Recently, our news channels have been saturated with accounts of the striken cruise ship, the Costa Concordia. Not just of the disaster itself, but of the actions of those on board, particularly that of the captain and his crew. One headline has been seized upon above the others: the 'accepted', or perhaps expected protocol of 'women and children first' - immortalised in the public imagination following the sinking of the RMS Titanic, 15th April, 1912, whose Centenary is less than three months away.
It seems that the chivalrous call of "women and children first" was not given, or observed, on the Costa Concordia. Society often holds the actions of those in life threatening situations as a mirrror to itself, of what we have become, morally, and tries to make sense of the reflection looking back.
Even before the Titanic, the moral action of 'women and children first' had a Mersey connection to it, and is tied to the actions of another ship:
'HMS Birkenhead was one of the first iron-hulled ships built for the Royal Navy. She was designed as a frigate, but was converted to a troopship before being commissioned. She was built at John Laird's shipyard at Birkenhead.
On 26 February 1852, while transporting troops to Algoa Bay, she was wrecked at Danger Point near Gansbaai on the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa. There were not enough serviceable lifeboats for all the passengers, and the soldiers famously stood firm, thereby allowing the women and children to board the boats safely. Only 193 of the 643 people on board survived, and the soldiers' chivalry gave rise to the "women and children first" protocol when abandoning ship, while the "Birkenhead drill" of Rudyard Kipling's poem came to describe courage in face of hopeless circumstances.'
The rest of the article here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Birkenhead_(1845)