Remember those scenes in Titanic? Not the ones soundtracked by Celine Dion where Rose and Jack are having a moment at the front of the boat, or he’s tragically drowning in front of her. No, the really geeky moments showing a team of marine experts sending equipment down to the bottom of the ocean to explore the wreck. Well, this isn’t just the stuff of Hollywood. London’s humble Postal Museum is currently hosting a temporary exhibition of hundreds of letters, objects and treasure (yes, literally treasure) dredged up from a ship sunk off the coast of Ireland in WWII.
The SS Gairsoppa was travelling from Calcutta to Britain in 1941. With the Suez Canal closed, it took the long way around, coming back to Blighty via the notorious Cape of Good Hope. It made it as far as the Atlantic coast of Ireland before being torpedoed by a German U-Boat. It sank within 20 minutes, ending up at the bottom of the sea a mile deeper than the Titanic.
Along with all the letters (the reason this show is at the Postal Museum) were 2817 silver bars being sent to the UK to help with the war effort. Each one weighs around 28 kilos, and there’s one on display here.
Precious metal was a good enough incentive to investigate the wreck, but the explorers also rescued a host of other objects, including wine bottles for thirsty sailors and tea storage – the favourite British drink was being shipped back to boost wartime morale.
And then there’s the letters themselves. In an age of Snapchat, it’s hard to imagine waiting months for a letter to arrive from overseas, but many of the extracts on display mention the continual delays in hearing from loved ones. They also contain some nifty insights into wartime attitudes – this one expresses distaste for the “Miss Modern” type and men getting married too quickly (it’s different for women, apparently).
You can see all this, and learn the incredible story of the sole survivor from the wreck (from the original 86 onboard) at Voices from the Deep, which runs until January 13 at the Postal Museum. To find out more, click here.