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Chelmsford Amateur Radio Society

RMS Empress of Ireland     Event - Chelmsford, 2014.

27th February 2014 Corrected the numbers of survivors and lost from details from Father Point, Canada.   Added Ofcom have granted CARS the NOV of using GB100MWT.

Centenary of the Rescue of 465 persons from the RMS Empress of Ireland.

Empress of Ireland, built in the Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Company, Glasgow in 1906 and was the sister ship to Empress of Britain.
570 feet Length; 65.5 feet Beam; 14,191 Gross Tons and could travel at 18 Knots.
Max of 1,850 People.

Empress of Ireland.
Empress of Ireland

  • Set off from Quebec, Canada at 4.30 on 28th May, 1914 with 1,467 Passengers and Crew.
  • The Captain is Henry George Kendall.

    Empress of Ireland.
    Captain Henry Kendall of the Empress of Ireland

  • Rammed in the midships at 0120hrs 29th May by the SS Storstad, a Norwegian Collier travelling from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Montreal with 10,400 Tons of coal.

    Empress of Ireland.
    SS Storstad

The Second Marconi Officer Edward Bamford is on watch and feels the collision Ron Ferguson (later 4VF then G4VF) has just turned in and comes to the Wireless Room in his pyjamas. Ron tells Bamford to go to the Bridge for instructions. Ron sends out very slowly
“CQ CQ CQ de MPL MPL MPL; Standby for a Distress Signal; have struck something”.
MPL is the Call-Sign of the Empress.

Bamford returns and says “The Chief Officer says – Send SOS”   Ron then asks Bamford to fetch his clothes.
Ron sends a slow Morse signal along the lines of
“SOS-SOS-SOS de MPL MPL MPL - have struck something, sinking fast, send help”
Father Point says “Where are you”
Ron replies “Twenty miles past Rimouski”

The initial message is received by the Second Marconi Officer, Leslie Crawford, at the Marconi Shore Station at Father Point who raises his No 1.   The No 1 is a Mr William Whiteside who replies
“OK. Sending Eureka, Lady Evelyn – (to) your assistance”.
He telephones both ships and they put to sea to effect the rescue.
Ron puts on his clothes – power goes off.

Ron tries to get the Emergency Transmitter going but the ship is leaning so far the Battery Cupboard door busts open and the batteries fall on Ron.
There was nothing more to do so he tells Bamford to get into a boat – he does by the Empress throwing him into a inflatable!   He is rescued by the Storstad and using one of their lifeboats puts to sea rescuing more people who he takes to the Eureka.

Empress of Ireland.
The Tug Eureka

A huge wave washes Ron into the sea where he grabs a deckchair and swims around for 15 minutes.   Water Temp 4 degrees C.   He is picked up by a boat from the Storstad.   When the Lady Evelyn comes alongside Ron joins it and climbs into the Wireless Room through a window and continues the rescue.

Empress of Ireland.
Lady Evelyn

He requests a train is sent to Rimouski Wharf with clothing and supplies.

Ron’s SOS causes two ships to be dispatched - the Tug Eureka from Father Point and the Lady Evelyn from Rimouski.   They arrive in 45 Minutes. Captain Kendall is picked up after swimming around for 30 minutes and taken to the Storstad but was obviously keen to get off the Storstad and gets on the Tug Eureka which lands at Rimouski with a total of 30 survivors.
The Lady Evelyn takes 390 to Rimouski.

Sunk in 14 minutes.     465 persons saved but 1,012 persons lost.

The Father Point, Marconi Shore Station Senior Officer, Mr Whiteside was the duty Officer when the Titanic sank and co-ordinated rescue ships - April 12th 1912.   He also co-ordinated Chief Inspector Dew meeting with Dr Crippen on the SS Montrose.
The Chairman of the Empress Enquiry later “praised him for his devotion to duty and presence of mind”.

In June 1914 divers blew a large hole in the Empress of Ireland and recovered 318 bags of Royal Mail, 216 Ingots of Silver and 250 Bodies.
The Royal Mail was dried out on clothes lines.
One Diver, Edward Cossaboon, died during this operation.
No more was done until 1964 when Divers found the wreck again.

