Archive for the ‘Trivia’ Category

HAROLD BRIDE (1890 – 1956) Wireless Operator on the Titanic

In adventure, American History, Biography, History, People, People from England, Telegraph Operators, Titanic, Trivia on July 19, 2010 at 9:38 PM

Harold Bride at age 16

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?

© 2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved



In Biography, French History, French-English Diplomacy, History, People, Transvestites, Trivia on July 6, 2010 at 1:27 PM

Engraving of the Chevalier d'Eon Dressed as a Woman

Charles d’Éon’s life was full of deception.  Was he a spy or a diplomat?  Was he a man or a woman?  The answer to both questions is oui.

To all appearances, d’Éon’s childhood was normal.  He was bookish with lots of friends.  He loved languages, excelled at memorization and received a law degree at age 21.  In his first jobs he had the time and opportunity to do what he loved. His uncle got him work in a finance office where he wrote his first book on French government finances.  Then he became a royal censor where he got paid well to read books.

KEEPING SECRETS                King Louis XV created the Secret du Roi (King’s Secret), a network of spies acting outside the purview of the government and accountable directly to the King.  When d’Éon entered politics in his 20s, he joined the Secret, and his first assignment was in Russia as the assistant to the chargé d’affaires for the Foreign Minister. Empress Elizabeth was looking for a private tutor and secretary, but she would only take a woman into her inner circle.  It was believed that d’Éon had been born a girl and forced into the identity of a boy by his parents.  That and his many other skills made him the perfect person to befriend the Empress. D’Éon reluctantly accepted the assignment, living a dual identity. 

During the Seven Years War, d’Éon joined the army to enhance his reputation and advance his career. He was commissioned as captain in the elite brigade, the Dragoons. D’Éon fought in one campaign and sustained wounds in his head and thigh.  His service and sacrifice were rewarded with the Cross of Saint-Louis.  This recognition raised d’Éon to a noble rank giving him the title of Chevalier.

D’Éon proved himself to be a brave and respected soldier, but his skills as a diplomat were needed again.  He was sent to London as a member of a team to negotiate peace with England.  After the treaty was signed, there was an opening for ambassador.  When he was 35 years old, D’Éon was appointed as interim ambassador.

The treaty was a political and financial disaster for France.  King Louis XV, unbeknownst to his ministers, wanted to rectify the situation by invading England, and members of the Secret were tasked with finding ways to facilitate that.  Again d’Éon had a dual role to fulfill, as temporary ambassador officially representing the government and as a clandestine member of the Secret. 

ABUSE OF POWER                      Three months after his appointment, d’Éon’s rising star started falling fast, putting his career and life in jeopardy.  It seems that he took his position and influence a little too seriously.  Since he came from the Burgundy region of France, wine was a passion and a means of influence.  He lavishly entertained with bottles he’d imported to England at the French government’s expense.  One invoice indicates that d’Éon received 2,800 bottles in one shipment. Then he had the audacity to ask his superiors to advance him money as his personal finances were also a mess. D’Éon was quickly becoming more of a liability than an asset.

When the new ambassador arrived in England, d’Éon was to be demoted to Secretary to the Ambassador, a decision that he aggressively fought.  He wrote scathing letters to his superiors and directly confronted the French foreign minister.  His impudence was alarming, and it was feared that the Secret’s mission would be compromised. 

Upon arrival of the new ambassador, the foreign minister ordered d’Éon back to France, twice. Both times d’Éon refused to comply because the order had not come directly from the King.  In retaliation, d’Éon published all his private letters and papers except those concerning the plans of the Secret. This breach of diplomatic etiquette put the French government in a very difficult situation, especially since the British foreign minister refused to respect an order of extradition because d’Éon had not broken any British laws. 

D’Éon came around to the possibility of returning to France provided several specific conditions were met.  The ultimate compromise was that he could remain in London as a private citizen.  He had generated such valuable contacts, however, that he remained an active member of the Secret.

WHAT ARE THE ODDS           For reasons not fully understood, in 1770 rumors about d’Éon’s gender started spreading throughout the business and political societies of London.  One newspaper claimed as fact that d’Éon was a woman. It became such a hot topic that businessmen were placing bets with the odds at 3:2 that d’Éon was a man. 

