I find myself in something of a dilemma today. I heard an item on the news which I found distasteful to put it mildly. Before I go any further I have to declare an interest here. The Dearly Beloved was a Merchant Navy Engineering Officer, this was in the days before the web and mobile phones – we spent weeks out of touch not knowing if they were safe. Happily he was, but for many that was not the case.
Among those for whom it was not the case were the engineers of the Titanic, they lost their lives the day that ship went down, many staying at their posts to keep the ship afloat for as long as possible. Even though it is well over twenty years since the Merchant Navy was part of our lives I still cannot watch a film about a ship sinking – the Poseidon Adventure and Titanic passed me by unwatched.
The news item that caused me such distress was the sale of artifacts that have been ‘salvaged’ from the wreck of the Titanic. Just listening to it made me feel like a grave robber. Bearing in mind that in my time I have worked on many an archeological dig it may seem a little hypocritical but I found myself both sad and angry – mostly angry. Maybe it was the personal possessions neatly displayed for sale, I can’t yet put my finger on the reason. I suspect it was something to do with the attitude of the woman taking about ferreting into a life snuffed out, with no thought for what effects that had caused.
I understand the desire to know what happened, the historian and genealogist in me makes sure of that. But what seems to pass people by is that many people died on those shipwrecks that they burrow around in. The lives of those left behind were shattered, they had to live with the consequences for the rest of their lives. They deserve a little more respect than was apparent this morning.
I am utterly opposed to war and conflict in any way, but that doesn’t stop me having the utmost respect for those who gave their lives in defence of their beliefs. It is largely because of those sacrifices that I have the freedom to express that view. Sometimes the only thing left to do is stand and be counted. We wouldn’t dream of digging up a Cemetery or a War Grave but we seem to think it is acceptable to scavenge a sunken ship – what is the difference?
Maybe it’s the relative recency of the loss of the Titanic that made it so distasteful, I don’t know. I just feel that those personal items should have gone to the families of those who died, if they were brought up at all. I know we learn much from the things we excavate from the past, I’ve marveled at the artifacts from Sutton Hoo but there seemed to be something very mercenary about the whole Titanic Salvage that made me feel sick.