Harold Bride - Titanic Wireless Operator
A Titanic wireless operator, Harold Bride, being carried ashore from Carpathia. He jumped into the sea and was rescued, but his feet were badly frozen. Sinking of the Titanic (1912) p. 49. GGA Image ID # 102d3cbe8e
One of the two wireless operators on the “Titanic,” pictured as he was carried ashore from the “Carpathia,” One of the last men to leave the ship, he jumped into the sea and floated until rescued. His feet were frozen when he was taken into a lifeboat, and they became wedged between the slats of the boat, adding to his injury. Yet on board the “Carpathia” he helped send many wireless messages. “Jack" Phillips, the “Titanic’s” chief wireless operator, perished.
The Story of the "Titanic" Wireless
The Experiences of Harold Bride, Surviving Member of the Ill-Fated "Titanic" Wireless Staff.
The Carpathia, the Cunard liner carrying the survivors from the wreck of the Titanic reached New York on the evening of April 18. The Titanic, after collision with an iceberg, had foundered on the morning of Monday, April 15, with a loss of 1,595 persons. Just 745 were rescued, including 210 of the officers and crew of the stricken ship.
To the credit of the wireless and the heroes manipulating the apparatus much must be written down. The "C. Q. D." and "S. O. S." flashed from the Titanic was caught up by the operator of the Carpathia, outward bound for Naples.
Captain Rostron immediately put about and after steaming all night under forced pressure arrived in time to pick up the boats, but not until the pride of the White Star Line had foundered.
When the Carpathia reached New York, William Marconi, to whose genius much of the significant development in wireless is due, was the guest in New York of John Bottomley, manager of the American Marconi Company. In company with a representative of the New York Times, Mr. Marconi visited the Carpathia upon its arrival at New York, and to them, Harold Bride, the surviving member of the wireless staff of the Titanic, related his thrilling experience, which appeared in the Times.
"In the first place," said Bride, "the public should not blame anybody because more wireless messages about the disaster to the Titanic did not reach the shore from the Carpathia.
At that time, I positively refused to send press dispatches because of the sheer bulk of personal messages with touching words of grief was so vast. The wireless operators aboard the Chester got all they asked for.
"When I was dragged aboard the Carpathia, I went to the hospital at first. I stayed there for ten hours. Then somebody brought word that the Carpathia's wireless operator was 'getting queer' from work.
"They asked me if I could go up and help. I could not walk. Both my feet were broken or something, I don't know what. I went up on crutches with somebody helping me.
"I took the key, and I never left the wireless cabin after that. Our meals were brought to us. We kept the wireless working all the time.
"To begin at the beginning, I joined the Titanic at Belfast. I was born at Nunhead, England, 22 years ago, and joined the Marconi forces last July. I first worked on the Haverford, and then on the Lusitania. I joined the Titanic at Belfast.
"I didn't have much to do aboard the Titanic except to relieve Phillips from midnight until some time in the morning when he should be through sleeping.
On the night of the accident, I was not sending but was asleep. I was due to be up and relieve Phillips earlier than usual. And that reminds me—if it hadn't been for a lucky thing, we never could have sent any call for help.
"The lucky thing was that the wireless broke down early enough for us to fix it before the accident. We noticed something wrong on Sunday and Phillips, and I worked seven hours to find it. We found a 'secretary' burned out, at last, and repaired it just a few hours before the iceberg was struck."
Bride told of waking to relieve Phillips, chief operator, who had been standing watch, when Captain Smith told them to get ready to send the call for assistance, how at first they joked over the matter while flashing out the international call; how the confusion increased; how the ship commenced to settle, and the call became more insistent. He told of the Carpathia taking them up and of its putting about and heading for their location.
"Our Captain had left us at this time, and Phillips told me to run and tell him what the Carpathia had answered. I did so, and I went through an awful mass of people to his cabin. The decks were full of scrambling men and women. I saw no fighting, but I heard tell of it.
"I came back and heard Phillips giving the Carpathia fuller directions. Phillips told me to put on my clothes. Until that moment I forgot that I was not dressed.
"I went to my cabin and dressed. I brought an overcoat to Phillips. It was frigid. I slipped the overcoat upon him while he worked.
"Every few minutes Phillips would send me to the Captain with little messages. They were merely telling how the Carpathia was coming our way and gave her speed.
"I noticed as I came back from one trip that they were putting off women and children in lifeboats. I noticed that the list forward was increasing.
"Phillips told me the wireless was growing weaker. The Captain came and told us our engine rooms were taking water and that the dynamos might not last much longer. We sent that word to the Carpathia.
