The following was transcribed from a portion of a message attributed to Dr. Peter Marshall, in 1942.
At the beginning of the war there were two notable examples. You may remember the foundering of the Athenia, and the loss of the City of Benares* off the west coast of Africa. And at that time one of the popular songs was as you may remember, the beer-barrel polka. And we read (incredible as it seems), we read of survivors struggling in the water, crouched, wet and shivering in life-boats singing together roll out the barrel and well have a barrel of fun. One might be aghast at the prospect of facing eternity to the strains of the beer-barrel polka but there is nevertheless something thrilling about the spirit that can sing at such a time even although what they sing seems inane and strangely inappropriate.
I have often thought what a startling contrast to another maritime disaster, which some of you will remember, in May 1912, when the Titanic went down. I was a very little boy then but I can well remember the special editions of the papers and the magazines with their heavy black borders describing the loss of this magnificent new ship which men said could never sink. This floating palace was in collision with a floating mountain of ice and icy knives ripped open a hull that was claimed to be unsinkable. And when the orchestra which a few minutes before had been playing Strauss waltzes in the ballroom, gathered on the boat-deck, and when the male passengers stood alongside to the cry women and children first, loading lifeboats, as many as could be lowered away, they waited patiently, hoping that there might be a chance of rescue and then, when it appeared that none was likely, the orchestra began to play, and they began to sing, but what did they sing! They sang, nearer my God to Thee, nearer to Thee, en though it be a cross that raiseth me, yet all my song shall be nearer my God to Thee, nearer to Thee, nearer to Thee.
Now when you contrast that, with roll out the barrel and well have a barrel of fun, you can see what has happened to a nations faith you can see what has happened to the faith of people in thirty years, cant you? Facing eternity, to the strains of the beer-barrel polka, what a commentary, upon the faith, of immortal souls.
The message above was transcribed and appears in a collection of messages titled "Voices of the Past".
* after a few minutes of research to identify this location to help ensure accuracy in transcription, it appeares 'The City of Benares' may refer to a ship that was sunk by a German U-boat and not a geographical location.
Christopher Joel Dandrow