Tuesday, 8 March 2016

An unfortunate consequence of the Titanic tragedy

The loss of the Titanic on 15th April 1912 led to some unexpected consequences. One person who felt the effects very deeply was Kate Hume, who was the sister of one of the victims.

Jock Hume

This victim was Jock Hume, who was a member of the five-piece string band led by Wallace Hartley. The band’s function was to entertain first-class passengers during evening dinner and on other occasions. There was also a string and piano trio on board, and the two groups joined forces on the night of the sinking to play while passengers assembled in the first-class lounge before they were escorted to the lifeboats.

The abiding legend is that Jock Hume and his colleagues played the hymn tune “Nearer My God to Thee” as their last piece, before abandoning their instruments (or strapping them to their bodies) and jumping into the sea as the ship went down, knowing that they stood no chance of survival. Jock Hume’s body was later recovered and buried in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Kate Hume’s reaction

Kate, who was aged 15 and living at the family home in Dumfries, Scotland, had hero-worshipped Jock and took the loss particularly badly. She needed a continuing “comfort blanket” to replace the sympathy and condolences from friends and neighbours that, inevitably enough, became less noticeable as time passed.

Kate’s opportunity came in 1914, when World War I was declared.

One immediate consequence of the declaration of war was a wave of ant-German sentiment that swept the country. Everything that was actually (or believed to be) German was condemned out of hand, even to the extent of stones being thrown at dachshund dogs. The royal family changed its name from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor, which it holds to this day.

Stories of German atrocities being visited on Britons were meat and drink to the British public, who used them to feed their patriotic fervour. In September 1914 Kate Hume decided to add another story to the list.

She therefore wrote to her local newspaper, the Dumfries Standard, to say that her sister Grace (aged 22) had written to her from Belgium, which was under German occupation. According to Kate, Grace was working there as a nurse. Grace’s supposed letter contained the words:

“This is to say goodbye. Have not long to live. The hospital set on fire. Germans cruel. A man here has had his head cut off. My breast taken away.”

This caused a sensation in Dumfries, as yet another example of the evil that must be fought against. However, when the news reached a young lady in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, the sensation was very different. This was Grace Hume, who had never been anywhere near Belgium and certainly had not written such a letter to her younger sister Kate.

The trial and subsequent life of Kate Hume

When the truth came out, Kate was arrested and charged with forgery. She was tried in Edinburgh, where she admitted what she had done. She stated in court:

“I cannot say what made me do it, except the cruelties which the Germans were committing. I was seeing and imagining the things I wrote.”

Although she was found guilty, the judge sympathised with her state of mind and ordered her immediate release. She later went into domestic service and married a man named Thomas Terbit, with whom she had five children. She died in 1947 at the age of 50.

Kate Hume was diagnosed at the time of her trial as suffering from “hysteria”, although these days she would be regarded as having a form of post-traumatic stress disorder.  At all events, it was an unfortunate late consequence of the tragedy that had occurred in April 1912 when an iceberg took the life of Kate Hume’s brother.

© John Welford