The story of Titanic’s two wireless operators and their valiant attempts to try to summon rescue to the ship in its final hours is one of the most dramatic amongst the crew stories. Jack Phillips from Surrey and his junior, 22 year old Harold Bride from London stayed at their posts even after Captain Smith
had discharged them from their duties in an attempt to contact any ship in the area which could come to Titanic’s aid. Of the two, Bride was the lucky one. He helped to offload Collapsible lifeboat B from the boat deck and was dragged underwater in the process. He managed to reach the surface of the water and to board the lifeboat.
The Bride brothers visit Titanic's birthplace
In the summer of 2011, two brothers, Bob and Paul Bride, both now living in the Southern States of America, decided to take a vacation in Ireland, to visit the main cities and scenic areas. But there was a more important reason for their trip. It gave them the chance to visit Belfast and the birthplace of the Titanic. The brothers wanted to strengthen the link with their ancestor, Harold Bride, and see where he had boarded the ship on its first journey as far as Southampton.
Bob says, 'Brother Paul was six years old, I was ten when I remember our father asking if we knew that we had a very important great uncle, who had become quite famous as the Marconi operator aboard the Titanic. He told us of the world famous tragedy but like most children, we never really grasped the significance of that event or our connection and now, of course, we wished we had asked all those questions which would connect the dots!'
The old headquarters of Harland and Wolff - 'frozen in time'
The Bride brothers made sure to include the city of Belfast on their Irish trip so that they could see where Titanic was designed and built. Even though Harold Bride was born and brought up in London, the brothers wanted to understand more about Titanic and the world’s fascination with it.
Their visit to the old headquarters building of Harland and Wolff was not what they had imagined. 'I was profoundly moved and surprised. I had imagined tourist enhancements, walls freshly painted, complicated displays, sophisticated lighting. Instead I found the tragedy intensified because someone had the good sense not to engage any of those embellishments,' says Bob Bride.
'Instead, what we found was yesterday, frozen in time; a clock stopped on the shadows of a story that should never have been told. It seemed abandoned suddenly, as if those who worked there simply went home one night and never came back. Closing my eyes, I imagine the animated buzz of draftsmen unrolling sketches and detailed drawings on parchment, in this room with many tables and many talented and skilled men. It must have been the most wonderful room to work in.'
By a quirk of fate, Bob followed his great uncle into a similar, though short-lived profession. 'I was nineteen and in art school in New York and the Korean War was looming in on the future of all young men of draft age, so when the army offered a two year contract instead of the usual three years, I joined. I was bright enough to be eligible to be trained as a cryptographer but dumb enough to have no idea what cryptography was all about and because it sounded something like photography, I jumped right in. When I discovered it was about coding and decoding messages, I panicked and subsequently failed my courses in typing and teletype! That's the bad news. The good news is that out of a graduation class of 576, only twelve men were not sent to Korea and we were all cryptographers. I served at the Headquarters of the 1st Infantry Division in Wurzburg, Germany and was part of the NATO forces at that time, 1953-54.'
Bob Bride said he was surprised to find out what a vibrant, modern European city Belfast
has become. He says that like so many Americans with Irish ancestry (the family has Irish roots from other relatives) many are not really sure which part of the island their ancestors came from.
'Belfast unexpectedly blended a sophisticated European ennui with the laid back charm of its Irish origin and its delightful, friendly inhabitants. What a surprise to find a lunchtime concert at the Ulster Hall in the city centre,' says Bob.
Paul Bride found himself practically face to face with his great uncle’s image when he attended a performance of 'Titanic, the Musical' near his home town in North Carolina. 'The character of Harold Bride is strongly represented in dialogue and songs: "Fare-thee-well", "The Proposal/ The Night Was Alive", "We'll Meet Tomorrow" and "The Foundering"'. Paul says this portrayal of Bride brought home to him just how important the role of the radio operators had been.
'The quintessential hero'
It has to be understood that Bride and Phillips worked for Marconi, not for the White Star Line. 'Our great uncle Harold Bride was the quintessential hero: brave, dilligent in the performance of his duties and willing to die, if need be, rather than abandon ship earlier as he well may have done. In the New York Times, there appeared an illustration captioned "Two Marconi Men Worked to the Last". This illustration, based on Bride's own account, appeared in that edition, April 28, 1912. Bride said he fixed a lifebelt onto Phillips while the latter continued to send out wireless messages about the Titanic distress.'
After giving his testimony to the Titanic inquiry, Harold Bride returned to England and worked as a telegrapher during World War One. His Titanic fame did not sit comfortably with him and he moved his family to Scotland where he became a salesman. He died in 1956 at the age of 66.