In a world where communication can be almost instantaneous, a reminder that it wasn’t always quite as straightforward…
My last ‘family’ post included a photograph of my Aunt & Uncle who emigrated to Canada in 1951, aboard the RMS Ascania. En route they sent a postcard to my parents, with little snippets of information that wouldn’t have probably seen the light of day in an electronic communication, and most likely would have been lost in the ether. Although ‘just’ a postcard, Saul Bellow’s assertion that “a letter, should be loose, cover much ground, run swiftly, take risk of mortality and decay…” could equally apply here.
It is relatively easy to find out about the Ascania, (see below), but it is the ordinary bits of information that my uncle writes about…sea sickness, Cadbury’s Milk Tray and the other passengers which are the real joy.
Kathryn Hughes puts it much better than I could…. “Buried away in the interstices of the most apparently banal note you will find all sorts of data, not just about how people lived, loved, ate and dressed a century ago, but – and this is the important bit – what they thought and felt about it all… Put bluntly, we get to know who we are and what we think by writing about it to other people.
Deprive a generation of older people of the chance to send letters, and you not only lose a storehouse of fascinating archival material – you also deprive a huge and growing cohort the chance to find out how they feel about their lives at any given moment. And, perhaps just as importantly, you deprive older peoples’ correspondents the chance to connect with them deeply and meaningfully, on a level that the faux intimacy of email will never begin to match”.
And for the record…
The Ascania was built for the Cunard SS Co by Armstrong Whitworth & Co, Walker-on-Tyne. Launched on 20th December 1923 her maiden voyage began on 22 May 1925 when she left London for Southampton, Quebec, and Montreal. Her last pre-war voyage was on 12th August 1939 when she left London for Southampton, Quebec, Montreal and Liverpool. She was then converted to an Armed Merchant Cruiser and in 1943 became a troopship. In December 1947 she resumed commercial service and sailed from Liverpool to Halifax. Refitted in Autumn 1949 she resumed the Liverpool – Quebec – Montreal service on 21st April 1950.
On 30th September 1955 she transferred to Southampton – Havre – Quebec – Montreal sailings, and commenced her last voyage on this service on 26th October 1956.
She then made a Southampton – Cyprus voyage as a troopship and on 30th December 1956 sailed from Southampton for Newport, Monmouthshire, where she was scrapped.
….and so the journey continues.