"I went out on the deck and looked around. The water was pretty close up to the boat deck. There was a great scramble aft, and how poor Phillips worked through it, I don't know.
"He was a brave man. I learned to love him that night, and I suddenly felt for him a great reverence to see him standing there sticking to his work while everybody else was racing about. I will never live to forget the work of Phillips for the last awful fifteen minutes.
"Then came the Captain's voice: 'Men, you have done your full duty. You can do *io more. Abandon your cabin. Now it's every man for himself. You look out for yourselves. I release you. That's the way of it at this kind of time. Every man for himself.'
"I looked out. The boat deck was awash. Phillips clung on sending and sending. He clung on for about ten minutes or maybe fifteen minutes after the Captain had released him. The water was then coming into our cabin."
A wave carried away the collapsible boat he had helped to unlimber, and as it swept past him, Bride grabbed an oarlock and was dragged along. He was in this boat when it overturned, and then he and his companions were picked up by another—a full lifeboat.
His feet were jammed under a stanchion, smashed and frozen. Finally, the Carpathia came up, and they were dragged aboard. One man was dead. It was Phillips. Worn out by his vigil, he had been washed off the ship, picked up, and died from exposure as help arrived.
"I felt somebody at my feet and felt the warmth of a jolt of liquor. Somebody got me under the arms. Then I was hustled down below to the hospital.
"After that, I never was out of the wireless room, so [ don't know what happened among the passengers. I just worked the wireless. The splutter never died down. I knew it soothed the hurt and felt like a tie to the world of friends and home.
"How could I then take news queries? Sometimes I let a newspaper ask a question and get a long string of stuff asking for full particulars about everything. Whenever I started to take such a message I thought of the poor people waiting for their messages to go— hoping for answers to them.
"The way the band kept playing was a noble thing. I heard it first while still, we were working wireless when there was a ragtime tune for us, and the last I saw of the band, when I was floating out in the sea with my life belt on, it was still on deck playing 'Autumn.' How they ever did it, I cannot imagine.
"That and the way Phillips kept sending after the Captain told him his life was his own, and to look out for himself, are two things that stand out in my mind over all the rest."
The Titanic Disaster
Wireless telegraphers who figured in this greatest of all maritime disasters on Sunday night, April 14, nobly upheld the traditions of a half-century in the telegraph craft, recorded in wars, pestilences, and disasters on land and sea. One of these, John G. Phillips, the senior operator on the Titanic, after flashing the thrilling distress calls of the sea, "CQD" and "SOS," remained at his key until the icy waters of the ocean were creeping about his legs.
He was there in his wireless cabin working heroically to save the lives of all, while J. Bruce Ismay, president of the International Mercantile Marine Co., the owners of the White Star Line, was sneaking off to safety in a boat loaded with women and children. He was there ten to fifteen minutes after. Captain Smith had released the men in these words:
"Men, you have done your duty. You can do no more. Abandon your cabin. Now it's every man for himself. You look out for yourselves; I release you."
When the Titanic went down Phillips somehow managed to get on a raft but died from exposure and cold in those agonizing hours of suffering endured by the survivors until the arrival of the Carpathia.
Harold Bride was the assistant wireless operator and survived the disaster. He told his story in the New York Times of April 19. Bride, too, remained until the last, carrying messages from Phillips to the captain and assisting in getting off the lifeboats. He and Phillips seem to have gotten on the same raft.
Mr. Bride was washed off the steamer and clambered onto a life raft. He was crippled by a man who sat on his legs for a long time. "I did not have the heart to ask the man to move," said Bride. "I didn't care what happened. I just lay and gasped when I could.
At last, the Carpathia was alongside, and the people were being taken up a rope ladder. Our boat drew near, and one by one the men were taken off of it. One man was dead. I passed him and went up to the ladder, although my feet pained terribly. The dead man was Phillips."
Mr. Bride was then placed in the hospital of the Carpathia where he remained until nearly night. He was then told that H. T. Cottam, the Marconi operator on the Carpathia was getting "queer" from the long time he had been on duty and the exciting events Mr. Cottam had passed through and asked if he could not relieve him.
Cottam had been on continuous duty from early Sunday morning until Monday evening and was thoroughly exhausted. He had been up until 2:30 am the previous night and until 3 am the night before that. "I had planned to get to bed early that (Sunday) night, and it was only a streak of luck that I got the message at all."
Mr. Bride then took charge of the wireless cabin on the Carpathia and never left the room until the boat reached New York. He was at the key while the U. S. scout ship Chester was trying to establish communication by the direction of the president of the United States.
