RMS Titanic Photographer unknown
Imagine the suspense at Cape Race on the night of April 14, 1912, with the wireless operators listening hard, waiting for a signal from the magnificent new ocean liner RMS Titanic steaming towards them from England. Finally she came into range and Walter Gray, the senior officer at Cape Race had a Morse Code “conversation” with Jack Phillips, the Chief Operator on the Titanic, hearing his friend’s news about how grand the ship was.
Later in the evening, Phillips was sending passengers’ messages to Cape Race for relay to New York City. A nearby ship, the Californian, sent him an iceberg warning. The signal came in really loud because they were so close, and probably hurt Phillips’s ears, because he responded “Shut up, shut up, I’m working Cape Race.” That sounds quite rude, but the radio operators had their own slang and codes, like people on MSN or CB radio do today. They had received a warning earlier, and had already posted an iceberg watch. The operator on Californian went off-duty to get some sleep, so when Titanic hit an iceberg only fifteen minutes later, Phillips was unable to contact them for help.
After receiving a long string of boring passengers’ messages, Cape Race operator James Godwin was amazed to hear Titanic sending CQD, CQD—a distress call!! He ran to fetch his senior officer, Walter Gray, who took over and relayed the news to other ships and land locations, looking for rescuers. Another Cape Race operator, Robert Hunston, started to log the messages—not just their own but between Titanic and other ships in the area. In the end, only one ship—the Carpathian— made it in time to save 705 passengers. Over 1500 died because there weren’t enough lifeboats and the water was so cold. As the disaster unfolded, Gray sent reports to the ship’s owners in New York, South Hampton and Liverpool, to a New York newspaper, and to the Marconi Company in Montreal, all in accordance with his standing orders.
The Titanic’s radio operators were Marconi employees like the men at Cape Race, and CQD was the Marconi Company code for a distress call. They also sent out the newer SOS signal. Both Titanic operators kept trying to get help even after they were released from duty by the captain. In an interview later, Walter Gray was full of praise for how well his friend had handled the emergency, saying that there “wasn’t a tremor” as Phillips signalled that Titanic was sinking by the head and that they were putting women and children off in lifeboats. Phillips was lost that night, but his second officer, Harold Bride, survived to tell what had happened.
By 2 am, a flood of messages started to come in to Cape Race from newspapers and others wanting to know what was going on. When relatives heard that survivors were being picked up in lifeboats, they would send messages for their loved one to every ship in the area. Thousands of messages passed through Cape Race and every one had to be processed and forwarded according to the rules. Gray and his staff worked without rest for almost four days. Following his orders from the Marconi Company, Gray declined to answer requests for information after the initial emergency phase was over and that nearly put him in hot water with the Governor of Newfoundland. Gray suggested that Governor Williams contact Marconi’s head office in Montreal for detailed information. That didn’t please the governor, but although he threatened to make trouble for Gray, The Marconi Company stood by their man and nothing more came of it.
After the sinking of the Titanic, all ocean-going passenger vessels were required to be fitted with wireless radio equipment. More operators were hired to give day-and-night coverage on larger ships and an auto-alarm was developed for smaller ships so they wouldn’t miss distress signals. The universal SOS was adopted and replaced the Marconi code CQD. Stations were no longer identified as private enterprises by their call signs as of 1913. This is when Cape Race’s call sign changed from M (for Marconi)CE to VCE. The V stood for Canada; each country had its own letter. Marconi started up the Marconi radio schools so that operators would be better trained and prepared to handle emergencies.
Go to: http://users.senet.com.au/~gittins/radio.html to read background information about the young telegraphers on board Titanic and the ships around her the night of the sinking.
a photographic reproduction of an original two-dimensional work of art by Willy Stöwer who died on 31st May 1931.