Guglielmo Marconi and Harold Bride: Hero, Killer, Traitor, Hero
Marconi Radio Room
Today, the telegraph key and the equipment that powered it are still located in the Titanic’s Marconi Shack and sound room (which stand twenty yards from the bridge, down the port side of the Boat Deck) ‘ so intact that it is possible to read from the dials how, as water began flowing into the room and forced Phillips and Bride to abandon their equipment, one of them had taken pause to shut down the main switch on the D.C. panel. The equipment is a deep-ocean monument to the men who brought rescue ships onto the scene in “only” a few hours, and to the event that created all night radio vigils at sea.
Harold Bride, after his and Phillips’ life-saving use of the S.O.S. signal (the Atlantic’s first use of the signal, and history’s second), could easily have chosen any job he wanted within the Marconi Company.
Instead, he left the company, and left historians with a mystery.
In 1922 Bride was a wireless operator aboard the Cross-Channel Ferry, then living about seventy miles outside of London. 1922 marked the tenth anniversary of Titanic, and it also marked the year Harold Bride disappeared into history.
Then, in 1987, Walter Lord discovered that a man claiming to have been Harold Bride of the Titanic had turned up in a hospital in 1956 and died, some thirty-four years after, as it turned out, he intentionally vanished.
This information came to light after private detective David O. Norris had dined with Lord, about 1985. Being an amateur radio operator, Norris wrote (in a letter to Pellegrino), ‘I asked Lord what had become of Harold Bride. Walter glanced over the top of his glasses and challenged me with, ‘You’re the private detective, David, you should be able to find Harold Bride.'”
The man who entered a hospital in Glasgow, and who died from bronchial cancer in 1956, was indeed Harold Bride. He had sought obscurity as a traveling salesman, and according to Norris, Bride had covered his tracks so expertly that not even his own niece knows for sure exactly what it was he used to sell.
‘I am told,” wrote Norris, ‘that when he returned to England, within a week or two of the Titanic’s sinking, Bride’s hair [started growing in] white’ He remained comfortably unknown in Scotland, according to a niece, working his own amateur radio transmitter, tinkering with antennae, and staying up late at night to talk with people all over the world ‘ I’m certain that many old timers could search their logs and discover, ‘Harold QTH Ashcliffe Dunning, Perthshire, Scotland.’ Little did they know then that they were working one of the most notable wireless operators in history. It appears that Bride never spoke of the Titanic after the original inquiries into her loss. I am advised that his own nieces and nephews were unaware of his place in history until they found news-clippings in a family Bible he’d left behind: The Marconi Company presented Harold Bride with a gold watch. The inscription read: IN RECOGNITION OF HAVING DONE HIS DUTY, AND DONE IT BRAVELY.”
Harold Bride clearly did not want the spotlight of heroism, probably because his friend Jack Phillips shared very little of the spotlight, and possibly also because Phillips carried all of the blame for a man beaten to death in the Marconi Shack (or beaten unconscious and left to drown), just as Titanic’s bridge began dunking under. It appears likely ‘ indeed certain ‘ that Harold Bride carried a burden of guilt for the blame he had put upon Phillips.
The accounts of most Titanic survivors, insofar as face-saving explanations are concerned, generally evolve over time from embellishment or lies toward truth. (As in the case of Spencer V. Silverthorne, whose initial account casts him as a self-described action hero who rescued injured people from exploding boilers, and who afterward happened to find a lifeboat by accident while trying to swim toward an iceberg. Years later, he admitted to having merely stepped into one of the lifeboats as it was being lowered.) Bride’s account appears to be unique, because it begins with the truth, and evolves over the course of weeks into a lie.
It must have weighed heavily on the young Marconi operator: how he had bludgeoned a man and caused his death, and then, knowing that Jack Phillips was dead and could not speak for himself, turned against his defenseless friend, and left him the blame.
