Harold Bride was one of those kids who knew what he wanted to be when he grew up: a wireless operator. The youngest of five children, he was shy and soft spoken with an easy sense of humor. The telegraph was the hottest wireless technology at the time, and Bride was a techno geek in the making.
It was expensive to go to telegraphy school, so he worked in the family business until age 20 to earn the money for tuition. In 1910 he started classes, and, to the neighbors’ disgust, built an antenna in the yard so he could practice using Morse code. He finished his training after one year and immediately started a job in London.
In March 1912, Bride received a telegram saying his next posting would be on the Titanic and was sent to Belfast, Ireland for special training. Bride and his boss, Jack Phillips, were placed onboard the ship through the Marconi International Marine Telegraph Company and given junior officer status. The salary was adequate but the adventure quotient was very high.
Two weeks before reporting for the sea trials, Bride and Mabel Ludlow became engaged. He had doubts that she was the one, but she nagged him until he acquiesced, giving her something to brag about while he was at sea.
ADVENTURE AT SEA On April 10, 1912 the Titanic set sail. The wireless broke down on April 13, and it took Bride and Phillips seven hours to diagnose and fix the problem. Ice warnings had been received on April 11 and 12 and delivered to Captain Smith on the bridge. The equipment was repaired in time to receive four additional warnings on the 13th, and Bride delivered the first one to the Captain. Captain’s orders specified that the passenger’s personal messages were the priority, and the three later warnings were ignored.
About 7:30 on the night of April 14, Phillips was manning the telegraph and Bride went to bed. At 11:40 the Titanic struck an iceberg. Bride slept through the collision but woke up at 11:55, entering the work room in his pajamas to check up on his boss. As Bride was preparing to relieve Phillips, the Captain entered, informed the men of the crash and told them to prepare a call for assistance to send on his orders as soon as an inspection was finished.
Ten minutes later the Captain returned and ordered the international call for help be sent. Phillips tapped out CQD (Come-Quick-Distress), the call used prior to S-O-S. The gravity of what happened had not impacted the men yet, and Bride saw some humor in the situation. He suggested Phillips send S-O-S since it was a new call and this might be his only chance to use it. Phillips laughed and changed his message. After the Captain left, the men continued to joke around while they waited for a response.
They got replies from several ships, but the Carpathia was in the closest proximity to the now-sinking vessel. Forgetting he was still in his pajamas, Bride ran to tell the Captain that help was on the way. He saw passengers swarming on the decks trying to figure out what to do. When he returned, Phillips reminded him to get some clothes on. He did, and he brought an overcoat to keep Phillips warm.
The situation got worse fast. Phillips announced that the wireless signal was getting weaker, and finally the Captain came to say that the engine rooms were taking on water. Bride went to his bunk and found his life jacket and put on boots and another coat. While Phillips continued to send messages, Bride secured a lifebelt around him. Phillips dispatched Bride to the deck for a status update of what was happening. Bride helped twelve men lift the last collapsible down to be used to escape.
The Captain walked in while Bride was updating his boss. Captain Smith praised the men for their work and excused them. It had reached the point of every man for himself. Phillips kept sending messages for another ten minutes while Bride collected their personal items. As if things weren’t bad enough, an employee who worked below decks entered the communications room and tried to steal Phillip’s life belt right off him. Bride attacked the man and made sure he was no longer a threat.
SURVIVAL MODE The wireless operators knew it was finally time to go. While the band played “Autumn,” Phillips headed aft, and Bride went on deck and saw people struggling to get the collapsible into the water. He helped push and ended up in the frigid water under the capsized raft. After vigorously swimming 150 feet to get away from the suction of the Titanic, someone pulled Bride up onto the bottom of a raft.
The small surface area of the collapsible was so crowded with survivors that they overlapped on top of each other. Someone suggested that they should pray, and they recited The Lord’s Prayer together. Bride’s feet were painfully injured, but there was nothing he could do. One man died on the raft.
When the Carpathia arrived about 4:00 am, one by one they vacated the life boat and ascended the ladder to the ship. It was then that Bride discovered the dead man was Phillips.
Bride had just enough strength to climb onboard, but he couldn’t walk. One foot was crushed and the other was frostbitten. He was taken immediately to the hospital ward, but a few hours later he was pressed into service again and wheeled into the wireless room of the Carpathia to transmit the names of survivors and personal messages. He ignored all incoming media requests for information and even a communiqué from the president in favor of transmitting the passengers’ notices. He was so caught up in his work that he didn’t realize when they arrived in New York until Guglielmo Marconi came aboard and released him from his duties.
LIFE AFTER NEAR DEATH Bride was still wheelchair bound when he testified in an American inquiry into what happened on that fateful night. He was accused of withholding information on the Carpathia for personal gain, and he had to squelch a rumor that he was taking baseball scores. Bride insisted that he was following the captain’s orders in only dispatching the relevant messages.
Returning to England was not the relief that it could have been. Bride had to relive his Titanic nightmare for a British inquiry and deal with his fiancé. He stalled any wedding plans until after the investigation. On September 25, 1912 he met Lucy Downie which gave him the courage to call off the wedding to Ludlow.
Downie worked in London as a teacher. This time it was love at first sight for Bride, and he took a job as a telegraphist in the city so they could be together. They married in April 1920 and had a daughter one year later.
During World War I Bride served on another ship, and then in 1922 the Brides moved to Scotland in search of a completely different life. They had two children, and Bride worked as a salesman. He was a confirmed geek, though, and operated his own radio as a hobby until he died in 1956.
QUESTION: What is your biggest fear? How do you help yourself when you feel afraid?
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