Titanic and the Marconi men:
send S O S, it's the new signal..."
John 'Jack' Philips and his assistant Harold McBride, boarded the Titanic at Belfast. Both of them had a specialized role aboard the ship. Jack Philips was a skilled operator on the Marconi wireless system, having served on several notable vessels, including the Lusitania and the Mauretania. Now he would be sailing on the vessel designed abd built to outshine these rival ships: the mighty and more luxurious Titanic!
Both men had been present for the sea trials that took place on 2nd April 1912. While sailing past the Copelsnd Islands and Donaghadee, they were testing and fine tuning their equipment as they contacted the Titanic's home port of Liverpool - a place, ironically, the Titanic would never reach! That very same night, at 8pm they set sail for Southampton, which was the official starting point for the transatlantic maiden voyage.
Philips received an ice warning before the voyage had even begun - to him it seemed strange, almost comical. The Titanic left Southampton for Cherbourg at 12 noon on 10th April. After a near miss with the New York, which was sucked in by the powerful wash of displaced water, caused by the sheer size of the Titanic, they were on their way to Cherbourg. They were met there there by Traffic and Nomadic, which ferried passengers into the deeper water where the great ship lay at anchor. At 8pm the ship departed for its last port of call near Cobh (Quernstown), Ireland. On 11th April at 11 30am they arrived two miles offshore, taking on their final passengers and mail. It would be their last sight of land.
The Empress of Britain sent the first ice warning of the day on Friday 12th April; another came later from La Touraine. At least ten warnings were received that day concerning ice in an area they were due to cross by Sunday night. Towards the end of the day, their wireless broke down. After a stressful six hours, tracing and repairing the fault (two leads had burnt out from the second secondart of the transformer), the problem was over come. A very major backlog if messages had now piled up! Ice warnings would would get pushed down the list of priorities in favour of private and commercial radio traffic; these made money and often brought tips from passengers - ice warnings brought neither. Messages to the captain's bridge had to be hand delivered; ultimately some were never delivered. Those that reached the bridge, were at best, read casually.
An increasing volume of warnings was received on Saturday morning the first at 9am from the Coronia; it was specific, highlighting an area in the region 42 N. from 49 to 51 W. Noordam signaled "much ice" at 11 40am. The Baltic mentioned ""icebergs and large quantities of field ice" by 1.42pm, followed almost immediately by one from the Amerika. The temperature was falling rapidly as they pressed on. There was a flurry of other messages. McBride carried a message from the Californian directly to the bridge at 7.30pm: 'latitude 42 3⁰ N. longitude 49 9⁰ W.... three large icebergs" but it was never given to Captain Smith. In two hours' time they would enter the ice field 70 miles long, with many icebergs lurking on their north, south, and west. They now had 50 miles to run!
Meanwhile, Jack Philips was hammering through the backlog of messages that had built up during his repairs - he was stressed and overtired, but McBride would relieve him early. McBride was still sleeping when the message came from Mesaba to the Titanic, warning of a great number of icebergs directly in their course. Phillips was too busy to take it to the bridge so he placed a weight upon it, intending to see to it later. At 10.30pm a message was flashed to the crew by signal lamp by a passing ship, Rappahannock - they told of passing through a huge ice field but omitted to tell them they had been damaged in the process. Five minutes later, the Parisian warned of icebergs and shut down fir the night as many other operators would. Unlike the Titanic, most ships had only one operator. While these operators slept no messages would be heard.
Twenty minutes later, as Phillips was transmitting messages through Cape Race, the land relay station, Cyril Evans of the Californian crashed in without waiting for him to finish his message, "Captain, Titanic. We are stopped and surrounded by ice." He had prefixed his message with more official and formal tital to indicate its importance, rather than the "old man" greeting Philips snapped back before the message was finished, "Keep out! Shut up! You're jamming my signal. I'm working Cape Rice." Having been rejected, Evans listened for another 40 minutes but made no attempt to reply and closed down for the night at 11.35pm. It was now five and a half minutes to impact! At that moment, high in the crows nest, Fleet and Lee noticed a slight slimmer on the horizon. Haze is deceiving; more so in darkness! They peered into the dark . "Iceberg right ahead" screamed Fleet into his phone. He gave them only 30 seconds to react.
McBride was taking over at midnight, as promised, when the Captain stuck his head around the door, "We've struck an ice berg.... get ready to send." He was back in a few minutes. "Send a call for assistance..... the regulation international call for help. McBribe later recalled" "We joked while he did so.... Then the Captain came back, "What are you sending?" CQD,' replied Phillips, I cut in, "Send S O S. It's the new signal; it may be your last chance to send it." That made us all laugh including the Captain"
Philips remained heroic at his post till the end, transmitting for assistance. He later died in a lifeboat; McBride survived to tell the story.
Jack Philips was paid very poor wages considering the responsibility that was upon him. He meagre income was slightly less than a stoker's on the Titanic. Naturally, he sought to supplement his income by sending a many private messages as possible. Likewise. in tough economic times we could lose sight of eternal realities and the danger of being lost in our sins. "The things which are seen are temporal; but the things that are not seen are eternal " (2nd Corinthians 4v18). We all are bound for eternity and have a precious soul that will exist forever in Heaven or in Hell. 'Philips' gains would have been comparatively small, but even if we risk our soul to gain the ultimate goal it would be a colossal mistake. "For whall shall it profit a man, if he should gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? (Mark 8v36-37).
Philips was a man trying to cope with an extremely demanding workload. Life can become a rat race with little time upon the choices we make and the consequences that will follow . We know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour that appeareth for a little time, and then vanishes away" (James 4v14). Don't be like the Bible character who, when Paul reasoned with him of righteousness, self control and coming judgement, replied; "Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee" (Acts 25v24). We need to address the fact of our own personal sin and our need of salvation, found solely in the Lord Jesus, the Christ. We need to do this now! Tomorrow belongs to no one! The Saviour could say, "If ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins" (John 8v24).
There was a staggering volume of messages sent to the Titanic directly, apart from others overheard by her.
Similarly, on the 'journey of life' God is desperately trying to get our attention! "God speaketh once.... twice man perceived it not" (Job 33v14). God can use the circumstances of life to awaken up to our own vulnerability and the need of salvation: disappointment, dreams, sickness, feath, terrorism and disasters. "All these things worketh God oftentimes with man, to bring his soul from the pit (Hell) (Job 33v29-30). Be careful of 'turning out' God's warnings. God desires
that you would read the guidance and warnings He has left for you in His word - the Bible. "He looketh upon men, and if any say, I have sinned and perverted that which is right.... He will deliver his soul from going into the pit and hi ssd's life shall see the light" (Job 3v27,28). The lives of many were lost through the unfortunate errors and oversights of many crew-members. In contrast, the unfailing Lord Jesus died on the Cross because of our sins; by His sin atoning sacrifice He can provide a rescue plan to those willing to personally trust him. "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1st Timothy 1v15). Unlike the inadequate measures of the Titanic, God's rescue plan is mighty. He is "longsuffering.... not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2nd Peter 3v8).
Harold Cattan was the only wireless man on the Carpathia. Many had switched off for the night but he was still waiting and responded to the Titanic's distress call. God has a promise for you: Call upon Me in the day of trouble. I will deliver thee and thou shalt glorify Me" (Psalm 50v15). Christ will not turn you away. "Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out" (6v37).
Due to the tragic loss of life on the Titanic, while wireless operators slept on ships nearby, the US Eadio Act 1912 thereafter demanded that no ship's radio would ever again be unmanned day or night.