On April 18, 1912, the rescue ship Carpathia arrived at Pier 54 in New York. Harold Bride missed the waiting crowds and the commotion that came with them, having spent most of three days working with wireless operator Harold Cottam in the Carpathia’s Marconi Shack.
New York Times reporter Jim Speers accompanied a thirty-eight-year-old physics Nobel laureate aboard the Carpathia. The physicist was none other than Guglielmo Marconi. What Speers and Marconi saw when they entered the room left them both shaken. Harold Bride was still at the Carpathia’s key, transcribing and telegraphing a pile of messages from survivors even as many survivors departed the rescue ship, into the waiting arms of family and friends. Bride looked thin and sickly, and he did not move. Only the blue electric spark, dancing under his fingers, indicated that he was alive. His feet had suffered circulation-destroying frost-bite, while he and a little knot of survivors clung to the overturned keel of Boat B. His legs were wrapped in bandages and towels, and were propped on a chair. The skin had drawn back so tightly over Bride’s temples that the bones of his cheeks and brow protruded hideously, making deep shadows under his eyes. The eyes themselves had a spiritual look, according to Speers, a look such as people have in a religious painting. His hands looked as if they wanted to shake, yet his Morse was swift and unerring.
‘That’s hardly worth sending now, boy,” said the machine’s inventor.
Bride suddenly looked up and gasped, ‘Marconi!”
The Nobel laureate shook his hand warmly, taking special care not to squeeze.
‘Mr. Marconi,” Bride said. ‘Phillips is dead. He stood his ground until the crisis had passed, and then he collapsed, I guess.”
EXCERPT FROM HAROLD BRIDE’S APRIL 18, 1912 REPORT TO JIM SPEERS OF THE NEW YORK TIMES: [When we reached the Carpathia,] one man was dead. I passed him and went to the ladder, although my feet pained terribly. The dead man was Phillips. He had died on the raft from exposure to cold, I guess’
[In the beginning of Titanic’s sinking, we] joked at the distress call’ The Captain came back. ‘What message are you sending?” he asked. ‘C.Q.D.,” Phillips replied. The humor of the situation appealed to me. I cut in with a little remark that made us all laugh, including the Captain: ‘Send S.O.S.,” I said. ‘It’s the new call, and it may be your last chance to send it.” ‘ We said lots of funny things to each other. [Message received by Titanic’s sister ship Olympic: ‘Looks like it will be fish for breakfast for us tomorrow, or vice-versa”]’ By that time we could observe a distinct list forward’ [Near the last minutes of the Titanic,] 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 Captain [Smith] had released [us]. The water was then coming into our cabin.
While he worked something happened I hate to tell about. I was back in my room getting Phillips’ money for him, and as I looked out the door I saw a stoker, or somebody from below decks, leaning over from behind. He was too busy to notice what the man was doing. The man was slipping the life-belt off Phillips’ back.
And he was a big man, too. As you can see, I am very small. I don’t know what it was I got hold of [to hit him with]. I remembered in a flash the way Phillips had clung on ‘ how I had had to fix that life-belt into place [on his back] because he was too busy to do it.
I knew that the man from below decks had his own life-belt [stored below decks] and should have known where to get it.
I suddenly felt a passion not to let that man die a decent sailor’s death. I wished he might have stretched a rope or walked a plank. I did my duty. I hope I finished him [, killed him]. I don’t know. We left him on the floor of the wireless room, and he was not moving.
Nine days later, in his report to the Marconi Company, Harold Bride wrote with regret about the man he had killed, and the tale of the killing changed. Instead of Harold Bride, in a moment of rage, picking up a heavy object and caving in the man’s head, the surviving wireless operator described ‘a general scrimmage with the three of us.” The Marconi report was recorded in Harold Bride’s own handwriting, on lined paper. The copy provided for Walter Lord (sometime prior to 1955) was printed by an early-style photocopier, on unusually thick paper (almost as thick as cardboard) ‘ which has turned dark brown with age, and is easily crumbled. It was addressed care of W-R Cross. Esq, from 294 West 92nd Street, New York, New York, and was dated April 27, 1912. [Bracketed NOTES are Pellegrino and Lord annotations, 1995 ‘ 1996]:
Dear Sir: Hearing of the conflicting reports concerning the loss of the ‘Titanic,” which are being spread around, I think it is advisable for me to give you, to the best of my ability a true account of the disaster, so that the Marconi Company may be in full possession of all the facts.
