MEET CHRISTOPHER WARD
Christopher Ward, great-grandson of Jock Hume!
We spoke with British researcher Christopher Ward, who wrote the outstanding book “And the Band Played On” (a biography of Titanic bandsman Jock Hume - Mr. Ward’s grandfather.) We hope our readers will enjoy learning a few things about Christopher and will find his comments about his grandfather's story interesting as well.
Hi Christopher, first question: how old were you when you first became aware of the Titanic and your grandfather’s connection with the disaster? Was your grandfather’s story always well-known in your family, or did most of the information in your book come from your own years of research?
I was a small child when my mother told me her father had been a violinist on the ship and died when it went down. My mother was born six months after the sinking, so she never knew him. Her mother died when she was eight and her granny when she was twelve, so she never knew very much at all about the circumstances and shut the door on the past. She had grown up believing that Titanic had been his first booking as a musician, whereas he had gone to sea at sixteen and crossed the Atlantic seven times in the year before his death on the Titanic. My interest grew in time and I began serious research three or four years before the centenary of the sinking when more information – such as crew and passenger lists were becoming available on the internet. I went to Jock’s hometown, Dumfries, where my mother was born, and then on to Halifax where he is buried. My mother never saw his grave and knew little about his life.
Could you share one or two of the most emotional, moving or satisfying moments you experienced while researching your grandfather's connection with the disaster?
My book is about Jock’s life, but it is also about the aftermath – the aftermath of the sinking itself (recovering the bodies, the White Star Line cover-ups etc.) and the personal aftermath for my family and its catastrophic effect on all their lives. No one had previously written about the aftermath – all the books and films end with the ship going down. But that for me was when the real story starts. When Titanic sank, there were 1,500 men, women and children in the water. Only 200 of them were ever seen again. That was shocking to me. I was deeply moved to discover that three members of the band had been recovered together, ten days after the sinking and 40 miles from the scene of the wreck. It was clear that they had stayed and died together, just as they had played together.
What were some of the most important (or most surprising) historical discoveries you made while researching your grandfather’s story?
How a boy of sixteen could have left home in Scotland and found his way to Liverpool, Bristol and Southampton to get work on passenger ships’ bands, slowly working his way up to bigger and better ships. Jock had seen the world before his 20th birthday. Amazing courage but he was also a great violinist and entertainer. All he had in his bandsman’s tunic when he was dragged out of the water was a violin mute, a stubby pencil and a brass button from a West African shipping line tunic.
The Titanic carried more than two thousand people, many of whom went down with the vessel. Aside from your grandfather's story, which other passenger and crew stories have especially moved or inspired you?
At two different ends of the social scale: Jacob Astor going to the kennels as the ship was sinking and bringing his Airedale terrier kitty on deck to die with him; and Jock’s school pal, Tom Mullin, who was working as a steward. Tom had lost his job working in a tweed mill because of failing eyesight. Jock pulled a few strings and managed to get Tom a job as a steward. Not much of a favour, as it turned out. Their graves are just a few yards apart in Fairview Cemetery in Halifax. It’s heartbreaking.
Does your study of the Titanic overlap with any of your other historical interests? What subjects are you interested in that are completely independent of the Titanic?
Another good question. I’m interested in ancestry research, which wasn’t really open to ordinary people until bdms became available online. Now everyone can find out where they came from and now of course DNA tests have expanded the scope of family research. I’m also very interested in disasters: who lives, who dies? There are commonalities in all shootings, whether the Titanic, school shootings in America or terrorist attacks in Europe. I was going to write a book about survival until my agent pointed out that if you search for books on Amazon with the words ‘survive’ or ‘survival’ in the title, you will find half a million, most of them written by Bear Grylls! At the moment, I’m writing a book about the 1970s.
Do you have any new Titanic-related writing projects in the works? If so, do you feel like giving us a sneak peek into the type of subject matter they involve?
No, not books, although I do cover a multiplicity of Titanic-related subjects in lectures that I give (most of them on board passenger ships whose audiences don’t seem to be unnerved by listening to disaster stories). I talk about Titanic’s ‘sisters’, Olympic and Britannic; also, Titanic films, a rich source of stories. The first film came out in cinemas in New York a month after the sinking, starring an ambitious young actress who had survived the sinking!
Were you encouraged by others to write your book, or did you come up with the idea yourself? Did you receive help or encouragement from any special people you’d like to acknowledge?
I came up with the idea myself but couldn’t have done it without my agent, Maggie Pearlstine, who saw its potential and sold it to my publisher, Rupert Lancaster who helped me structure the book so that it was written by an author, rather than the journalist I had been.
Do you have any advice you'd like to offer to aspiring authors?
Go for it! But don’t stop your research at the point where you think you know it all, because there’s always more to find out if you go that extra mile. One of the best stories in my book isn’t in it at all, because I only found out about it by accident later. It may lead to a new edition, fingers crossed.
What’s the best way for people to contact you if they have historical questions for you?
By email, firstname.lastname@example.org. I am ashamed to have neglected to update the website for some time, but your questions will encourage me to do so soon! Thank you for asking so many interesting questions.
"And The Band Played On..."
by Christopher Ward
On 14th April 1912 the Titanic struck an iceberg on her maiden voyage and sank. Fifteen hundred passengers and crew lost their lives. As the order to abandon ship was given, the orchestra took their instruments on deck and continued to play. They were still playing when the ship went down. The violinist, 21 year-old Jock Hume, knew that his fiancé, Mary, was expecting their first child, the author's mother. One hundred years later, Christopher Ward reveals a dramatic story of love, loss and betrayal, and the catastrophic impact of Jock's death on two very different Scottish families. He paints a vivid portrait of an age in which class determined the way you lived - and died. An outstanding piece of historical detective work, AND THE BAND PLAYED ON is also a moving account of how the author's quest to learn more about his grandfather revealed the shocking truth about a family he thought he knew, a truth that had been hidden for nearly a hundred years.
"Clever and touching . . . a moving homage to all of the men, women and children who heard the last music played on board the SS Titanic, and to the people they left behind."
"A heartbreaking story, wonderfully told."
The Titanic Commentator
Journal for the Titanic Historical Society
"This book is a must-read for those interested in the passing of Titanic and her heroic bandsmen who earned their place in history."
Daily Newsletter from Library Journal
"Titanic buffs will be especially interested in the details about how Hume's family was treated by the White Star Line. Biography readers will enjoy the honest look at a family touched by tragedy."