D’Éon was very upset by this widespread speculation of such a personal matter, and because he refused to reveal his sex, he became increasingly concerned about his security.  He went into hiding for six weeks and then spent much of the next six years at a friend’s country estate.  By now people on both sides of the channel fully believed that d’Éon was a woman who had been dressing as a man, but he figured out how to use that to his advantage.

CLOTHES MAKE THE MAN   D’Éon knew his political career was at a dead end, and he wanted to return to France.  Louis XV had died, and Louis XVI disbanded the Secret, recognizing it and its mission for the bad political strategy that it was.  D’Éon saw the handwriting on the wall and started negotiating with the King for safe return to France, one of his points being that now he wanted to be recognized as a woman. In order to save the French government embarrassment, d’Éon had to justify his female to male transvestism. His back story explained that his mother was a noble and his father had squandered her dowry, sending the family into debt.  Her family would give them a large inheritance if she had a son.  D’Éon was born a girl but was immediately dressed and treated as a boy to fulfill this requirement. In the creation of this mythical background, d’Éon intimated that the cross-dressing position in Empress Elizabeth’s court was fabricated.

An agreement was reached between d’Éon and King Louis XVI allowing d’Éon to retain the military honors he’d achieved as a man. The King insisted, however, that d’Éon dress and act like a woman.  He acquiesced and in 1779 she became the Chevalière d’Éon and returned to her homeland, spending the next six years living with her mom.  During this time she converted from Catholicism to being a devout Christian, putting her faith in Christ and becoming a devotee of Jansenism.

APPEARANCES ARE DECEIVING   In 1785, d’Éon returned to England and moved in with a widow, Mrs. Cole, depending largely on her for financial support. Although her declining health confined her to the apartment, and often her bed, d’Éon wrote her autobiography which was never published.

D’Éon died in 1810.  As Mrs. Cole was preparing the body for visitation, she was stunned to discover that d’Éon was a man.  She had a professor of anatomy, two surgeons, a lawyer and a journalist all examine the body to determine and report on d’Éon’s true gender.  It was concluded that d’Éon was not female or a hermaphrodite, but the he was a male who had lived half of his life as a woman.

Question:  Do you use clothes to express who you are?  How do your clothes reveal your identity?

©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved


Kates, Gary. Monsieur d’Eon Is a Woman. New York: Basic Books, 1995.’Eon

SARAH ROSETTA WAKEMAN (1843 – 1864) Female Soldier in the Civil War

In American History, Biography, Civil War, Female Soldiers, Feminists, History, People, Trivia, U.S. Army, Uncategorized, women on June 28, 2010 at 9:24 PM

Female Soldier in the Civil War

The lyrics to the Four Seasons’ song “Walk like a man. Talk like a man,” would have been good advice for Sarah Rosetta Wakeman.  Since she was a girl, she didn’t come by that naturally.  But learning how to do just that gave her a purpose and an adventure way beyond the family farm in Chenango County, New York.

By the time Wakeman was 17 years old, she had had some schooling, but  it was necessary for her to work as a domestic to help support her eight younger siblings and help her father pay off his debts.  Her future wasn’t looking too bright, so she decided that dressing like a man would increase her options.

When she was 19 she donned her disguise and worked as a coal handler on a barge on the Chenango Canal.  For four trips, she made $20.  At the end of her first trip she met some soldiers who tried to recruit her to sign up with the 153rd Regiment, New York State Volunteers.  She had three more river trips to think about it and decided that the $152 signing bonus for enlisting was too tempting. 

 PRIVATE LIVES                                                                                                            Wakeman changed her first name to Lyons and lied about her age, instantly maturing to 21 years old.  The rest of the information on her regimental descriptive roll was true: five feet tall with a fair complexion, brown hair, blue eyes and the occupation of “boatman.”  Wakeman’s gender was probably accepted at face value because of the cursory physical examination soldiers were given at the time of enlistment, often nothing more than a firm handshake.  Since there were a lot of pre-adolescent boys that edged their way into both the Confederate and Federal forces, it wasn’t unusual to have beardless recruits with higher pitched voices.

In corresponding with her family, Wakeman initially signed her letters “Rosetta,” confident her secret would not be detected.  She described army life and inquired about life back home.  She promised her father she would send money from her $13 a month salary for him to buy food and clothes for the family.  Unfortunately, she had to explain later that she had naively lent it to the first lieutenant and sergeant and received a promissory note in return for the whole amount including interest.  She sheepishly admitted that she had been taken advantage of by these officers and that she had learned her lesson. 

