Lesson #363: The French Navy’s Final Morse Message

I was reading xkcd’s post from Wednesday this morning, and it mentioned that when the French Navy stopped using Morse Code in 1997, its last message was, “Calling all. This is our last cry before our eternal silence.” Now, Randall Munroe, who draws xkcd (which is genius, by the way), is a very smart guy, but I was wary, probably for the first time ever reading one of his comics, that the information given was actually true. Because that seems rather existential for a Morse Code message. 

I needn’t have worried.

Turns out, it’s not fiction. Until 1999, when it was replaced with the Global Maritime Distress Safety System, Morse Code was the international standard for maritime distress. Knowing the changeover was coming, the world’s Navys started phasing out the use of Morse Code. And, sure enough, on 31 January, 1997, the French Navy’s last broadcast was what you read above.* The US Navy ended its use of Morse Code on 12 July, 1999 with the message, “What hath God wrought,” which is exactly what Samuel Morse’s first message was in 1844. The UK Navy ceased the use of Morse Code on New Year’s Eve 1997.

You can read more here and here.

*See page 10 of Mark Mason’s The Importance of Being Trivial: In Search of the Perfect Fact.” Technically speaking, it likely said, “Appelait tous. C’est notre dernier cri avant notre silence éternel”, but I can’t find any information to verify that except for a cached French Wiki page and a random YouTube video. The current French Wiki page on Morse Code makes no reference at all.



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