Chief Wireless Telegraphist on the Titanic
This oil painting can be seen in Godalming Museum, and was painted by Ellis Martin from a photograph taken by Jennie Stedman of Farncombe.
Early Life and Career
John George Phillips, known as ‘Jack’ was born in Godalming, Surrey, on the 11thApril 1887 at 11 Farncombe Street. He was the son of George Alfred Phillips and his wife, Ann (née Sanders). They came from Trowbridge in Wiltshire, from a family of weavers. In 1881 the family lived in Deptford Lower Road, Rotherhithe, and George was listed as a draper, with this wife and twin daughters, Elsie and Ethel aged 7, born in Kent.
They moved to Godalming c.1883 when they are listed in the Godalming Directory living in Farncombe Street. His father was manager of Gammons, a draper’s shop owned by the Gammon brothers. The family lived above the shop, and Jack was born there in1887. The house no longer remains. The 1911 census shows that there were five children born to George and Ann but only three survived. His twin sisters never married.
Jack attended a local private school in Hare Lane run by Fanny Stedman. He then went to the St Johns Street School next to the Parish Church of Farncombe, St John, now the Farncombe Day Centre. As a young boy Jack sang in the choir at the Parish Church where there is a brass memorial plaque.
Jack was later educated at the Godalming Grammar School, now the public bar of the Red Lion Public House under the headmaster Mr. Charles Elworthy.
In 1902 on leaving school he worked at the local Post Office (now the HSBC Bank) in the High Street, as a telegraphist. Here he learned Morse code under the postmaster, Mr Walter Richard Williams, until March 1906.
In 1906 Jack joined the Marconi Company’s Wireless Telegraphy Training School at Seaforth Barracks in Liverpool. On completion of the course, he headed the list of successful candidates in the Postmaster General Examinations. In August after finishing his training he was posted as Junior Wireless Officer on the White Star Line vessel, Teutonic.
During the next three years he served on various liners, including the Lusitania, Mauritania, Campania, Oceanic, Corsican, Canada, Victoria, Danube, and Pretorian.
In 1908 Jack was transferred to the Marconi Transatlantic Station at Clifden, a high-power-transmitting station on the west coast of Ireland in County Galway. He spent three years at Clifden, working as an operator transmitting and receiving messages to and from the Marconi sister station at Glace Bay, Nova Scotia.
In 1911 he left Clifden and returned to sea on the Adriatic. In March 1912 he was sent to Belfast to take up the post of Chief Wireless Telegraphist on the new White Star Liner, Titanic, then being fitted out at the Harland and Wolff shipyard. Lord Pirrie was Chairman of Harland and Wolff, and had bought Witley Park, near Godalming, in 1909.
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