16 March 2012
Drawing on the unique Titanic collection in the Marconi Archives, held in the Bodleian Library, a new book tells the compelling story of the well-known tragedy from an original angle.
With complete transcripts of the distress messages, Titanic Calling vividly brings to life the voices of the individuals in this drama, retelling the legendary story as it was first heard.
The narrative begins with warnings of ice, including several which reported large icebergs unusually far south and alarmingly close to the Titanics course, just hours before the fatal collision:
In Lat 42.6 and Long 49.43 W met with extensive field ice and sighted seven bergs of considerable sizes on both sides of track SS Pisa
The story follows Jack Phillips, the senior wireless operator on board RMS Titanic, as he begins sending the CQD Marconi distress signal late on the night of April 14th:
CQD Position 41.46 N 50.14 W require assistance struck iceberg RMS Titanic
We track the progress of these urgent calls as they are received by nearby ships and passed rapidly across the Atlantic in a desperate attempt to save the lives of the passengers and crew:
SS Virginian to SS Californian Titanic struck berg Wants assistance urgently Ship sinking Passengers in boats His position Lat 41.46 Long 50.14
The Titanics final, broken message is recorded by the distant SS Virginian:
MGY [Titanic] calls CQ [start of distress signal] Unable to make out his signal Ended very abruptly as if power suddenly switched off His spark rather blurred or ragged Called MGY [Titanic] & suggested he shd try emergency set but heard no response
Details of the rescue of the survivors follow and the story ends with their messages, sent from the RMS Carpathia as they travelled safely to New York:
To Norris Williams, Phila. PA: Father not seen No hope Arrive Carpathia Wednesday New York. Richard
To Saks New York: Leila safe and well cared for Edgar missing
Illustrated throughout, the book opens with an introduction to the development of maritime wireless telegraphy and a full commentary on the transcripts. The directness and brevity of the messages, the style of which may be surprisingly familiar to the Twitter generation, gives the narrative a striking impact and immediacy, bringing home the full force of the tragedy.