I regret to say that my memory fails me, with regard to the time of the occurrence [11:40 PM impact; 2:20 AM disappearance of the stern], or of any of the preceding incidents but otherwise I am sure of all my statements.
‘[NOTE: Harold Bride had gone to bed in an adjoining room, sometime before the 11:40 PM impact.]
The night before the disaster, Mr. Phillips and myself had had a deal of trouble owing to the leads from the secondary of the transformer, having burnt through, inside the casing and making contact with certain iron bolts holding the woodwork and frame together, thereby earthing [or grounding] the power to a great extent.
After binding these leads with rubber tape we once more had the apparatus in perfect working order but not before we had put in nearly six hours work, Mr. Phillips being of the opinion that, in the first place it was the Condensers which had broken, and these we had had out and examined before locating the damage in the transformer.
[Note: Had the timing of events been a little different, or had Phillips and Bride been less adept at their diagnosis and repairs, Titanic might have entered the ice field with its transmitter still under repair, and no one would have heard the distress call. This was the last good news aboard the Titanic, that day.]
Owing to this trouble I had promised to relieve Mr. Phillips on the following night at midnight instead of the usual time, ‘two-o-clock,” as he seemed very tired.
During Sunday afternoon, towards five-o-clock, I was called by the ‘Californian” (call letters M.W.L.) with an ice report, but I did not immediately answer, as I was writing up the Abstracts, and also it used to take us some considerable time to start up the motor and Alternator, it not being advisable to leave them working as the Alternator was liable to run hot.
I however acknowledged the receipt of the report when M.W.L. [the Californian] transmitted it [later] to the ‘Baltic,” and took it myself to the Officer on watch on the Bridge.
Neither Phillips or I, to my knowledge, received any further ice reports. [NOTE: Other testimony occasionally contradicts Bride on this point.]
About nine pm I turned in, and woke on my own accord just about midnight, relieving Mr. Phillips, who had just finished sending a large batch of telegrams to Cape Race.
Mr. Phillips told me that apparently we had struck something, as previous to my turning out he had felt the ship tremble and stop, and expressed an opinion that we should have to return to Belfast.
I took over the Telephones from him and he was preparing to retire when Captain Smith entered the cabin and told us to get assistance immediately. [Time: Probably 12:05 ‘ 12:10 AM.]
Mr. Phillips then resumed the phones, after asking the Captain if he should use the regulation distress call CQD.
The Captain said ‘yes” and Mr. Phillips started in with CQD, having obtained the latitude and longitude of the ‘Titanic” [from Captain Smith].
The ‘Frankfurt” was the first to answer. We gave him the ship’s position which he acknowledged by ‘OK, stdby [standing by].
[NOTE: By the time Harold Bride penned this report, on April 27, 1912, Germany had filed a complaint about the treatment one of its ships received when assistance was offered. The transcribed Frankfurt-Titanic transmissions, in accordance with the complaint, went as follows. Frankfurt: ‘What is the Matter?” Titanic: ‘You fool. We’re busy here. Stand by.” Carpathia: ‘Should I tell my captain?” Titanic: ‘Yes, at once.” Frankfurt: ‘The Frankfurt wishes to know what is the matter. We are 10 hours away.” Titanic: ‘You are jamming my equipment fool. Standby and keep out.”]
The second answer was from the ‘Carpathia,” who immediately responded with his position and informed us, he was coming to our assistance as fast as possible.
These communications I reported myself to the Captain, who was, when I found him, engaged in superintending the filling and lowering of the lifeboats.
