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21 March 2023

Preview: The Radio Officer is Dead, by John Brew


Life at Sea for a Marine Radio Officer in the 1970s

A Great Reading Experience

Reading this book was a very enjoyable experience. It has several interesting parables that relate to my research interests. The section that deals with John Brews’ first ship and his jovial reception from the carpenter reminded me of a recent article from the personal diary of Alec Bagot, who was the second wireless operator of the RMS Olympic during her role in the sinking of her sister ship, Titanic. The close working dynamics of the role is very apparent in this book and it is also reflected by some primary historical sources. I have provided a section that provides an interesting insight into the working relationship between the senior and junior wireless operators.

Extract from the Diary of Alec Bagot (Junior Wireless Operator RMS Olympic):

I have but to close my eyes to feel again Ernie Moore, shaking my shoulder, saying, ‘Get up quickly, the Titanic’s sinking.’

‘What’s the time?’
‘Eleven forty. I can’t wait. Get up.’

I turned back, disgruntled. It was a mean thing to wake you twenty minutes before you need to go on watch. Five was enough. Nor was there anything funny in the greeting, although usually, it was the ‘Maurie’ or the ‘Lucy’ – our Cunard rivals, ‘Mauretania’ and ‘Lusitania’ who were supposed to be in distress. That, or ‘The old. man wants you on the ‘Bridge’, too corny to carry weight with any seasoned ‘Sparks’. So when the first Wireless Officer of RMS ‘Olympic’, E. J. Moore awakened me with such lack of originality, I wasn’t impressed and said so as boldly as any junior may to his senior. But Ernie was serious. It’s true, I’m telling you. It’s true. Don’t fool around. Get up”.


(The diary is housed at the SLSA/ National Library of Australia).


In many respects, this book is like a window through time to a bygone era when radio officers were an essential part of a ship’s company and a legal requirement under SOLAS legislation.


From the very first page, this book had me hooked. The commercial aspect of marine radio is another interesting parallel that remained with the Marconi Company, in terms of charging for the sending of personal messages. However, the Vernon Pools syndicate is another throwback to a bygone era, long before the dawn of the Internet era, and provided much-needed entertainment for the ship’s crew.


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I particularly found it quite amusing that the Marconi Company was very reluctant to reimburse their employee’s travel expenses related to airfares.


It is an easy book to read and absorb. Recommended. 


(Source, and many thanks to, Scott Caldwell, RadioUser History Columnist)


[A full review of this title will appear in the May 2021 issue of RadioUserEd.].






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