“And the band played on.”
It’s a common expression – finding its way into pop culture, literature, song lyrics, snarky political blogs and touching tributes to perseverance. Almost everyone has heard it expressed for one reason or another, but ironically less known is its real-life basis in a legendary tale from the tragedy of the Titanic.
Almost universally known, the story of the bandsmen who played as the Titanic sank is a historically morose story embodying the virtues of courage, camaraderie, and composure in the face of inevitability. Although no literal proof of the bandsmen’s actions existed, first-hand accounts by survivors were universal and barely contested, galvanizing grief in citizens all over the world as they were struck by this evocative crystallization of the tragedy.
When bandmaster Wallace Hartley’s body was found two weeks after the Titanic sank, still clad with his music box and uniform, the legend was all but proven, and a staggering 30,000 people attended his funeral a short time later.
Calls for honors and memorials for victims of the Titanic disaster began almost immediately, including one for the bandsmen in Broken Hill, New South Wales, Australia. Even though none of the bandsmen were Australian, their memorial in Stuart Park was completed less than two years later, in December 1912.
Inscribed with the music notes to the “Nearer, My God, To Thee,” widely reported to be the final song they played, the Bandsmen’s Memorial was dedicated thousands of miles away from the Titanic’s launch, it’s destination, or its sinking – going to prove just how far grief of this tragedy traveled.