The noise of escaping steam directly over our cabin caused a deal of trouble to Mr. Phillips in reading the replies to our distress call, and this I also reported to Captain Smith who by some means managed to get it abated.
[NOTE: Stack venting shut down between Bride’s visit to the Bridge and, at 12:45 AM, Boat #7 becoming the first boat to leave the ship. Bride was asked to enter and assist #7, but declined and joined Phillips instead.]
The ‘Olympic” next answered our call but as far as I know Mr. Phillips did not go to much trouble with her as we now realized the awful state of affairs, the ship listing heavily to port and forward.
The Captain [at approximately 1:40 ‘ 1:50 AM] also came in and told us, she was sinking fast and would not last longer than half an hour.
Mr. Phillips then went outside to see how things were progressing and meanwhile I established communication with the ‘Baltic,” telling him we were in urgent need of assistance.
This I reported to Mr. Phillips on his return but suggested M.B.C. was too far away to be of any use.
Mr. Phillips told me the forward well deck was under water, and we got our life-belts out, and tied them on each other, after putting on additional clothing.
[Quartermaster Rowe, in the American Inquiry, paragraph 19687, reported that the forward well deck had flooded between 1:45 and 2:00 AM.]
Again, Mr. Phillips called CQD and SOS and for nearly five minutes got no reply, and then both the ‘Carpathia” and the ‘Frankfurt” called. Just at this moment the Captain came into the cabin and said, You can do nothing more, look out for yourselves.
Mr. Phillips again resumed the phones and after listening for a few seconds jumped up and fairly screamed ‘The _____ fool, he says, ‘What’s up old man?'”
I asked who? Mr. Phillips replied the ‘Frankfurt,” and at that time it seemed perfectly clear to us that the ‘Frankfurt’s” operator had taken no notice or had misunderstood our first call for help.
Mr. Phillips’ reply to this was, ‘You fool, stand by and keep out.”
Undoubtedly both Mr. Phillips and I were under a great strain at this time but though the committee inquiring into the facts on this side are inclined to Censor that reply, I am still of the opinion that Mr. Phillips was justified in sending it.
Leaving Mr. Phillips operating I went to our sleeping cabin and got all our money together [NOTE: Salary 30 dollars per month plus tips for Phillips, 20 dollars per month plus tips for Bride], returning to find a Fireman or Coal Trimmer gently relieving Mr. Phillips of his lifebelt.
There immediately followed a general scrimmage with the three of us.
I regret to say, we left too hurriedly in the end to take the man in question with us, and without doubt he sank with the ship in the Marconi Cabin as we left him.
I had up to this time kept the P.V. entered up intending when we left the ship, to tear out the lot and each to take a copy, but now we could hear the water washing over the boat deck, and Mr. Phillips said ‘Come, let’s clear out.”
We had nearly the whole time been in possession of full power from the ship’s Dynamo, though toward the end the lights sank [in brightness; dimmed to an orange-red glow], and we were ready to stand by with emergency apparatus and candles, but there was no necessity to use them.
Leaving the cabin we climbed on top of the [deck] houses comprising the officers’ quarters, and our own [quarters], and here I saw the last of Phillips for he disappeared walking aft.
I now assisted in pushing off a collapsible lifeboat [Boat B, Lightoller’s boat], which was on the port side of the forward funnel, onto the boat deck [from the roof]. Just as the boat fell, I noticed Captain Smith dive from the Bridge into the sea. Then followed a general scramble down to the boat deck but no sooner had we got there than the sea washed over. I managed to catch hold of the boat we had previously forced [?] up and was swept overboard with her.
I then experienced the most exciting three or four hours anyone could reasonably wish for and was in due course, with the rest of the survivors, picked up by the ‘Carpathia.”
As you have probably heard I got on the collapsible boat a second time, which was as I had left it, upturned. I called Phillips several times but got no response, but [learned] later from several sources, that he was on this boat, and expired, even before we were picked off by the ‘Titanic’s” [other life] boats.
