A Rare Titanic Family – The Caldwells’ Story of Survival

On 27-01-2012, in Bookshelf, by steve

By Julie Hedgepeth Williams

Publisher: NewSouth Books

ISBN: 978-1-58838-282-5

Seeing the cover art and title of this book you may be wondering why I am reviewing something that has little to do with aviation. Well… I could say that it was intercontinental jet travel that killed Europe-US sea travel so we owe this to its memory. But I have a better, much better reason.

Julie Hedgepeth Williams does have an excellent aviation related book to her name which I reviewed a while ago but this is still not the main reason. She has written a new book… A “Rare Titanic Family” is a gem which you should read, weather you are a Titanic fan or not.

This is the story of Albert and Sylvia Caldwell and their son Alden, who all survived the Titanic disaster, and which has never before been fully told in the Titanic lore.

You would think that a shipwreck is the worst thing that can happen to a young couple, even when they survive it, but for the Caldwell’s this was but one episode in an epic journey that took them more than half-way round the world.

The young American couple, Presbyterian missionaries, went to Siam in 1909 but soon they had to leave due to Sylvia’s health problems. Trekking via the Far and Middle East and Europe, they eventually arrived in England as yet unaware of the fateful boat journey that was awaiting them.

Their escape from Siam (current day Thailand) was not without controversy. Other missionaries in their Church believed that they had constructed the medical problems only as an excuse to break their contract and come home before their time. Apparently even taking an unwanted dip in the Atlantic was not enough to dispel this suspicion. Luckily in the end their name was cleared and they had a full life part of which was dedicated to telling their story.

Julie Williams has this uncanny ability to take your hand and make you fly with her to times past as you read her wonderful prose. You hear the music in church and you hear the rustle of the dresses shown in the numerous original photographs. You feel the chilly air on your face when she describes the night setting on the doomed ship and you agonize with Albert as he weighs his next steps in the face of mortal danger rushing towards his little family.

This book is more, much more than just a survival story. Julie takes us to the far corners of the world, mysterious Siam and other places the Caldwells touched as their life sailed through its adventure. Gossip and divorce, health problems and joy, all come to life on the pages of this entertaining and informative book.

One of the aspects of Julie Williams’ writing I particularly enjoy is that she manages to be interesting for both Americans and people abroad. Somehow she opens up the lives of her heroes and describes their world in a supremely immersive manner that leaves you sad when you finish reading.

This is a true story and they say there is no greater story-crafter than life itself. Julie has managed to add her special magic that makes a great story into a wonderful one.

I can only recommend this book to everyone.

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