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‘The sounds of people drowning are something that I cannot describe to you, and neither can anyone else. It’s the most dreadful sound and there is a terrible silence that follows it.’



We found ourselves spending time in Godalming

on one of those sun baked, humid July days

that surprise England. The air was thick

with flying ants. We sought shade under willows

on the banks of the Wey, that meanders

through meadowland. Brindle cattle grazed

and flicked their tails. Gnats and midges sought us –

so we walked on beside the river. Boys

from Charterhouse canoed past us hooray

henrying as we entered the cloister

on the Jack Phillips Memorial Ground.


Phillips, senior wireless telegraphist

on the Titanic, was a local chap,

son of the manager of a draper’s.

Built – perhaps as much for sense-making as

grieving – the year after the disaster

and some years before the slaughtering began,

the cloister is in Surrey brick and tile,

with a lily pond and dragon flies

darting, hovering. We sat in the arcade’s

shadows, silent then sharing our thoughts.


His commissions or omissions were

or were not instrumental in the sinking –

the message about icebergs and field ice

directly ahead from another ship

was recorded, put to one side, forgotten

as he cleared a backlog of telegrams

from first class passengers. How do they compare

with watertight compartments that were

anything but, a lack of lifeboats,

no drill of any sort, vain glory?

‘He died at his post,’ the inscription reads.


On our way back to the High Street we passed

the Parish Church with its memorial

in bronze to Jack – and one to the small town’s

two hundred and eighty one Great War dead.

The church doors were open and the day’s heat

brought out the smell of musty hymnals

and dusty hassocks – a silenced heat,

one burdened with class and protocol,

suppressing anger, guilt.




© Copyright David Selzer
3 Responses
  • Matt
    July 29, 2017

    I really like this one – I have always been interested in the story of the Titanic and when I hear the name Godalming I instantly think of Jack Phillips.

  • John Huddart
    August 12, 2017

    Changeless England – those boys in their canoes off to take their places in the Titanic. Somehow J B Priestley and his timebending narratives come to mind.

  • David Selzer
    August 12, 2017

    As always, John, your perceptive and witty comments add to the poems. Thank you.

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