I am told Fright [shock] and Exposure was the cause of his death.
As far as I can find out, he was taken on board the ‘Carpathia” and buried at sea from her, though for some reason the bodies of those who died were not [all] identified before burial from the ‘Carpathia,” and so I cannot vouch for the truth of this.
After a short stay in the hospital of the ‘Carpathia,” I was asked to assist Mr. Cottam the operator who seemed fairly worn out with work.
Hundreds of telegrams from survivors were waiting to go as soon as we could get communication with some shore stations.
Regarding the working of the ‘Carpathia:
The list of survivors, Mr. Cottam told me had been sent to the ‘Minnewaska,” and the ‘Olympic.”
When we established communications with the various coast stations all of which had heavy traffic for us in some cases running into hundreds of messages, we told them we could only accept service and urgent messages as we knew the remainder would be press and messages inquiring after someone on the ‘Titanic.”””
It is easy to see we might have spent hours receiving messages inquiring after some survivors, while we had messages waiting from that survivor for transmission.
News was not withheld by Mr. Cottam or myself with the idea of making money, but because as far as I know the Captain of the ‘Carpathia” was advising Mr. Cottam to get off the survivors’ traffic first.
Quite seventy five percent of this got off.
On arrival in New York, Mr. Marconi came on board with a reporter of the New York Times. Also Mr. Lammis was present and I received $500 for my story which both Mr. Marconi and Mr. Lammis authorized me to tell. [NOTE: in both instances, this name ‘Lammis” is mostly illegible and may not be properly spelled here.]”””””””’
I have forgotten to mention that the U.S. Govt. sent out a ship, as they said to assist us, named the ‘Chester.”
Several messages passed between the Commander of that vessel and the ‘Carpathia” and resulted in the Captain telling us to transmit the names of the [surviving] third class passengers to the ‘Chester.”
[NOTE: Up to this point, only the lists of 1st and 2nd class survivors had been transmitted, for families waiting ashore. 3rd class was a relatively short list: 188, out of 2200 souls aboard.]
Though it has since been reported that the most expert operator of the U.S. Navy was on board the ‘Chester” I had to repeat those names, nearly three hundred in all, several times to him, taking up nearly a couple of hours of valuable time, though I sent them in the first place slowly and carefully.
I am now staying with relatives and waiting orders from the Marconi Company here, who have been most considerate and kind, buying me much needed clothes and looking after me generally.
I am glad to say I can now walk around. The sprain in my left foot being much better, though my right foot remains numbed from the exposure and cold, but causes me no pain or inconvenience whatever.
I greatly appreciate the cable the company so kindly sent me and thank them for the same.
Trusting this report will be satisfactory until my return to England.
I beg to remain ‘
Yours faithfully ‘ Harold S. Bride.
A month after his report to Mr. Marconi ” in which the incident in the Marconi Shack had evolved from a direct killing by Harold Bride (a killing he was seemingly’ proud of), to ‘a general scrimmage with the three of us” ‘ Bride’s story underwent further evolution, and shifted blame for the deadly beating directly to Jack Phillips. The following excerpt is from Examiner Lewis’ questioning of Harold Bride at the British Inquiry into the loss of the Titanic, page 393 (16773 ‘ 16787), dated May 23, 1912:
EXAMINER LEWIS: When you returned to the Marconi room on the last occasion did anything unusual occur?
HAROLD BRIDE: We had a lady inside there who was in a fainting condition, sitting down in a chair.
EXAMINER LEWIS: Have you made a statement at any time that you found Mr. Phillips being attacked or his lifebelt being removed?
HAROLD BRIDE: Someone was taking the lifebelt off Phillips when I left the cabin [into an adjoining room].
EXAMINER LEWIS: Do I understand you to state that you thought it was a stoker who was taking the lifebelt off Mr. Phillips?
HAROLD BRIDE: I presumed from the appearance of the man that he was someone in that line of business.
EXAMINER LEWIS: This would have been a few minutes before you [both] left the room?
