The story that is told by the exhibition that I was visiting this afternoon is one that has been told many times before. It one which is drawing great crowds of visitors to Belfast – it is a story of great success but also of great tragedy.

The exhibition is that in the Titanic Belfast centre in the Titanic Quarter of Belfast. The centre looks out on the slipways where RMS Titanic and her sister ship RMS Olympic were built. 

We all know what happened. Titanic was built by the great Belfast shipbuilders Harland & Wolff, she passed her sea trials on 2 April 2012 and went to Southampton to prepare for her maiden voyage.

Setting sail from Southampton after her vast stores had been loaded, and her passengers had embarked, she crossed the English Channel to the French port of Cherbourg, from there on to the Irish port of Queenstown, from there she left British waters and started across the Atlantic Ocean. In the North Atlantic the great ship is holed by an iceberg.

As we all know, the ship sank. Many lost their lives. And Belfast mourned. But it was not just Belfast, it was communities right across the globe.

The exhibition told the story of the city of Belfast, of how prosperous it was, how the city had many differing but interlinked industries, and how they were all linked into the shipping industry. We could not have had the prosperity if we had not had a port.

Today, for me, there were many moving moments. The wireless messages from the Titanic were extremely so. I was in tears. The final message from Titanic was from the hand of Jack Phillips, aged 25 and in charge of the Radio Room. The message simply read,


Which means “Call all ships”. The next letter would have been “D” – Distress. But the ship hearing the message, the Virginian did not hear it. The message cut off abruptly as if the power had been cut. The time was 2.17 a.m., and 3 minutes later is the the official time the ship foundered in 41.46 N. 50.14 W. as given by the Carpathia in message to the Olympic.

This message hit me hard, it reminded me that this was being sent by someone much younger than me, but who was the man in charge of the Marconi Wireless room on board Titanic. Like Jack Cornwell VC, in the later First World War, the wireless operators did their duty for as long as possible. It is not a concept that seems popular of late, but it is one that all Scouts do know about. I’m sure we could use Jack Phillips could be used as an example.