1912 Last Marconi Messages : “Come quick Engine room nearly full”

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On the night of the 15th April 2012 108 years  ago, the Marconi operators with their new technology played their part in trying to recover the enveloping Titanic tragedy.The surviving messages form a realtime account of the nights events.  Subsequent to Titanic striking by the iceberg, a network of wireless operators on ships and land stations communicated with each other.. There is only really one first-hand, real time record of what happened that night – the collection of wireless messages sent between the Titanic and the other ships which hurriedly tried to organise a rescue operation, during the night of the 12th April 1912.  The records show how the Titanic had been given warnings of ice by other ships  and which records the increasingly frantic calls for assistance after the collision with the iceberg.

Wireless was a very new technology  at the time and the Marconi company, the Edwardian equivalent of a high tech company of today, sited their wireless operators onboard on some of the more prestigious ships.  It was still quite a novelty with much of the initial wireless traffic being sent by those ‘up top’ to their friends – a bit like text messages of  today “Fine voyage, fine ship” wrote one, unaware of the awful irony of how that might later sound.

The wireless operators were young progressive men recruited with a promise of avoiding dead end careers.  They chatted to wireless operators in other ships in a jolly, mock public school accent calling each other “old man”.  As Titanic crossed the Atlantic, the news headlines were about industrial unrest on the railways The wireless was beginning to be used by ships to give each other safety information like the location of icebergs – why were these warnings ignored?  Jack Phillips, the senior wireless operator was still sending passengers’ messages when the Titanic struck an iceberg.

The last recorded messages were increasingly frantic and fragmented – although a shore station officer following the exchanges reported there was “never a tremor” in the Morse tapped out by Jack Phillips.  “Come quick, Engine room nearly full”, was sent from Titanic a few minutes before she finally sank. Jack Phillips did not survive the sinking, but his heroism, staying at his post after being released from his duty by the captain, is part of the Titanic story.

Harold Bride, the junior wireless operator survived the sinking on an upturned lifeboat and subsequently sold his story to the New York Times.  His story set the tone of heroic self sacrifice, with the first account of the band playing while the ship sank, and with accounts of selflessness and cowardice.

 

 

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