HAROLD BRIDE: Yes.
EXAMINER LEWIS: Was he dressed in stoker’s gear?
HAROLD BRIDE: Yes.
EXAMINER LEWIS: Do I understand that you hit him, or what?
HAROLD BRIDE: Well, we stopped him from taking the lifebelt off.
EXAMINER LEWIS: ‘We,” you say?
HAROLD BRIDE: Yes.
EXAMINER LEWIS: I understand the report was that Mr. Phillips was engaged at this time with his work?
HAROLD BRIDE: Yes.
EXAMINER LEWIS: Sending messages; and that you forced this man away?
HAROLD BRIDE: Well, I forced the man away and it attracted Mr. Phillips’ attention, and he came and assisted me.
EXAMINER LEWIS: Is your recollection of the matter very clear?
HAROLD BRIDE: It is very clear.
EXAMINER LEWIS: Would you know the man if you saw him?
HAROLD BRIDE: I am not likely to see him.
EXAMINER LEWIS: You are supposed to have hit him?
HAROLD BRIDE: Well, I held him and Mr. Phillips hit him.
EXAMINER LEWIS: Mr. Phillips hit him?
HAROLD BRIDE: Yes.
EXAMINER LEWIS: That is the difference between what you say and what I read. You are absolutely positive on this question?
HAROLD BRIDE: I am positive on it, yes.
The next window on the Marconi Shack, the Hill document, was typed in 1956 by Arnold Robert, a wealthy friend of the Red Star liner Lapland’s Marconi operator. The Lapland was one of several ships that had warned the Titanic that a field of icebergs lay in her path. Robert, himself a Marconi operator, sailed with Captain Arthur Rostron of the Carpathia during World War I. Hill was a personal friend of Titanic Marconi operator Jack Phillips, and Arnold Robert’s letter provides some insights into the events of that night, and into the lives of seafaring Marconi operators. It is addressed to Walter Lord, care of Henry Holt and Company (publisher of A Night to Remember), from Mr. Robert’s home at 11 Mayflower Terrace, Newton Highlands, Massachusetts, and it is dated February 7, 1956:
Dear Mr. Lord: I have just finished reading your book, ‘A Night to Remember,” and have found it most interesting and, in my opinion, a very fair chronology of this terrible disaster.
At the risk of boring you, I wish to submit the following personal recollections, for very few people were more impressed or gave as much study to this sad event as I did.
During my boyhood and early youth, I crossed the ocean many times via the French Line, American Line, White Star and principally the old Red Star line out of Antwerp. In fact, in 1899, I crossed on the New York ‘ which had a narrow escape from being drawn into the Titanic as the latter was pulling out of her dock at Southampton, as you have duly recorded.
In 1911, following my junior year at Harvard, I sailed from Antwerp in August in the Lapland, then the flagship of the Red Star Line and one of the finest ships of her day ‘ 18 knots, built by Harland and Wolff in 1909. We had hardly left the Scheldt when I made the acquaintance of Ernest Hill, Radio Operator, and found him such a charming and interesting fellow that I spent most of the crossing in the radio shack and had an opportunity to observe how he operated and to read many of the incoming messages, some of them very silly, such as from the Lusitania, ‘What are you drinking tonight? We are drinking champagne.” In those days [before the Titanic changed the rules]’ Hill was the only operator on the Lapland, so that the ship was out of communication with the world when he was eating or sleeping. He was a real veteran of the radio, having started in 1903 or 1904 and having received much publicity when the Cymric, out of Liverpool for Boston, rescued the survivors of the burning freighter Cuthbert in mid-Atlantic circa 1904. This was the first time that a rescue at sea had been reported to shore by means of this wonderful new invention’ During the winter of 1911 ‘ 1912, Hill and I corresponded regularly and along about March, 1912, he informed me that on their next trip they would be in New York with the new Titanic and he would enjoy showing me over the ship as Chief Operator Phillips was one of his closest friends. I eagerly accepted, as this happened to be the week of our spring vacation.
