Reviewed by Peter Engberg
Mrs. Ellen Howard wrote a letter to her son in Idaho on April 2, 1912, just a week before sailing on the Titanic. Mrs. Howard did not survive the disaster.
On Board RMS Titanic. Memories of the Maiden Voyage is a compilation of letters from people who sailed on the Titanic, or people connected to the ship in some way. The book is divided into 14 chapters, with the focus on letters written between the 10th and 19th April. The last chapter is called ''Passenger and Crew biographies'' and deals with the people mentioned in the book. Since this book deals with letters written by the people on the ship/connected to it, it is not a novel in the traditional sense – perhaps the best way to describe is to use the authors own words, Memories of the Maiden Voyage. The author, George Behe, is a past vice president of the Titanic Historical Society. He has written books about the Titanic before, e. g. Titanic: Psychic Forewarnings of a Tragedy (1988) and The Carpathia and the Titanic: Rescue at Sea. (2011)
Quite a few of the letters are written by passengers whose background have remained more or less unknown, which of course makes reading those letters very interesting indeed. For instance, there is a letter from second class passenger Henry Beauchamp to a friend, which sheds light on why Mr. Beauchamp was on the ship. Third class passenger Daniel Coxon wrote to a Hans von Kaltenborn, of Brooklyn, New York, asking Mr. Kaltenborn to meet him when the Titanic reached New York. Many of the letters presented in the book were written in languages other than English, and these letters have been translated. Some of the letters were published in contemporary press, others were sent to friends and relatives.
Regarding the letters written after rescue, there is little new information. Quite a few of the letters have been published before. There are some interesting items, however; fireman Frank Dymond, when returning back to England on the Lapland, wrote to a Mr. J. Rummage, giving details of his experiences during the sinking. Third class passenger Olga Lundin wrote to her family, describing her experiences – this letter was published in the Swedish edition of ''A Night to Remember'' but is probably new to many readers anyway.
Mr. Behe does not comment on the individual content of the letters, instead there is a comment, concerning the compilation of letters in general, in the introduction. Several of the letters contain dramatical and/or farfetched tales of how the letter-writer escaped the sinking liner. This absence of comments gives the reader the opportunity to decide for him/herself what to believe. It is also slightly difficult to grasp where the letters come from in some cases: have relatives preserved them? Have they been in the possession of Titanic buffs? Readers expecting photographs will be disappointed, since there is not one single photograph in the book. Those interested in the people on the ship will be delighted, for there is plenty of information about the people involved, both in the letters per se, and in the 111-page long biography section.
Paperback: 547 pages (excluding some of the index pages)
Publisher: George Behe / Lulu.com