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The Titanic and the City of Widows It Left Behind: The Forgotten Victims of the Fatal Voyage

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When Titanic foundered in April 1912, the world's focus was on the tragedy of the passengers who lost their lives. Ever since, in films, dramatisations, adaptations and books, the focus has mostly continued to be on the ones who died. _The Titanic and the City of Widows it Left Behind_ focuses on another group of people - the widows and children of the crew who perished on When Titanic foundered in April 1912, the world's focus was on the tragedy of the passengers who lost their lives. Ever since, in films, dramatisations, adaptations and books, the focus has mostly continued to be on the ones who died. _The Titanic and the City of Widows it Left Behind_ focuses on another group of people - the widows and children of the crew who perished on board. Author Julie Cook's great-grandfather was a stoker who died on Titanic. Her great-grandmother had to raise five children with no breadwinner. This book focuses on Emily and the widows like her who had to fight for survival through great hardship, whilst still grieving for the men they loved who'd died on the ship. Using original archive sources and with accounts from descendants of crew who also lost their lives, the book asks how these women survived through abject poverty and grief - and why their voices have been silent for so long.


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When Titanic foundered in April 1912, the world's focus was on the tragedy of the passengers who lost their lives. Ever since, in films, dramatisations, adaptations and books, the focus has mostly continued to be on the ones who died. _The Titanic and the City of Widows it Left Behind_ focuses on another group of people - the widows and children of the crew who perished on When Titanic foundered in April 1912, the world's focus was on the tragedy of the passengers who lost their lives. Ever since, in films, dramatisations, adaptations and books, the focus has mostly continued to be on the ones who died. _The Titanic and the City of Widows it Left Behind_ focuses on another group of people - the widows and children of the crew who perished on board. Author Julie Cook's great-grandfather was a stoker who died on Titanic. Her great-grandmother had to raise five children with no breadwinner. This book focuses on Emily and the widows like her who had to fight for survival through great hardship, whilst still grieving for the men they loved who'd died on the ship. Using original archive sources and with accounts from descendants of crew who also lost their lives, the book asks how these women survived through abject poverty and grief - and why their voices have been silent for so long.

49 review for The Titanic and the City of Widows It Left Behind: The Forgotten Victims of the Fatal Voyage

  1. 5 out of 5

    Sandra "Jeanz"