Mr. Bride lays the inability of the USS Chester to get a satisfactory response to the incompetence of the U. S. navy operators. "The wireless operators on the Chester got all they asked for.
They were wretched operators. They knew American Morse but not Continental Morse sufficiently to be worthwhile. They taxed our endurance to the limit. I had to cut them out, at last, they were so insufferably slow and went ahead with our messages of grief to relatives.
"If he had been a decent operator," said Bride, evidently referring to the man he was working with, "I could have worked with him longer, but he got so terribly on my nerves with his insufferable incompetence."
A committee of the United States Senate called both Bride and Cottam before it in an endeavor to explain the so-called "bottling up" of information. From the facts developed it is apparent that Cottam and Bride were acting directly under the instructions of the Marconi Company.
The committee has not yet made its report but will unquestionably recommend a drastic change in existing wireless conditions—among other things the elimination of amateur wireless interference.
J. G. Phillips, the senior wireless operator on the Titanic who lost his life, was an Englishman 24 years of age. He had been in the employ of the Marconi Company as an operator for about five years and went to the new vessel from the steamship Oceanic.
Mr. Phillips' wireless service had taken him into many parts of the world. He was formerly the Marconi man on Mr. James Gordon Bennett's yacht. Entering the trans-Atlantic service, he was assigned to the Oceanic. Before going on the Bennett yacht, Mr. Phillips had served on a Peninsular and Oriental steamship running to the Orient.
Referring to Phillip's work on the Titanic during the exciting moments following the fatal collision with the iceberg, the New York Times says: "The wireless operator seemed absolutely cool and clear-headed, his sending throughout being steady and perfectly formed, and the judgment used by him was of the best." Phillips was a native of Godalming, England, and learned telegraphy in Godalming postoffice. In March 1906, he joined the Marconi School at Liverpool and became one of the most expert wireless operators.
Mr. Harold Bride, the second wireless operator on the ill-fated steamer, is 22 years of age and was born at Nunhead, England. He joined the Marconi service in July 1911, working first on the liner Haverford and afterward going to the Lusitania of the Cunard Line.
He joined the Titanic at Belfast. Ireland, when she left her builders' hands, to sail from Southampton on her first trip to New York, a voyage she never finished. On arriving at New York on the Carpathia, he was carried ashore by two men on account of injuries to his legs and feet during his trying experience on the life raft.
Harold Thomas Cottam, the wireless operator on the Carpathia, was born in Nottinghamshire, England 21 years ago. At the age of 17, he learned telegraphy in Clapham, London, and receive a diploma in eleven months. He has worked on several steamers, and this eventful trip on the Carpathia was his first on that boat.
Berger Introduces Wireless Ownership Bill.—That the Titanic disaster has demonstrated the need for government-owned wireless is the belief of Victor Berger, who has introduced a bill in the house providing for the nationalization of radio-telegraphic systems.
Berger declares that practically all of the chaos and demoralization in the handling of wireless which was evidenced in the recent disaster would not have occurred had these systems been absolutely under the control of the Federal government.
In support of his bill, Berger issued a statement to the press in which he points out that Commissioner Eugene T. Chamberlain, of the Bureau of Navigation, and Lieut. D. W. Todd, of the Navy Coast Signal Service, has recently gone on record in favor of government ownership of wireless.
The bill provides for the appointment of a commission of three experts to appraise the real value of the wireless property and inventions and report the same to the secretary of the Department of Commerce and Labor. Congress is then to make the necessary appropriation for the purchase of these properties.
It is also provided in this measure that a Bureau of Wireless Telegraphs be created, within and subordinate to the Department of Commerce and Labor.
Require Two Operators.—The Senate has passed a bill requiring two or more wireless operators on every ocean-going vessel carrying 100 people, whether passengers or crew, an operator to be on duty at all times, and further requiring that the wireless apparatus be capable of transmitting and receiving messages from a radius of at least 100 miles. The bill was passed without discussion or a dissenting vote and is to go into effect on July 1, 1912.
For Safety of Life at Sea.—Senator Ashurst of Arizona has introduced a bill which requires steamships and steam vessels leaving ports of the United States to provide adequate life-saving apparatus and safeguards against accidents.
"The Story of the 'Titanic' Wireless," in Electrical Review and Western Electrician, Vol. 60, No, 17, p, 816.
"The Titanic Disaster," in The Commerical Telegraphers' Journal: The Official Publication of the Commercial Telegraphs' Union of America, Chicago, Vol. X, No. 5, May 1912, p. 153-154.