I knew my father had traveled through Southampton, England on his way to the Soviet Union in 1931. That fact was written in the diary I had found in his dresser, thankfully penned in English. Dad made four additional trips through that port city on the English Channel during his service on hospital ships during World War II.
Knowing the importance of researching my expeditions prior to my travel, I wanted to ensure that visiting Southampton was not only easy to do, but also of interest on a grander scale than just my own personal interests.
I wanted to verify what I believed to be true: Southampton was the port for Dad’s ship, as well as the Titanic and the Mayflower. That was pretty darn good history for me. Southampton is home to the Sea City Museum—opened only since 2012—so we hatched a plan to go.
The train ride was a little more than one hour but the cost for the two of us was going to be approximately 150 pounds, which when converted into US dollars, would be almost $250! I wanted to go on this trip. I was excited to take the same journey between Southampton and London that Dad took as a twelve-year-old boy over eighty years ago, but that was a lot of money for such a short ride. Should I do it, because I would probably never have the opportunity to experience that trip again, or was that cost just too much? I reasoned that I could probably find a blog written by someone like my friend, Bumblebee (see Bumblebee Trails), who had taken a similar ride, so we decided to abandon the trip and go to the theater instead. That was more practical.
My husband and I headed over to the West End, where the half-price theater tickets were sold. We scoured the list of available tickets, but none of the shows we hoped to see had cheap tickets for sale. As we discussed alternate shows and other activities to do that day, a nagging voice in my head kept telling me to go to Southampton.
We decided to head to the train station and confirm that the exorbitant price was accurate. When we inquired at the ticket booth, we were told that the cost for the trip would be 20 pounds! We asked the agent to repeat the price three times, and in a rather annoying tone, she told us, “I said it was 20 pounds.” Apparently there was a weekend sale going on (some sale!), and the train was leaving within ten minutes. Luck was on our side.
The ride was lovely, although the first twenty minutes were more funny than lovely as someone on the speaker talked on and on as well as apologized over and over about the problems with the on-board bathrooms. It was less than a ninety-minute ride for goodness sake!
We passed rolling hills, farms, quaint old towns, and many golf courses. This was Dad’s trip, but I know he saw none of what we were able to observe out the window, because his train traveled to London at night. Still, it was Dad’s trip, and I know that he probably was able to see those scenes as he rode the rail years later while a soldier during the war.
Southampton was a much bigger town than I had imagined. It was more like a small city to me. The Sea City Museum has two major exhibits: Gateway to the World and the Southampton Titanic Story.
Gateway to the World has displays showing the many people throughout the ages who traveled through Southampton. I did not realize that this port has been active for 200,000 years. There were artifacts, pictures, maps, films, and scaled-down replicas of some of the more noteworthy ships such as the Titanic. I was able to find Dad’s ship, the Berengaria, which was built to replace the Titanic.
We were able to view a film showing accounts of soldiers, such as Dad, who had passed through Southampton during wartime. Gateway to the World was the more personal side of the museum for me.
The Titanic Story focused more on the crew, since so many were local to the town. The most moving exhibit was a room which was set up as a courtroom, with an audio-visual show of the inquiry, held in London,during which they attempted to learn who was responsible for the disaster.
I wish we had the time to go down to the docks and walk around Southampton a bit more, but we did not want to miss our return train to London. I left glad that the trip all fell into place. The theater tickets we wanted were sold out for a reason!