Saturday, 24 January 2015

Waratah - Winston Churchill and wireless telegraphy


HC Deb 24 February 1909 vol 1 c847

'Mr. Field: asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he will take into consideration the advisability of introducing a Bill to have wireless telegraphy provided on all passenger vessels, and as far as possible on all classes of ships?

Mr. Churchill: yes, Sir. The question whether legislation is necessary on this subject will be considered'.

It is the 50th anniversary of Winston Churchill's death. Very few are aware that he was president of the Board of Trade at the time the Waratah was lost. The date of this short exchange is prior to the Waratah foundering off the Wild Coast. The Waratah was not equipped with Marconi's wireless and it remains in the realm of conjecture whether such a communication device would have assisted Captain Ilbery. 

But perhaps more importantly, vital information could have been relayed from the doomed liner which would have solved the mystery and not only alleviated the stress of relatives and families of those on board, but also avoided a lengthy Inquiry which in effect came up empty-handed after considerable time and expense. Such information could have been revealing in the context of what caused the problem and what could be done to prevent similar tragedies from occurring again.

After the loss of the Waratah Churchill and parliament continued to debate the necessity of such legislation despite the case of the SS Republic which demonstrated that wireless communication played a significant role in successful rescue operations.

Many Commonwealth countries and the United States adopted legislation requiring that wireless be fitted to passenger vessels after the loss of the Waratah. 

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