This is the conversation that rattled across the North Atlantic the night the Titanic sank. You can hear the moment Jack Phillips stopped transmitting a personal message from a passenger, cutting off abruptly only to begin broadcasting again: “CQD. This is Titanic. CQD. This is Titanic.” The old distress call — SOS had only just been instituted, and wasn’t added to the message until later that night — followed by the announcement of the collision. And then the replies from other ships, fragments of information being passed back and forth, questions and offers of help until the chatter gets too thick and Phillips just sends, “Stop talking. Stop talking. Jamming.” And everybody shuts up until he starts again.
All of it so level, so lacking in inflection. Because this is the record of the wireless messages, run through voice synthesizers to translate that conversation into a form the layperson can understand. But you know what’s behind the words, and that makes it all the more devastating.
Then static creeps in, as Titanic’s signal weakens. And then silence.
Seeing the tragedy from that angle . . . it’s like a punch to the gut. Especially when you think that if the captain of the Californian hadn’t decided the ice was too thick to proceed, if he hadn’t ordered his ship’s boilers shut down for the night, if the wireless operator had stayed up a mere half hour later before going to bed, then the Californian would have heard the distress call, and would have come to help.
(Or, y’know, if there had been a firm code for the use of ship’s rockets, so the guys on the Californian who saw them fired off from the Titanic would have known for sure it was a distress signal. Or if the captain of the Titanic had paid attention to the Californian‘s warnings in the FIRST PLACE, and hadn’t gone charging full speed into an iceberg. If, if, if. There are so many ways the Titanic, or at least its people, could have been saved, but none of them happened.)
The link goes to an article, but if you click through to here you should be able to listen to the broadcast directly. Be warned, though: after the Titanic sends its last message, there’s a stretch of silence . . . and then a bloody advertisement starts up, before the program returns. And to add insult to injury, the ad I got — don’t know if it changes — was for a performance of Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well. In Gujarati!
Yeeeeeeeeeeah. Not only is that probably the worst Shakespearean play title you could choose to interrupt the story with, the Gujarati singing is especially out of place.
But go read the article, and listen to the broadcast if you have the time. It’s worth it.