A year later Ron happened to visit the Marconi Shore station at Father Point – someone says “Ron - I think that is your coat behind the door”

Although Ron was later awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for running the Egyptian State radio station from 1934 to 1946 he never received any formal recognition for his work on the RMS Empress of Ireland.

All the Marconi Wireless equipment worked magnificently - without this only some 40 persons would have survived.

Divers continued to visit the wreck in the 1970s and 1980s and unfortunately some removed bones etc from it.   Local feeling reached a point whereby the Canadian Government created it a Site of Historic and Archaeological Importance and put it on the Register of the Cultural Property Act.
Unfortunatey by 2009 6 divers have lost their lives in the wreck.

A bouy now marks the location of the wreck.

Empress of Ireland.
The Marker Bouy above the Empress of Ireland.

Ron's Career
He joined Marconi’s in 1910 and was 20 years old when he was Chief Wireless Officer on the Empress of Ireland in May 1914.    Shortly after the Empress of Ireland event he worked for the Canadian Pacific Ocean Services in an senior administrive capacity but left to become a Wireless Officer in the Royal Flying Corps instructing them in the art of Wireless.

After the War he joined the Radio Communication Company (RCC) and became General Manager.    The RCC was one of 6 companies which joined together in 1922 to form the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) and was therefore closely involved with the development of Broadcasting. 
It became the British Broadcasting Corporation on 1st January 1927.

In 1927 he returned to Marine Radio and became joint General Manager of the Marconi Marine Company in Chelmsford.

In 1934 he was seconded to Cairo to the Egyptian State Broadcasting and remained in charge until the end of WWII.  For his services there he was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) medal and Egypt’s Order of the Nile.

After the War he returned to Chelmsford to Marconi Marine and became General Manager in 1947 and Managing Director in 1959. 
He was the Director of Marconi International Marine Company (MIMCO) from 1961 until he retired in 1967.

Empress of Ireland.
Ronald Ferguson

He was always a keen Amateur Radio Morse operator with “a lovely hand” and encouraged many others to be the same.   He was also keen on Direction Finding and Field Day activities and in 1965 as G4VF/P won the HF Field Day Trophy.   He was the President of the Chelmsford Amateur Radio Society (CARS) from 1952 to 1977 when he passed the role to Roy Martyr, G3PMX.

Empress of Ireland.
Ron at a CARS Special Event Station in April 1974 to commemorate the Birthday of Marconi 100 years before.
From left to right is Barry Tew, G3WFF; John Greenwood, G3KRZ and the late Roy Martyr, G3PMX with Ron tuning in a receiver.

As a long-time Member of the Radio Society of Great Britain he was invited in 1980 to their AGM and presented the Marconi Medal to Dr D W Suckling, G3WDG. 

He died on 28 July 1985 aged 91.

Annemarie Bourassa at Father Point Museum.
Norway Heritage
David Barlow, G3PLE, Lizard Radio & Radio Officers Association.
Oxford University – Marconi Collection.
Geoff Lovegrove, G7KLV.
Dr G Bowles, Keeper of Sandford Mill Science & Industry Museum.
The late Tony Cuthbert, Heybridge near Maldon who was a Marconi trained “Spark Transmitter” Operator and knew Ron and this story.

CARS Involvement

Ofcom have granted CARS the use of the Special Event Call-Sign GB100MWT to commemorate the involvement of Marconi Wireless Telegrahy 100 years ago from April 1st to 31st December 2014.

To commemorate this event the Chelmsford Amateur Radio Society will transmit from the The Marconi Hut, Sandford Mill on Thursday, 29th May 2014 - exactly 100 years after the collision.
Bands to be used - will be those most likely to contact Canada - as well as the the rest of the World.   It is hoped to be on CW as well as SSB.
If possible, GB100MWT will be transmitting additional dates - watch this space.

Other Amateur Radio stations around the World will be active.

A Special Event GB100MWT QSL Card will be returned apon request.

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