John George "Jack" Philips was born on 11 April 1887 and lived with his parents and two sisters above a drapers shop in Farncome High Street near Godalming in Surrey. After leaving Godalming Grammar School he passed the Civil Service examinations and began work as a telegraphist at the local post office. He left there in March 1906 to attend the Marconi Company's wireless telegraphy training school at Seaforth Barracks in Liverpool.
After finishing his training Philips was posted as Junior Wireless Operator on board the RMS "Teutonic" of the White Star Line in August 1906 and for the next two years served on a number of liners including the "Lusitania", "Mauretania", "Campania" and "Oceanic".
In 1908 he was transfered to the Marconi Transatlantic station at Clifden on the Irish coast. Here he worked as an operator transmitting and receiving messages from the Marconi station at Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. This was the first commercial Transatlantic wireless operation and here Jack would undoubedly have come into contact with Guglielmo Marconi.
After leaving Clifden in 1911 Philips returned to sea and in March 1912 was sent to Belfast to take up the post of Senior Operator on the new "Titanic", then being fitted-out at the Harland & Wolfe yards. He and his colleague Harold Bride installed the new wireless equipment, which was the most powerful and up-to-date of any then in use at sea. The "Titanic" left Belfast on 2 April following her trials, arriving at Southampton at Midnight on the 3rd. For the next week work on the ship was finished and provisions were taken on in preparation for her maiden voyage to New York on 10 April 1912.
The voyage for Philips and Bride was a busy one as many passengers wanted to send private messages to land and as the "Titanic's" station was so powerful she was used as a relay station by many other vessels. As the ship neared Newfoundland a number of ice warnings were also received advising of much ice directly ahead of the ship. On the evening of the 14th the liner "Californian" attempted to send a rather informal ice message to "Titanic". Unfortunatley this interrupted Philips' transmission with the Cape Race land station and was abruptly cut off by him.
Shortly after the "Titanic" struck the iceberg, Capt. Edward Smith entered the wireless cabin and instructed Philips and Bride to be ready to send a distress call. Returning a few moments later he gave them the order and Philips immediatley sent out "CQD", one of the accepted calls of distress. Only later did Philips send "SOS", following a half-serious remark from Bride that it may be "your only chance to send it". Phillips stayed at his post almost until the ship foundered, and after he had been released by Capt. Smith. His last faint signals were heard by the "Virginian" about three minutes before the ship went under.
Harold Bride survived the sinking but Philips was lost, although it is unclear if he actually went down with the ship or died on one of the partially submerged lifeboats.
The post cards in the album are mostly scenes of the cities Philips visited on his many voyages and include New York, Montreal, Quebec, Washington DC, Portland, Marseille, Naples, Port Said, Mombasa, Durban, Smyrna, Constantinople, Zanzibar and Hamburg. There are also a few cards from Liverpool, Southampton, Belfast and Clifden.
The cards were sent to Jack's younger sister Elsie, who was possibly handicapped in some way. Many are addressed to her at school. One of the earliest cards is of the Statue of Liberty and Jack writes "One of the first sights as you enter N.Y. + Brooklyn bridge etc. will send more next time...you musn't squabble over em. Love Jack". As they are cards and not letters the messages are short and give very little detail of his work, the cards themselves being the main purpose. It is probable he wrote more lengthy letters as well. Much of the time his brief messages are about the weather ("Very bright weather but awfully cold fairly biting, the ink freezes as you write (Liar) Love Jack").
There are seventeen cards of various liners of which the last two are the "Titanic" and the most poignant. The first is a stern view of the ship's launch at Belfast. It is postmarked Belfast March, but the date is incomplete; the message reads "Very busy working late. Hope to leave Monday + arrive So'ton Wednesday afternoon. Hope you quite OK. Heard from Ethel yesterday. Love Jack". The second card is of the ship at Southampton and is postmarked Southampton April 6; the message reads "Thanks very much for your letter. Having glorious weather, went to Cowes yesterday. Will write later before we sail. Love All Jack".