On Monday, April 15, I went to the ball game, Boston vs. the Giants’ and [I] was startled as I came out of the old Walpole Street grounds to hear the newsboys shouting ‘Extra ‘ Extra ‘ White Star Liner Titanic Strikes Iceberg.” The details at that time were very hazy and contradictory.
The next morning the bad news was out. Nevertheless, I decided to keep my appointment with Hill and landed in New York on Friday morning [April 18] via the Fall River Line. Going straight up to Pier 61, I walked directly on board of the Lapland and immediately noticed a motley group of men in makeshift uniforms gathered on the forward deck. I thought they appeared so[m]ber and downcast and then I noticed the White Star insignia. I found myself walking unknowingly amid the survivors of the Titanic’s crew who had just landed from the Carpathia that very morning’ It was distinctly a funeral atmosphere and when I met Hill I found him very depressed. He told me the following story:
Two weeks [earlier] he had dinner in London with Phillips and [they] made a date to meet again in New York [after the maiden voyage]. On Saturday, April 6, they [of the Lapland] sailed from Antwerp and on the following Thursday [April 11] ran through a heavy ice-field which had been reported to Hill by several liners. The Titanic, meanwhile, was only a day out of Southampton and too far away to pick up [the ice warning] directly. Captain Doxrud of the Lapland, Commodore of the Red Star fleet, was a close personal friend of Captain Smith and requested Hill to give him [Smith] the position of the ice. This message had to be relayed through several ships, but in due time came a thank you from Smith to Doxrud.
He did not communicate again with the Titanic and Sunday evening they arrived off Fire Island too late to come up the harbor. Hill was busy late into the evening and after getting a ‘good-night” from the ships with which he had talked, started to undress, keeping his head phones on all the while. Suddenly from somewhere came the message, ‘White Star Liner Titanic has struck iceberg and sending out CQD.” Refusing to believe it, he asked to have it repeated. As soon as he received a confirmation he rushed headlong down to the deck to the Captain’s quarters, bolted in half-dressed and woke Doxrud out of a sound sleep, something quite irregular. Doxrud was completely incredulous and said, ‘I don’t believe it, I won’t believe it.” ‘Sir, I have it confirmed,” said Hill. ‘Nonsense,” replied Doxrud. ‘I still refuse to believe it.” And that was that. They were [hundreds of] miles away and in no position to help in any event. Only the next day, when tugs came out [to the Lapland] from New York with N.Y. papers and Doxrud saw the black headlines, was he convinced that it had happened.
Next [on my April 18 visit to the Lapland’s Marconi Shack], a group of the Lapland’s engineers came into Hill’s room and related the full story of the disaster as they had just heard it from the lips of an engineer on the Titanic.
[NOTE: This was either a non-engineer mistakenly identified as an engineer, or it was the Titanic’s sole engineering survivor Alfred White, who was hauled from the water onto Boat A and who saw other people in the water beaten away with oars by male passengers, and who also reported seeing Third Class passengers locked behind gates and praying quietly below decks.]
I sat there spellbound and wish that I could remember the details. What impressed me most, however, was the repeated testimony that some of the acts of heroism on the part of prominent First Class passengers as reported in the press were just pure fabrications. In some cases they were driven away from the [apparently still-in-davits] lifeboats by force. It’s probably just as well that I don’t remember actual names.
The next day the Lapland sailed, making the Titanic’s return voyage via Cherbourg and Southampton carrying back the survivors of the crew and many of the passengers originally booked for the Titanic.’ It was the saddest sailing I have ever witnessed’ Six years later, in March 1918, I sailed off to war on the Mauretania, making her first trip to Europe with American troops. As the Regimental Interpreter, I had entr’e to everything that was going on. As the ship left New York Harbor, the Captain gathered all of the American officers in the library and began, ‘Gentlemen, I am not anticipating trouble, but in the event of an emergency, I shall expect every one of you to do his utmost.” The speaker was Captain Arthur Rostron [of the rescue ship Carpathia]’ With kindest regards and the hope that this may be of passing interest to you, I am, sincerely, Arnold A. Robert.
