By the end of the coming weekend you will probably be sick of hearing about the 100th anniversary of the sinking of RMS Titanic. The tired tales of technological arrogance, of noble men stepping aside for women and children and the cowards who didn't, of third class steerage passengers who didn't stand a chance, etc., etc., etc.
I was preparing to produce one of my parody Photoshops - I had the notion that "OWS" could have easily stood for "Occupy White Star" (White Star Lines being Titanic's owner) when I came across this iconic image that I had seen a million times before:
This is Ned Parfett, a 16-year-old newsboy hawking his papers outside of the White Star offices just off Trafalgar Square the morning after the tragedy. Crowds gathered around the line's three main offices in London, Liverpool and New York for word about potential survivors.
Instead of altering the photo I became interested in young Ned. Like so many boys born in the mid-1890s, Ned was destined to become part of England's "lost generation" that would reach the prime years of their young adulthood just as the First World War would begin to consume the continent. One of four brothers from Cornwall Road, Waterloo to join the British Army for King and Country, Ned served with distinction, winning the Military Medal for gallant conduct.
On October 29th, 1918, less than two weeks before the Armistice, Ned was granted leave. He went to the Quartermaster's office to collect some clothing when the stores were destroyed by a German artillery shell. He was only 22 and the only one of the four brothers that never came home. Ned remains in France at the British War Cemetery at Verchain - Maugre.
The building where newsboy Ned was photographed still stands but the flag that flies on it is not the corporate red banner with the white star. Instead, it is the Lone Star flag of the State of Texas. It is now a Tex-Mex restaurant called the The Texas Embassy.
If there is one thing that we should latch on to in these tragic tales it is the impermanence of it all. Great companies rise and fall, great nations can squander their wealth and power into irrelevance, and brave men can be reduced to weathered grave stones. As the November elections loom, we're headed into our own ice field of debt and political spinelessness and America will either change course or charge full speed ahead.