    I find the era around the Titanic being built and the tragedy of it fascinating. The way it was called “The Ship Of Dreams”, the films that have been made about it all add to its draw to learn more about. Though I have to be honest in that although I have thought about those whose family did not survive and return home. I hadn’t purposely sought out any of their specific stories to read. As the author Julie Cook says in her blurb for this book the films, and both factual and fictional stories al I find the era around the Titanic being built and the tragedy of it fascinating. The way it was called “The Ship Of Dreams”, the films that have been made about it all add to its draw to learn more about. Though I have to be honest in that although I have thought about those whose family did not survive and return home. I hadn’t purposely sought out any of their specific stories to read. As the author Julie Cook says in her blurb for this book the films, and both factual and fictional stories all seem to be centred on those wealthy passengers that were on the ship. As you will notice I have a specific page where I list books about the Titanic both fiction and non-fiction, so I have read quite a few books but am always on the look out for others. More recently I have turned to reading more non-fiction titles about the eras of history I find interesting. As soon as I discovered this one on Pen & Swords website, I knew I had to buy and was really eager to read it. I was intrigued even more by the fact this book centres on the widows and children of the those that perished the night the Titanic sank. The fact that the author Julie Cook is a relative of someone who died on the Titanic makes this book all the more poignant to read. Julie Cook’s great-grandfather, William Edward Bessant, by a quirk of “luck” he ended up being a stoker on the Titanic. A group of workers from Belfast had failed to turn up for their jobs after a disagreement about safety issues on the Titanic. William managed to get one of these “spare” jobs. Even though it meant leaving his family it wasn’t the first time William had done this type of job. As a family it would have been viewed as something positive as it meant a stable income for a while. Julie, the author has spoken to her Aunt Doreen, William’s daughter about what she can remember too. William’s job was to stoke the fires and shovel coal into the furnaces that fuelled the ship. The men that did these jobs worked long hard hours, and were considered stoical and hard. They were known as the “Black Gang” as they were always covered in soot and coal and were considered the lowliest workers on the grand ship. Sadly, as they worked in the lowest part of the ship it meant they were the furthest away from the deck and life boats. As Julie’s father told her, “it was working class muscle that kept the Titanic sailing”. No one knows what happened to the then forty-year old William Edward Bessant’s body, it was never recovered. William’s wife Emily at just thirty-eight years old became a widow and was just told William had been “lost at sea”. Emily was left alone with five children, three of which were under six years old. William had been the breadwinner in the family, as the male in the household usually was at the time. At the Sea City Museum in Southampton’s Titanic exhibition there is a wall dedicated to the memories of the crew members. Unfortunately, there isn’t even a photograph of William Bessant. As in most families, stories are handed down generation to generation, Julie reveals there was a story told that during the turmoil on the Titanic a gentleman passenger whom William assisted to the lifeboats, wrote down William’s address and promised to help his family when he returned to Britain. Apparently, William’s twelve-year old daughter, Gladys, was offered a private education, fully funded by this gentleman. Julie has managed to speak to the relatives of others that were lost at sea and also those whose relatives survived too. There are so many scenarios about what could have happened to William and why he didn’t survive. Other make crew members survived as they were put on the lifeboats containing women and children to row them to safety. Julie has managed to piece together what shift her great grandfather was on and has an idea roughly where he would have been at the time of the collision with the iceberg. Julie’s research found that Walter Francis Fredericks was on the same shift pattern as her ancestor William. Walter made it to the top of the ship and was ordered to by officers to row the lifeboat. Walter did this and he survived as did those also on that lifeboat. I certainly agree with Julie and her research which showed that the world’s sympathy at the time and even now when the Titanic story is re-told. was aimed towards the passengers such as Benjamin Guggenheim, and John Jacob Astor who both went down with the ship and portrayed as heroes. I have also heard the story of the strong minded “Unsinkable Molly Brown” who survived in a lifeboat. I also remember the tales I have read about the ships band and how it continued playing “Nearer My God To Thee” as the great ship sank. I totally agree with Julie that you never seem to see, in movies or TV shows, or read the stories of those family members of the lost crew such as her great-grandmother Emily. I found the book intriguing, to learn how the families of the missing crew were left with very little information. Expected to just accept the “lost at sea” explanation. Julie reveals how bodies that were retrieved were buried in various places, some of the crew and/or lower-class passengers were left as “lost at sea” yet the bodies of the rich were retrieved, embalmed and brought home for proper burial. It was interesting to read about the formation and workings of the Titanic disaster relief fund. These payments were scaled and based on job of the crew member that died. The widows received their amount of money and there was money paid for each child until they “came of age” which was 18 for girls and 16 for boys. A woman was employed and referred to as the “lady visitor” who would call on all the families to make sure that the children were being cared for correctly, the houses were being kept clean and tidy and that the women were acting appropriately. If a Titanic Widow remarried, she lost her Titanic Relief Fund money immediately. I could honestly go on and on about this book it covers so much. The poor crew lost at sea, those that made it home but felt guilt at surviving when his neighbours didn’t. It does make you wonder why there was never a film made about the families left behind without their fathers, brothers, or sons. My immediate thoughts upon finishing reading this book were that it was an amazing, poignant, emotional and powerful book about those women & children that were left behind by their men who died on board the Titanic. Also tells the story of those few male crew members that survived and the stigma that stayed firmly attached to them until the day they died, despite being heroic and following orders to row life boats of passengers away from the sinking Titanic. To sum up, it is a sad tale but at the same time it’s an uplifting story as Emily Bessant may have lost her husband and the breadwinner of the family the night the Titanic sank, and she never got a body to bury and visit with flowers, but she didn’t let this totally break her family. I believe she quite literally took it on the chin and got on with life. Emily had to, she had those children to bring up and provide for.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kirsti

    Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the chance to read this book. I always love reading about the Titanic, so I was pleased to be offered the chance to read this book. Perhaps the format was not the best at the start; it lists the names of those who died so on Kindle it was a long lot of swiping. I have read through the list before, and would have preferred to see it at the end. Then we get to the meat of the book, and it was a really fascinating and often sad look at an angle not consid Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the chance to read this book. I always love reading about the Titanic, so I was pleased to be offered the chance to read this book. Perhaps the format was not the best at the start; it lists the names of those who died so on Kindle it was a long lot of swiping. I have read through the list before, and would have preferred to see it at the end. Then we get to the meat of the book, and it was a really fascinating and often sad look at an angle not considered very often; what happened to those left behind. Of the event itself so much is known, but the small stories that have so much meaning to the families are equally sad. It wasn't something I'd read before, and I was interested in the new information. This book will appeal to any Titanic enthusiast, and definitely is a stand out in that it contains previously unknown information for me. Five stars.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Joyce

    3 stars This book takes on the task of examining the lives and situations of the families of those crew members who died in the Titanic disaster. It is a point of view that I have never considered. I too, like many Titanic aficionados of the sinking of the “unsinkable” ship, have focussed on the “rich and the great” passengers. (To my shame.) The book discusses the social and economic condition of the day, such as the coal strike and the suffragette movement and how these things affected people's 3 stars This book takes on the task of examining the lives and situations of the families of those crew members who died in the Titanic disaster. It is a point of view that I have never considered. I too, like many Titanic aficionados of the sinking of the “unsinkable” ship, have focussed on the “rich and the great” passengers. (To my shame.) The book discusses the social and economic condition of the day, such as the coal strike and the suffragette movement and how these things affected people's everyday lives. Following the sinking, wives, mothers and children gathered on the docks by the White Star Line offices to check the list of survivors – and the dead – in hopes that their man (mostly), had survived. Life for those survivors became very hard. If it was difficult before living in poverty, it was made especially onerous afterwards. Women took in washing or searched for other menial jobs that they could do to support their now fatherless children. People often went hungry, pawned their shoes (for they had nothing else to pawn), or were driven to the workhouses. Even workhouses had limited room, so not all could go there. It was considered a very bad thing to wind up in the workhouse. This book is written in a clear manner. However, it keeps repeating itself (an annoying habit), over and over mentioning the same situation in almost the very same words. There is much speculation about people's thoughts and feelings. A good point is that it does quote some survivor's descendants and even some survivors of the disaster. While it is an excellent and previously an almost original subject about which to write, it is written in a somewhat sophomoric style. I did find it interesting though and it brought my attention to the extreme conditions which the survivors had to suffer following the deaths of their loved ones. I want to thank NetGalley and Pen & Sword/Pen & Sword History for forwarding to me a copy of this book for me to read and review.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Lindsay

    I have been fascinated with the story of the Titanic and her passengers and workers over the years and read most of the books written on the subject however I will admit I have never sat down and thought about the effect it must have had on the people left behind in Southampton and so this book has been a revelation. The sad stories of these poor families left behind and the treatment they received from the White Star Line over the years. It’s so sad to see that even the women and children who m I have been fascinated with the story of the Titanic and her passengers and workers over the years and read most of the books written on the subject however I will admit I have never sat down and thought about the effect it must have had on the people left behind in Southampton and so this book has been a revelation. The sad stories of these poor families left behind and the treatment they received from the White Star Line over the years. It’s so sad to see that even the women and children who managed to get help they were constantly monitored to ensure they lived a life befitting of the relief funds. This really is a very interesting and well researched read.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kay Mcleer

    I found this book interesting as it felt different from other Titanic books. I overall enjoyed this book and found it an interesting premise.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Tammy Buchli

    Interesting premise and well researched. The writing didn’t do it for me. Lots of repetition and it had the feeling of being not so much a book as a series of vignettes strung together with no concern for flow - more like a printed website than a cohesive book.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Susan Johnston

