemies, and old animosities often die hard. Even today, you will occasionally hear U.K. subjects referring to the French as "Frogs" and not with affection.

I recall that there was some measure of cultural bias against Italians as well. Witness the reference to "Dagos" used by one of Titanic's officers (Lowe if memory serves) which got him in some hot water with the Italian ambassador, and for which he was obliged to issue a formal apology.
 

Inger Sheil

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Lowe didn't use the term "Dagos" in his testimony - the phrase that caused offence to the Italian Ambassador Cusani and which Lowe withdrew was this:
So, as we were coming down the decks, coming down past the open decks, I saw a lot of Italians, Latin people, all along the ship's rails - understand, it was open - and they were all glaring, more or less like wild beasts, ready to spring.
The use of the word "Dago" would, however, be fairly common among British seamen (and among the general Anglo/Saxon/Celtic English population, not to mention other countries at the time including Australia). I can think of specific instances where at least two of his Titanic colleagues used the word.

It's worth noting that ethnic and/or nationalistic tensions do not run one way - the French might have been "Frogs" to some English, but to some French the British are "les rosbifs."
 

RJ Emery

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I am focused on the German preparations for WWI as a possible motive and destination for the mystery ship I believe was in the same area as the Titanic and Californian.

As I delve deeper into European conflicts at that time, I have learned that in 1911 Italy invaded Libya, the Second Moroccan Crisis began, and the First Balkan War commenced in October, 1912. With ongoing conflicts elsewhere in the world, war was big business. It was only a time of perceived calm.

Anyone doubting Germany's intentions in Europe has only to look at the Second Moroccan Crisis to realize WWI was definitely brewing.

WRT Walter Lord's comment, I do not understand Anglo-Saxon distrust -- ethnic, racist or otherwise -- of the French at that time, as the British were cooperating with France on a number of issues and fronts of mutual benefit and strategic importance.

France and Britain were also at peace with one another for a century at least by 1912, were they not?

Walter Lord writes with a perspective I am not yet comfortable has been identified.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>Lowe didn't use the term "Dagos" in his testimony - the phrase that caused offence to the Italian Ambassador Cusani and which Lowe withdrew was this: <<

Thanks Inger. I stand corrected.

>>I am focused on the German preparations for WWI as a possible motive and destination for the mystery ship I believe was in the same area as the Titanic and Californian.<<

As already discussed, German preperations had nothing to do with this affair. The skullduggery you alluded to simply wasn't necessery at the time. Germany was more then capable of producing weapons from it's own formidable industrial base, and since hostilities had not started, there was no need to smuggle anything in. They could import what they wanted to openly and without interferance.

>>France and Britain were also at peace with one another for a century at least by 1912, were they not?<<

Yes, but as I indicated, old biases and grudges die hard, and as Inger pointed out it wasn't a obe way street.
 

Bob Godfrey

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Lightoller in his memoirs spoke thus of men who were driven from a lifeboat: ... they weren't British, nor of the English speaking race. I won't even attribute any nationality to them, beyond saying that they come under the broad category known to sailors as "Dagoes."

I interpret the Walter Lord passage quoted above as a reference to the prevailing Anglo-Saxon attitude back in 1912 that 'dagoes' couldn't be trusted to behave honourably 'at a time like this' - ie in an emergency situation when lives were at risk.
 
Dec 29, 2006
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There is little doubt that in 1912, and indeed for many years thereafter, ordinary Britons preferred the Germans (indeed any predominantly Protestant, northern people) to the French or Italians. Even in World War II, ordinary soldiers distrusted the French, and I have heard in said, on more than one occasion, that "the Germans were the enemy but you knew where you stood with them" - or words to that effect.
 