About three months into her military career, Wakeman got the measles and was hospitalized for seven days.  There didn’t seem to be any lasting effects of the disease, and she often expressed how much she enjoyed being a soldier, in contrast to her life on the farm. She had good clothes, enough food and no responsibilities except to handle a gun.

 AN EASY JOB                                                                                                                          In July 1863, the 153rd Regiment moved from Alexandria, Virginia to Washington, D.C.  to help protect the capital against potential riots in connection with the newly instituted draft.  Wakeman appreciated the spacious barracks, the well water for drinking and the salty river water for bathing.  She complained that Colonel Edwin Davis was so strict that the soldiers were hoping to be sent to the front lines, away from his command.

A month later, Wakeman was assigned to guard the prison that housed Rebel prisoners and officers.  With easy duty and a comfortable environment, she felt invincible.  She didn’t believe it was possible for her to die in battle, but if that was God’s will, she would submit to it.  She reminded her parents that she was “as independent as a hog on ice.”

In October, Wakeman reported that her days were filled with drilling exercises: company drill in the morning and battalion drill in the afternoon.  She enjoyed doing them and was proud that she could drill as well as any man in her regiment, and definitely better than the soldier in Company C who fell down, got a bayonet in his leg and “bled like a stuck hog.”

Home was feeling increasingly distant, and Wakeman stopped believing she would ever see her family again.  This spurred a confession that she had sinfully given in to lots of temptations in the army.  She admitted to getting into one fight, and after Stephen Wiley hit her, she gave him three or four good punches in return, putting him in his place.  God’s spirit had since worked in her, she believed, and she prayed that she wouldn’t go astray again.

FIGHTING THE ENEMY                                                                                              With the new year came new orders, and finally the 153rd was going to see some action.  They left Washington on February 18, 1864 and marched to Alexandria, Virginia.  From Alexandria they continued on to New Orleans, finally settling at Camp Franklin in Algiers, Louisiana, just across the Mississippi River. 

Wakeman’s regiment fell under the command of Major General Nathaniel P. Banks.  His mission was to establish a strong Union presence in Texas, and he planned to follow the Red River north to Shreveport, near the Texas border.  An order went out saying that no women (nurses, laundresses, officers’ wives, etc.) would be allowed to accompany the command except by written authority from Headquarters. The commanding officers still had no idea that at least one member of the rank and file was in direct defiance of that order.

Wakeman’s group marched 16 days, over 300 miles, making stops to unload supplies.  When they encountered Confederate forces lying in wait, the two-day Battle of Pleasant Hill ensued.  On the second day, Wakeman was in the front lines under fire for four hours, until the fighting was halted by darkness. She spent the entire night lying on the battle field listening to the cries of the wounded and dying. 

Wakeman’s life was spared, but the Federal troops were still in danger.  On April 21, 1864, General Banks ordered a forced march totaling over 100 miles back to Alexandria with the enemy on their tails.  Two days into the march, Wakeman’s brigade was ordered to lie along the river and wait for the opportunity to attack Confederate forces.  As the enemy came closer and surrounded them, the only way out was to fight. Wakeman’s group charged the enemy and defeated them.  The next morning, the regiment continued back to Alexandria only to get lost in the woods.  Exhausted, they finally arrived there on April 25. 

Wakeman had proven herself a worthy soldier, but her prediction about not coming home came true.  She was admitted to the hospital on May 3 with chronic diarrhea, the most deadly disease of the Civil War.  She was sent to the Marine U.S.A. General Hospital in New Orleans on May 7 but didn’t arrive until May 22.  Thanks to a Rebel attack which destroyed river transportation downstream of Alexandria, access on the Mississippi River was shut off for over a week.  Wakeman was 21 years old when she died one month later on June 19.  There is no record of any hospital staff discovering her real identity, and she was given a soldier’s burial in New Orleans.

QUESTION:  In today’s society, is it easier to be a man or a woman?  Why?

©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved


Wakeman, Sarah Rosetta (Lauren Cook Burgess, ed.).  An Uncommon Soldier: The Civil War Letters of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, alias Pvt. Lyons Wakeman, 153rd Regiment, New York State Volunteers, 1862-1864.  Pasadena, Maryland: The Minerva Center, 1994.