    Princess Fuzzypants here: There have been a myriad of books written about the doomed ship Titanic, both histories and fiction. According to the author, no one has delved into the lives of the women and children left behind by the crew who perished in the tragedy. The author has a very personal reason for writing their tales as her great-great grandfather died in the sinking. He worked in the hot bowels of the ship keeping her going. While there is some question exactly where he was at the time a Princess Fuzzypants here: There have been a myriad of books written about the doomed ship Titanic, both histories and fiction. According to the author, no one has delved into the lives of the women and children left behind by the crew who perished in the tragedy. The author has a very personal reason for writing their tales as her great-great grandfather died in the sinking. He worked in the hot bowels of the ship keeping her going. While there is some question exactly where he was at the time as his shift was about to come in when she struck the iceberg, there has been a family legend of how he gave up his chance of survival to help an elderly man into a boat. Whether the story is fact or fiction or a combination of both, it is understandable how the family and other families like theirs needed something to help them make sense of the loss of the breadwinner and loved one. The plight they suffered right afterwards was both brutal and devastating from not knowing who lived and who died to the even more abject poverty thrust upon them until the charities and fund raisers were able to compensate them, at least to some degree. The story of her family is one of grit, strength and determination. They survived and thrived while others perished. It seems class made a huge difference in both life and death. If not for her great-great grandmother Emily, the outcome would have been vastly different. This is a story packed with emotion. It makes for an impactful read. Four purrs and two paws up.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Donna Hines

    In light of human error the greatest of ships ever built has a place forever engraved in history. Yet, it's precisely the incorrect history that forgets the 'classes' and the 'laborers' and those who were left widowed and or orphaned. So many have focused on the powerful, wealthy, elite yet it's the other side that has not received much attention. Those who shoveled coal into the bunkers with soot upon them were part of this group that were soon long forgotten. However, before we jump to conclusion In light of human error the greatest of ships ever built has a place forever engraved in history. Yet, it's precisely the incorrect history that forgets the 'classes' and the 'laborers' and those who were left widowed and or orphaned. So many have focused on the powerful, wealthy, elite yet it's the other side that has not received much attention. Those who shoveled coal into the bunkers with soot upon them were part of this group that were soon long forgotten. However, before we jump to conclusions we should seek to understand that perhaps it was more than an iceberg that took her down. Perhaps it was these bunkers that played a major role which wasn't mentioned here in this novel but has gained traction over the years of insightful journalism. https://www.popularmechanics.com/cult... It's truly interesting to understand the times were quite sparse with many signing up for the voyage to make a few bucks. Many left families deeply rooted in poverty with wives unable to secure employment and the funds available were very slim. It's quite an eye opener that deserves our undivided attention but still many unanswered questions remain.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Alexandra

    A look at her great-grandfather who was a worker that died and his widow along with the situations others would have went through back in England. Really nice look at the history and legacy of what happened.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kitty Pollock

    The Titanic and the City of Widows it Left Behind by Julie Cook Genre: History, Non-Fiction Publisher: Pen and Sword Publish Date: 31 March 2020 Star Rating 4/5 Like most people the story of the Titanic is a fascination for me. And if I'm honest, I'm not sure why exactly, as there are other ships that have sank and then have been discovered beneath the waves but it's the Titanic that lives in my imagination. To discover a new book on the ill-fated ship, but rather, coming from a new perspective – tha The Titanic and the City of Widows it Left Behind by Julie Cook Genre: History, Non-Fiction Publisher: Pen and Sword Publish Date: 31 March 2020 Star Rating 4/5 Like most people the story of the Titanic is a fascination for me. And if I'm honest, I'm not sure why exactly, as there are other ships that have sank and then have been discovered beneath the waves but it's the Titanic that lives in my imagination. To discover a new book on the ill-fated ship, but rather, coming from a new perspective – that of the widows left behind in Southampton, was a great find. Not only did these strong women have to deal with the loss of their husbands and the father of their children, but they were also left in a financially insecure world with the Wall Street crash approaching. They lived in a time of social upheaval, there was the Coal Strike and the suffrage movement in swing. These are sad stories of the already poor families that lined up at the docks of the White Star offices to check the list of survivors. It pulled at my heartstrings, the treatment they received at the hands of the White Star Line was shocking especially the successful widows who received help but were constantly monitored to make sure the relief was used befittingly. I liked how the author included her own great-grandfather and his widow, it was a beautiful personal touch. However I found the repetition in the book difficult. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher, Pen and Sword, for an E-ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Michael Standart

