Reviewed by Michael Poirier
The author, Mr. Sisson, states in the beginning of the book, that he wasn't sure he'd be able to find an aspect that hadn't been covered "time and time again". Having this in mind, he decided to focus on what was happening aboard the Titanic's sister ship, Olympic, during the disaster. To my knowledge, I don't believe anyone has covered the Olympic's role in the disaster in depth the way this author has. There are first hand accounts from diaries, letters, and newspaper interviews that makes the reader feel they are aboard during this important crossing.
While reading the book, it's clear that there was extensive research on who was aboard this voyage. It rivaled the Titanic's well-heeled passenger list. We learn about them through their own words on the subject. There's the dying Mr. Burnham who was taking one last trip and who was a close friend of Titanic passengers Frank Millet and Archie Butt; Lord Ashton and his former chorus-girl wife; Claude Casimir-Perier, the son of the late President of France whose marriage to a divorcee was almost as scandalous in French society as JJ Astor's marriage to the young Madeleine Force; Conductor Arturo Toscanini of the Metropolitan Opera House. At the other end of the spectrum we get to know Captain Herbert J. Haddock and some of his previous adventures, wireless operators Ernie Moore and Alec Bagot (who were offered spots on the Titanic by Captain Smith), and the crew that worked hard to get the Olympic ready to assist the sinking Titanic and potential survivors.
The early days of the Olympic and other White Star liners, piloted by Haddock and Smith are covered in detail, especially the Hawke collision. The near-miss of Dr. Downton who left his cabin just before the accident, who returned to find the berth he was lying in was gone. Also aboard were a number of crew members who would subsequently transfer to the Titanic and it is noted in the book that Harry Widener was on this voyage. Widener was lost when the Titanic went down. One wonders if when he felt the Titanic's collision with the iceberg if he equated it with what he felt aboard the Olympic. Then there is the loss of wedding dresses by brides on their way to be married. Sisson brings to light an account by an intrepid reporter who found the newly married, JJ Astor aboard a January 1912 voyage and asked him about New York society. The reporter reported back the "earful" he received from Astor. An amusing anecdote takes place aboard Adriatic with Smith as Captain. The women decided they should no longer have to hide their smoking and began lighting up en masse in the lounge!
The cast of characters moves the book along as we learn their reactions to the tragedy. From their eagerness to help as the Olympic dashed towards her sister ship to their sad realization that as Olympic resumed her course that many lives had been lost. One male passenger talked about his prophetic dream of the Titanic hitting an iceberg and sinking, while another described talk of a lifeboat drill that never materialized. The crew, we find, was especially saddened as they were friends and family to a number of the lost.
Left: An early portrait of Olympic as she executes a turn near land. (Courtesy Dominique Pare),
Centre left: The White Star Line hastily pressed Olympic back into service just three days after her return to England following the Titanic disaster. More than 1,400 passengers lined her decks as the ship departed Southampton on the morning of April 24, a mere 10 days after Titanic struck the iceberg. It was an impressive turn-around, but the voyage was not to be. (Courtesy Günter Babler)
Centre rIght:Olympic's passengers line her decks to greet well-wishers at pier-side as the ship docks on April 10, 1912. Three days later the ship will depart again, leaving the pier for her sister ship, Titanic, which was expected on April 17. (Library of Congress)
The photo sections show previous unpublished photos of the Olympic as well as pictures of various passengers and crew. It always helps to put a face with a name when reading a story. The book ends with with mini-biographies of the cast of characters the reader comes to know. Again, this show's the author did his homework. I must confess, I do not know much about the technical aspects of the ships, so there may be errors that I would not have seen. However, if there are any, it doesn't detract from this fresh angle on the Titanic disaster and Olympic's important role in it. I'm sure readers will enjoy the book as much as I have and one can hope, Mr. Sisson has another ship-related book in the works.
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Amberley (October 2011)
Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.7 x 0.5 inches