CQ … silence.
By Allison Mazur
May 17, 2016
Upon walking into the Titanic Belfast exhibit, I was immediately struck by the sign above. Probably because I am a Communication major, and anything communication or social science-related grabs my attention. I entered the exhibit wondering exactly what innovations changed communication during the 19th century like the sign had boasted.
I was greeted by a series of obnoxious loud beeps emanating from the interactive display pictured above. These harsh sounds immediately directed my attention to the display, which revealed that the telegraph and Morse Code were pivotal innovations for ships at this time. By 1910 most ships had radio on board which allowed passengers to send messages, and the captain and crew to report on conditions. Morse Code allowed ships to communicate fairly easily by translating each alphabetical letter into a series of dots and dashes.
Like stated on the exhibit sign above, an experience telegraph operator could send over 20 words per minute. I, an inexperienced telegraph operator, could barely type out CQD on the display, let alone stand the loud beeping sounds. CQD is a distress signal, much like the better known SOS. CQD used to be just CQ, originating from the French word “sécu” or “sécurité,” meaning a general precautionary message. The D was added to signal distress, and CQD was then known to mean “All stations: distress.” CQD was used more widespread prior to the Titanic sinking, but after the tragedy SOS became the golden standard.
Further into the exhibit, there were records of the last messages the Titanic had sent after it hit the iceberg. Many of which featured the infamous distress call, CQD. I liked how the museum incorporated real artifacts with interactive displays, pictures, films, and audio recordings. This part of the exhibit had the written messages with audio recording of survivors played in the background.
Finally, the last harrowing message was sent at 2:10 am – CQ … silence. The final distress call wasn’t even completed. The Titanic had sunk. It was fascinating to see how the telegraph and Morse Code had such an impact on maritime travel, particularly in relation to the tragedy of the Titanic.