    This one is a very unique look into a very overlooked aspect of Titanic's loss. With pride of place going to the passengers in all classes, very little has been done about the crew, particularly those from Southampton, and the devastating effect it had n those left behind. Julie Cook, who is herself a descendent of one of the firemen, made a special effort to correct that with this. There are few Titanic books which I would call a "must have" but this is one of them. This one is a very unique look into a very overlooked aspect of Titanic's loss. With pride of place going to the passengers in all classes, very little has been done about the crew, particularly those from Southampton, and the devastating effect it had n those left behind. Julie Cook, who is herself a descendent of one of the firemen, made a special effort to correct that with this. There are few Titanic books which I would call a "must have" but this is one of them.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Joan

    Remarkable book about the women and children who left behind when the Titanic sunk. A new perspective on the tragedy and reminder that every tragedy has waves and networks of people that bear the scars for a long time. A great read. Well-researched and well written.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Medhat The Book Fanatic

    4.2 stars. The Titanic and the City of Widows It Left Behind was a fascinating, yet dark, read; it's a different, and fresh, look at the Titanic catastrophic sinking from an angle that haven't been written about or showed in movies. The book recorded the social history of Southampton and its people—many of whom had worked on board Titanic—and demonstrated the suffering that its people had to endure before & after Titanic sank. I loved how this book gave a voice to the voiceless and an eye to the u 4.2 stars. The Titanic and the City of Widows It Left Behind was a fascinating, yet dark, read; it's a different, and fresh, look at the Titanic catastrophic sinking from an angle that haven't been written about or showed in movies. The book recorded the social history of Southampton and its people—many of whom had worked on board Titanic—and demonstrated the suffering that its people had to endure before & after Titanic sank. I loved how this book gave a voice to the voiceless and an eye to the unseen; the trajectory the book took by introducing us to the "Black Gang", the firefighters aboard the Titanic, was unique and hard not to be invested in since amongst the Black Gang was author Julie Cook's great-grandfather. And yet, despite feeling completely immersed into that old world and enjoying Julie Cook's writing-style, the book was quite repetitive at times, and this really made me frustrated by the time I got to the last quarter; I know that the author might not have enough materials available at her hands to write a bigger book about the voiceless but that doesn't mean that she needed to rehash dozens of things. I decided to give the book 4.2 stars simply for that reason; otherwise, were the book edited better, I would have given it 5 solid stars. Highly-recommended!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Athina (booknotes_athina)

    I received an ARC of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review This non-fiction book talks about the widows that Titanic left behind. It's an interesting perspective and it's different from what we are used to when we talk about the Titanic. Usually we learn the stories of those who lived or those who died on the ship. The widows and children that were left behind were never mentioned enough. This book is about them and it's told in a part through the story of the author's great-gr I received an ARC of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review This non-fiction book talks about the widows that Titanic left behind. It's an interesting perspective and it's different from what we are used to when we talk about the Titanic. Usually we learn the stories of those who lived or those who died on the ship. The widows and children that were left behind were never mentioned enough. This book is about them and it's told in a part through the story of the author's great-grandmother. The book also discusses the social and economic conditions back then and how they affected the already difficult lives of the widows. As interesting and different the concept of this book is, it was repetitive a lot of the times and that bothered me. The fact that it repeats some situations and facts more than it's necessary and the many specific examples of widows and children that got financial aid I found a little bit tiring at times.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Brewer Spitz

  16. 5 out of 5

    Gill Green

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  18. 5 out of 5

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  19. 4 out of 5

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  20. 5 out of 5

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  21. 5 out of 5

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  22. 5 out of 5

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  23. 4 out of 5

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  24. 4 out of 5

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  32. 5 out of 5

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  34. 5 out of 5

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  37. 4 out of 5

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  45. 4 out of 5

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