Jan 28, 2003
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Oh, the English and the French - centuries of happy enmity and occasional bouts of quarrelsome wartime alliances more recently. And we're still at it, of course. You'll still hear English people sigh, "France, glorious country. Pity about the French!" And the French, in their turn, stare blankly at us, force us to struggle with our execrable French, and then reply in excellent English. The French Academie fulminates against the adoption of English terms like le weekend, le camping etc., and their farmers blockade imports of our lamb, whilst our farmers rage against the European agricultural policies which suit the French better than us. It's all more amicable than it seems really. I've always had a good time there, even whilst struggling to defend Madame Thatcher against 5 non-English speaking Frenchmen in a bar in Paris in the 1980s. She was memorably described by President Giscard d'Estaing as "having the lips of Marilyn Monroe and the eyes of Caligula", which was pretty terrific, and thrown at me several times during the course of the evening. We all went off to a party in a barn in a field later, and at 3.00 am I found myself trying to extricate my English sports car from a scene of inebriated carnage in which the French, insouciant behind the wheels of their cheap Citroen 2CVs cheerfully bashed into each other, until they spotted a much better target - me. Nobody got hurt. You can't have fun like that nowadays.

Back to the point, though. The Entente Cordiale was still a rather new concept in 1912 and had been chiefly championed by Edward VII before he died in 1910, in defiance of centuries-old suspicion from both governments, largely because he loved French food and Parisian 'nightlife' so his detractors said. Which seems rather unfair.

The British royal family of the early 20th Century were of German descent, and prone to marrying their Germanic Protestant relations so the English probably felt they had more in common with the German nation than with a largely Roman Catholic French republic. Besides, the convulsions of French government since the Revolution had always sent shivers up the spines of the British ruling classes. However, when WW1 became inevitable, King George V decided that it was probably better not to have the family name Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, and changed it tactfully to Windsor. And our elderly generals tried to do business with the French elderly generals, and to persuade the French out of their suicidal bright red and blue uniforms, amongst other more political but maybe less necessary policies.

Before the 20th century, of course, you have hundreds of years of us trying to snaffle French lands by marrying the heiresses - and then losing the lot - and the French trying to invade us, but with only one major success. The Normans in 1066, who did have a reasonable claim to the throne by the standards of the day.

People think that this is the only time we were successfully invaded in England, but that is not true. We were invaded, entirely peacefully and successfully, by the Dutch, when William of Orange turfed Charles II's brother James off the throne, to take it himself as co-regnant with James's daughter Mary. Tough in those days to know where your family loyalties lay. Anyway, nobody impeded his progress to London, and everyone settled down again afterwards. But he was Dutch - not French.

Someone's bound to tell me I've got some / most of this wrong, but what I don't have wrong is the love-hate relationship between the English and the French. We both built the Channel Tunnel, burrowing towards each other with enthusiasm, only for an almighty row to break out over which nation would strike the blow beneath the briny to connect the two. In the end, I understand, there was a coordinated countdown - "Three, two, one...!" and "Trois, deux, un ...!"

And Concorde - with an 'e' (French) or without one (English)? They won that one. Dammit.

No French person has ever been described as a 'Dagoe' by the Brits, unless perhaps our sailors were remarkably unable to distinguish nationality - which seems most unlikely. As Inger says, they are Frogs to us, and we are les Rosbifs to them ... and I don't think it really adds up to a great deal of racial hatred. More like quarrelling cousins.
 

RJ Emery

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Michael,
As already discussed, German preparations had nothing to do with this affair. The skulduggery you alluded to simply wasn't necessary at the time. Germany was more then capable of producing weapons from it's own formidable industrial base, and since hostilities had not started, there was no need to smuggle anything in. They could import what they wanted to openly and without interference.
Not so, to wit:
Ammonia was first manufactured using the Haber process on an industrial scale in Germany during World War I, to meet the high demand for ammonium nitrate (for use in explosives) at a time when supply of Chile saltpetre from Chile could not be guaranteed because this industry was then almost 100% in British hands. It has been suggested that without this process, Germany would not have started the war.
The immediate above from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haber_process . The Haber Process was the fortuitous capstone in Germany's plans to go to war. Any nation planning war keeps all of its plans, preparations and matériel shipments under wraps for as long as it can. Why provide potential enemies with an inventory of what one has or doesn't have?

