SOS Volturno

Home / SOS Volturno - January 29, 2018 , by renee

“In the New Year we left for England.” So begins one of the final chapters in Rings of Time.

The SS. Volturno burns at sea Photo Credit: Searle Canada

Emilie, Liam, Harrison and Mrs. Wilson are first-class passengers aboard a grand, unnamed ocean liner departing from Halifax. In walking along the main deck, Emilie is reminded of the famous scene with Jack and Rose in the movie Titanic, which is a blockbuster film to modern-day Emilie, but an ominous and fairly recent tragedy to Liam and their fellow passengers.

In the book, a fire breaks out and the passengers must put on their life vests and make their way to the bow of the ship to be lowered into the freezing Atlantic Ocean. The first lifeboat evacuations are unsuccessful — high waves make it very difficult to lower the boats and they are shattered against the ship, the passengers lost. With no imminent threat of the ship actually sinking, the captain of the ship calls off the evacuation and orders all the passengers to take refuge in the dining room while the crew and male passengers fight the fire. Rescue ships finally arrive and just in time; the crew is starting to lose control over the fire.

I based the ocean liner disaster in Rings of Time not on SS. Titanic (which sank in 1912) but on another major ocean liner disaster from the same time period. Sailing from Rotterdam, Netherlands to New York, the SS. Volturno was carrying a mixed load of passengers and cargo, which included highly flammable materials. It launched October 1913, just 18 months after SS. Titanic sank, and came into trouble shortly thereafter, with a ferocious fire breaking out in the cargo hold.

Passenger manifest from SS. Volturno (Rotterdam to New York) Photo Credit: Andy Baker

The SS. Volturno story is a sad one. As in Rings of Time, many lifeboats were lost. But 11 ships participated in the rescue effort and 521 souls were saved. We don’t yet know if Liam and Emilie were among those saved — you’ll have to wait for book two to find out! In the meantime, you can visit this blog for stories from real survivors.

Student Prompt: Historical fiction blends historical facts with invented characters, dialogue and other details. What other aspects of Rings of Time are based on historical events or circumstances? Can you think of other examples from other books you have read?

Teachers, please visit my School Visits page for more activity ideas!

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