The Volturno Ship Disaster - The Triumph of Wireless

The Volturno Ship Disaster - October 1913

Submitted by Henning Pfeifer

© 2000 by Jan Daamen

The Triumph of Wireless
Source: The Independent, October 23, 1913

   It is not the number of the dead that makes the wreck of the "Volturno" memorable.  They are less than two hundred, and more than twice as many have perished during the week in the explosion of a Welsh mine.  Nor is it the coolness and courage of the officers and crew of the vessel -- that was to be expected and was required by duty; nor the bravery of the emigrants themselves -- that was the reasoning or stolid patience of those who knew how to stand and die.  Nor yet was it the touching stories of loving devotion, the father who, when all seemed lost, threw his wife and children into the boiling waves, then followed them as the only chance of life, only to find death; nor the young husband and wife who leaped in clasped arms, in vain hoping rescue.  Nor was it the courage of the cook who prepared food and coffee till the shoes were burned on his feet, or of the sailors from rescuing ships who braved death to save life.  Such courage, such devotion, belongs to the divine in human nature and appears in every terrible disaster.
   The one supreme fact and lesson in this lurid catastrophe is that the great majority were saved because an Italian student thousands of miles away had discovered how to send messages for aid anywhere thru air and ether, and had fitted seagoing vessels with his wireless apparatus.  The operator on the "Carmania" caught the signal cry of danger, "S.O.S.," two hundred miles away, and he swept the seas to send the warning wherever it might find a vessel.

"La Touraine" caught it, the "Kroonland" heard it; the "Seydlitz" found it, it reached the oil ship; in a few hours the doomed ship was surrounded with a fleet of vessels whose crews were ready to die like heroes if they might save unknown women and children.
   And whom have we to thank for this?  Whom but Guglielmo Marconi, electrical engineer?  But for him the fate of the "Volturno" would have been one of the mysteries of the sea -- sailed, never heard from -- all burried in flame and wave, out of all knowledge and memory, except in the tears of those who vainly waited for their unreturning kin.  We crowd our crypts and valhallas with effigies of men who have won renown in deadly war; one of these days we will give place in parks or capitols to those who have saved life and made life worth the saving.
   And who are these immigrants for whom the world opens its sympathy, these women and babes whom, the passengers on the big French and German and English liners laid in their own staterooms and clothed with their own garments?  They are poor, wretched Russian Jews, fleeing from oppression to flame and storm, yes, to tender care and love, for whom Ellis Island lifts its bans, and charity opens its arms and supplies all their wants.  Deep down in our hearts humanity is one, thank God, and an old Jew could quote a pagan poet to press the lesson that "we are all His children," and so all brothers.

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