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Page last updated at 13:40 GMT, Thursday, 15 July 2010 14:40 UK
'Jack' Phillips - the man who tried to save the Titanic
By Heather Driscoll-Woodford
BBC Surrey

J Phillips
'Jack' Phillips wearing the cap badge of a Marconi employee

John George Phillips, who was nicknamed 'Jack' gained posthumous fame as the man who tried to save the Titanic and all those on board.

As the ship's Chief Wireless Operator, he valiantly transmitted pleas for help until the ship lost power and sank.

Reputed to have made it to an upturned lifeboat, he died in the tragedy and his body was never recovered.

A memorial to him, built in his home town in 1914, was erected on the site of the old village animal pound.

'Jack Phillips' was born in Farncome near Godalming, on 11 April 1887.

He grew up alongside his elder twin sisters, Elsie and Ethel, in a flat above the High Street drapers shop, which his parents managed.

George and Ann Phillips had their baby son christened 'John George' at St. John the Evangelist church.

As a young boy he started his education at the church school and was a chorister in the choir. Today, a plaque in the north aisle of St John's commemorates his links with the parish.

He finished his schooling in 1902, aged 15, at Godalming Grammar School, which is now the Red Lion public house.

On passing his Civil Service exams he joined the town's Post Office. There he trained to be a telegraphist, using Morse Code to relay messages.

Ship's Articles

Many Navy telegraphists came from a Post Office background and 'Jack' was no exception. In March 1906, he left Godalming for Liverpool, joining the Marconi Company's wireless telegraphy training school at Seaforth Barracks.

Trainee telegraph operators
'Jack' attended the Marconi wireless telegraphy training school

Five months later he was posted to the White Star Line, a large shipping company, as Junior Radio Officer on their steamship the RMS Teutonic.

Over the next 24 months he served on White Star's RMS Oceanic, as well as the Cunard Line's RMS Mauretania, RMS Campania and RMS Lusitania.

Still a Marconi employee, he would join a ship, signing the 'Ship's Articles' (conditions of service) and become a member of its crew for the voyage.

As part of the crew he received a small wage from the shipping line but the majority of his pay came from Marconi.

In 1908, he returned to dry land, joining the first transatlantic wireless operation, working from the Marconi base at Clifden in Ireland.

After three years sending messages across the ocean to the sister station in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, he returned to the sea, first on the fastest of the White Star Line's ships, the RMS Adriatic and then on the RMS Oceanic.

In March 1912 he was promoted to Senior Wireless Operator and was posted to the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast to join the White Star Line's newest ship, the RMS Titanic.

Thought to be the most technologically advanced ship at the time, she was also the largest passenger steamship in the world.

There he joined 22 year old Harold Bride from Bromley, who had been employed as Junior Wireless Operator for the voyage.

Together they installed the ship's Marconi wireless equipment that was to help save the lives of the 705 people who did survive the disaster.

Their role on board was to relay messages between ship and shore, as well as to communicate warnings between other vessels in the area.

Full steam ahead to New York City

The RMS Titanic set sail from Southampton docks on 10 April 1912 to much fanfare. She was destined for New York City and had 2,228 passengers and crew on board.

Just four days into her maiden voyage, she hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic.

The large ship took less than three hours to sink, taking almost 1500 passengers and crew with her.

Aged 25, 'Jack' had only celebrated his birthday on the ship, two days before the disaster.

That night Phillips had been working to clear a backlog of messages, sending them via Cape Race in Newfoundland.

Earlier he had received and passed on numerous ice warnings from other ships in the area, including one from the nearest to the Titanic, the SS Californian.

Newspaper reported the Titanic disaster
The worlds press reported the Titanic disaster

When the iceberg struck at 11.40pm, 'Jack' and Harold began sending out distress signals, on the instructions of the Captain, with Bride relaying information on which ships were coming to help, to the bridge.

By a cruel twist of fate, the Californian's wireless operator had gone to bed, after turning off the equipment, and therefore did not receive the SOS messages.

Phillips carried on transmitting the pleas for help until the ship lost power at 2.17am, at which point the Captain relieved them from duty.

Bride made it to an upturned lifeboat, but reports vary as to whether 'Jack' did too. Sadly what is known is that he died before being rescued and his body was never recovered.

His family memorial, in a cemetery in Godalming, bears an iceberg shaped headstone.

The Jack Phillips Memorial Cloister

On 20 May 1912 The Times newspaper announced that a memorial fountain was to be built in memory of 'Jack' Phillips.

Godalming's Mayor, Alderman E Bridger had received numerous enquiries from around the globe asking if people could help finance it.

The memorial cloister and grounds were designed by local eminent architect Hugh Thackeray Turner and famous gardener Gertrude Jekyll who was also a Godalming resident.

The public gave generously, even 'Jack's' colleague Harold Bride donated the sum of £1 5 d towards the building.

On the 15 April 1914, two years to the day after the ship sunk, the memorial opened.

After being subject to neglect and vandalism over the years, there are now plans to restore the memorial in time for the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the ship, in 2012.

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