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Review of "Down Amongst the Black Gang" by Richard P. de Kerbrech

by Terri Bey

I read Richard P. de Kerbrech's "Down Amongst the Black Gang: The World and Workplace of RMS Titanic's Stokers," which is also the "Book of the Month for August for the Titanic Book Club. Mr. de Kerbrech describes the life of stokers, trimmers, etc., aka the "Black Gang, so named because of the black soot from the coal which covered these men from head to toe. The author also describes, in great detail, the equipment these men used, as well as the boilers and engines. Also discussed is the attempted saving of the RMS Titanic, by the Black Gang and the switch from coal to oil.

I found "Down Amongst the Black Gang" to be very well written. Mr. de Kerbrech wrote a very good book, overall. This book is recommended for those Titanic Enthusiasts who are interested in the mechanical aspects of the ship. I understood that the author wanted the reader to know what kind of equipment and environment the "Black Gang" were dealing with. I just felt that the minute details of how the boilers and engines were put together and the names of each part were a bit much for someone who may just have a casual interest. I just thought the book got a bit too technical.

I did like his inclusion of what went on in the boiler rooms on April 14/15. It had to have been frightening. I also liked Mr. de Kerbrech's discussion of the surviving crew going back home on the Lapland. I found the part about how the switch from coal to oil circa 1919 to be extremely fascinating as ships powered by oil needed up to 75% less men than ships powered by coal.

Overall, I do recommend the book, "Down Amongst the Black Gang: The World and Workplace of RMS Titanic's Stokers." Even though it is a bit technical, the book's author Richard P. de Kerbrech also does do a great job discussing the day-to-day lives of the "Black Gang" and the everyday dangers they faced operating a ship like the RMS Titanic. I have gained a new-found respect for these brave men.


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