I am convinced there was at least one mystery ship, and to my mind, the best rationale I can fathom for not coming to the aid of the Titanic was because of the cargo it carried.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>Not so, to wit:<<

Which does not actually refute what I said, and "suggested" is not the same thing as a "fact." I already mentioned that they had a formidible industrial base and what you quoted above actually bears that out. Further, there were no blockades or embargos in place.

Also, your so-called attempt at a refutation places the development of the Haber Process during the war, when blockades and embargos most certainly were an issue.

Before the war, they were not.

>>I am convinced there was at least one mystery ship, and to my mind, the best rationale I can fathom for not coming to the aid of the Titanic was because of the cargo it carried.<<

Again, irrelevant. In fact, utterly, completely wrong. Regardless of the situation...which you are completely misreading...there is no reason to hide something which was not illegal, not embargoed, not blockaded, and which you could do openly because there was no war on.

Get it now?
 
May 27, 2007
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Quarreling Cousins indeed Monica. England was successively invaded by the vikings Knut and his son Canute whose mother was the Saxon English King's widow Emma of Normandy who was of Viking descent as well. The Normans whose Duchy's name meant Northmen were Frenchified Vikings more or less. So even when you were invaded by what you thought were Frenchmen it wasn't true Gallic Frenchmen but Frenchmen with Danish, Swedish and Norwegian blood. England is a melting pot just like America.

I think the main animosity between England and France goes back to the Hundred Years War. Jehanne d' Arc had to come and give the English the boot. Alas they beat her in the end though. I could go on and on. When I'm not into Titanic I also go into my Medievalist stage. Now I'm into Pompeii. But finishing up on what I was saying the English and French get along when it counts. In fact a teacher told me that France and Britain had a Child together whom they named America. A little Rebel.
 

James Smith

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RJ, I'm no expert in the whole Californian affair, but if the "mystery ship" was carrying contraband in preparation for war and did not want to be found--

1. Why was it sailing with its lights visible (including running lights); and
2. Why didn't it black out those lights immediately upon coming into visual range of Titanic, a ship visibly in distress and around which other ships would soon inevitably be flocking?

--Jim
 

RJ Emery

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Jim,

... if the "mystery ship" was carrying contraband in preparation for war and did not want to be found ...
More simply, it just did not wish to call attention to itself.

1. Why was it sailing with its lights visible (including running lights) ...
The fastest way to draw attention would be to look and act differently, to otherwise stand out from the crowd. For that reason alone, the mystery ship would keep its lights on and obey all the rules of the sea if for only its own safety. It would simply remain incommunicado and not involve itself voluntarily in any incident.

2. Why didn't it black out those lights immediately upon coming into visual range of Titanic ...
Perhaps it already had its lights blacked out. There were no ships observed in the area when Titanic struck the iceberg. The two lookouts, whose job it was to report any sightings of icebergs or ships, reported nothing from their superior vantage point beforehand. Neither did the officers on watch at the time of the collision note any ships in the area. The mystery ship was noticed only sometime after, at an estimated distance of five miles.

... [and] around which other ships would soon inevitably be flocking?
It was gone by daybreak.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>The fastest way to draw attention would be to look and act differently,<<

Don't know much about how smugglers work, do you? Smugglers try to evade detection by any means and cruising at night out at sea with no lights on would make such a vessel impossible to detect. That's why they operate that way.

In any event, it's still irrelevant since the sort of dire straits you insinuate did not in fact exist at the time. There is no need to smuggle anything when such imports were neither contraband or illegal, and the nation was not being blockaded at the time. They could build or synthasize what they wanted to and import anything they needed without molestation from anybody.
 

Kris Muhvic

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Just a little something here-
The A la Carte Restaurant staff, like the musicians, were employed by an outside contract. Not employed by White Star. Hence the "fish nor fowl" reference. Prejudices according to ethniticity was not unusual at this time- for any number of reasons.
Indeed, a contractor in a company today is often treated/thought of like a "scab", to use the old term. "Trash" is more of a modern affection! (heard it when back in a crowded elevator once!)
K
 

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