RHYMES&REASONS

Observations, Thoughts and Reflections on 21st Century Life

Tag: Survival

Lusitania – a life before and after the tragedy

 

 

 

On the 1st May 1915 Cunard’s RMS Lusitania, the fastest and most luxurious ship in the world at the time, set sail from pier 54 in New York headed to Liverpool, UK. On Friday 7th May it was struck by a German torpedo off the coast of Ireland. Of it’s 1959 passengers and crew on board 1198 perished – my great uncle and aunt were among the survivors.  Their three month old son John was not.

An account of their trauma is taken from statements made by both Anita and Elmore upon their eventual arrival in England.

“(Cyril) Elmore and (Mary) Anita Pells, travelling with their infant son John from Canada to England where Mr. Pells was to join his regiment, despaired of ever leaving the ship safely. At the time the torpedo struck they were dining in the second class salon and returned to their E Deck cabin to retrieve John, and Elmore made a second trip below for lifebelts. Not expecting to survive, they took seats together somewhere on one of the upper decks presumably on the port side, to wait for the end. When it came, they were pulled down deep with the ship, and in the torrent John was wrenched out of his father’s arms and lost. Elmore and (Mary)Anita surfaced and were able to pull themselves atop an overturned lifeboat.”

Following a short period of recovery, Elmore spent time at a military camp near London training the young recruits and Anita worked as a volunteer nurse stationed in Birmingham. Upon receipt of his commission Elmore joined his regiment in April 1918.  After receiving a brief note telling of his safe arrival in France, Anita never heard from Elmore again and he is documented as having been killed in action during the Battle of Aisne-Chemin des Dames on May 27th 1918 just five weeks after arriving at the front.

My interest in researching their story was sparked by an old photograph album passed to me from my father six years ago. It documents the young couple in their lives together in England and Canada prior to their fateful journey, enjoying life as a young adventurous couple, blissfully unaware of the series of tragedies which were to unfold, spiralling their fates in directions they can never have imagined.

 

Elmore and Anita met in the UK and following their engagement they emigrated to Vancouver, British Columbia, where they joined Anita’s sister and husband.  They married at North Lonsdale in April 1914 and lived at Vedder Crossing a beautiful undeveloped area surrounded by tree covered mountains fifty miles inland. Their son John was born in February 1915. 

After the war Anita returned to Canada but this was just the beginning of her story.  Despite the tragedies she’d experienced and now a young childless widow, Anita found strength and forged a life for herself, which took her from Canada to California, from New York to Nassau.  She nursed the sick in a tuberculosis sanatorium and sailed the Caribbean aboard the infamous yacht the Carlsark and took to the skies on the first Pan Am flights alongside the wealthy. But she never forgot her roots in an Edwardian laundry in London, or her brief time as wife and mother.  Hers was a life lived, a story to be told . . . 

 

The Garden Party

The Tennis Party

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Using copies of photographs from the album I have created paintings to bring to life the images.

Rebecca Pells Fine Art

Rebecca is currently researching Anita’s story for a book

 

©️Rebecca Pells

 

The Selfish Gene – has it become our Achilles Heel?

Human nature is hung in the balance, our behaviour driven by selfishness and our desire to co-operate to ensure the survival of the group” 

These are the words of E O Wilson during an interview on BBC Radio 4 The Life Scientific.  Professor at Harvard and joint author of a paper setting out the case for group selection he now challenges the ‘selfish gene’ theory he once endorsed.  Among his contemporaries he is something of a lone voice.  Since Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution we have believed in survival of the fittest and increasingly this now means of the wealthiest.  But do we hide behind this as an excuse for our self interest?

The interview reminded me of a recent conversation with a friend regarding the widening pay gap and we imagined a society where each job was valued -and remunerated – at the same level.  We concluded that this state of equilibrium would quickly dissipate as the desire to better ourselves and provide for our children’s future would override everything else.  We are conditioned to believe that it was this ‘get ahead of the game’ attitude which enabled our ancestors to survive.

However, there is another way to look at this.  The history of life shows that evolutionary transitions are from the singular to the plural.  For example – separate molecules into a gene, individual genes into a chromosome, individual cells into a muti-cellular organism and from multi-cellular organisms into a social group.  Our survival as a species has been built on collective strength, on co-operation not separation.  This puts natural selection at the level of the group rather than the level of the individual.  Social groups become communities; communities become nations which make up our world and it is this global group with which we must now engage.

Our challenge today is selfishness v generosity and we are struggling to get the balance right because as Wilson so eloquently puts it “humanity still has paleolithic emotions”.  There was an ancestral need to drive nature as hard as they could to survive but by continuing this pattern, far from serving our needs and ensuring our survival we are in imminent danger of achieving the opposite as pressure increases on our natural resources.  There is a powerful case to show that we have struck too hard a blow and we are threatening the world in which we live and on which we depend.

Polar Bears Endangered by Climate Change Drawing by Rebecca Pells

Polar Bears Endangered by Climate Change
Drawing by RebeccaPells

There is a growing tension between the individual and the needs of the wider community and despite our fondness for the selfish gene, evolution shows that in order to thrive the individual also needs the group.  This tension is unstable, we see it manifest in the growing dissatisfaction between the wealthy few and the rest of society; between self serving governments who renege on election promises and their electorate; between environmentalists and those who either deny or believe it’s not their problem. It is not a question of tipping the scales firmly one way or the other but of a middle way with movement back and forth – too much in favour of the individual and society would fragment; too far towards group social selection and we would become like ants or honey bees.

This mid-way is the creative core of humanity; it is the threshold where we meet our challenges, where we can have the honest discussion and where ultimately we will find our way forward.  It is where we can overcome age old instincts which no longer serve and have become a modern achilles heel, where we can choose altruism over selfishness and where we will rediscover in ourselves a more ancient and fundamental essence – that generosity of spirit over personal gain will ensure our children’s future.

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