‘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.’
A GIRL ABOARD THE TITANIC: A SURVIVOR’S STORY, Eva Hart
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.