The next set of Marconi Shack documents arrived with a letter from Gioia Marconi Bragga, dated August 10, 1995:
Dear Dr. Pellegrino:
It was nice talking to you over the phone [RE: a query from the younger Marconi about robot reconnaissance of the Marconi Shack, and the equipment’s 1995 condition]. I think you’ll find my father’s letter to my mother after the sinking of the Titanic fascinating. He was so obviously distressed by the magnitude of the disaster that he spotted his notepaper with ink (although his note was written in pencil) and noted the wrong date at the top of the page. My mother’s name was Beatrice but he calls her Buzzel – – his endearing nickname for her.
I also am sending Chapter 5 from my sister Degna’s [memoir] in its entirety. If you use some of it, please acknowledge the source. All best. Sincerely, Gioia Marconi Braga, Chairperson, Marconi International Fellowship.
The first of two Marconi accounts is marked, just as Gioia Marconi described, with the wrong date (16th April 1902). It was written on Holland House letterhead, 5th Avenue and 30th Street, New York City, on Tuesday, April 16, 1912, a day after the Titanic foundered and a day before Marconi found out that one of the ship’s’ wireless operators, Harold Bride, had survived:
I can’t write more than a line or two to say that this appalling disaster of the Titanic (on which as you know I was to sail) will force me to stay here for two or three days longer.
I’ve witnessed the most harrowing scenes of frantic people coming here to me, and to the officers of the Company to influence and beg us to find out if there might not be some hope for their relatives.
Lots of people know ‘ Captain Smith and the other officers, the two wireless operators, have gone down ‘ but although only a few were saved everyone seems so very grateful for ‘wireless.” I can’t go about New York without being mobbed and [illegible]. Worse than Italy ‘
‘Buzzel my own darling ‘ love me always. I love you. X to the children. G.
The second Marconi account, ‘My Father, Marconi,” was written by Degna Marconi, sent by her sister Gioia in August 1995:
What we youngsters enjoyed about Eaglehurst, besides our pony cart and the sheltered, pebbly beach, was the tower. This was a curious and entertaining eighteenth century architectural folly, a narrow three-story structure’ crowned with a round turret surmounted by the inevitable battlements and a flag’ The tower stood on the lawn above the water’s edge and my mother climbed up it with me on the morning of April 10, 1912, to watch the Titanic sail by. I was only three and a half years old and yet I still recall how tight she held my hand and I sensed that she was sad. When I was older I knew why. She wished she were on board.
She and Father were invited by the White Star Line to be guests on the maiden voyage of the Titanic but their plans went awry. Father switched his passage to the Lusitania, which departed three days earlier, because he had a mountain of paperwork to clear away and he knew that the public stenographer on the Lusitania was quick and competent’ Mother expected to follow on the Titanic and Father, his correspondence dispatched, planned to meet her in New York for a short vacation.
Then Giulio spoiled everything by coming down with one of those alarming baby fevers which may be a prelude to anything, or nothing. She cabled that she had to postpone her trip and settle down to watch over her youngest and to face another of those endless separations that so disrupted her marriage’ Father, his work cleared up, docked in New York just in time to hear that a wireless message had been received at Cape Race which might indicate a disaster at sea’ The New York Times promptly wirelessed the Titanic’s Captain, Edward J. Smith, master for all White Star maiden voyages, who was going to retire after this one, and got no reply.
A period of total confusion ensued’ The full horror was only comprehended when the Carpathia came up New York Harbor through the rain on Thursday night.
As soon as her gangplank went down, Father stepped out of the immense and silent crowd at Pier 54 and, with police clearing the way, was one of the first [with Mr. Speers of the New York Times] to go aboard to interview the wireless men: Carpathia’s Thomas Cottam and Titanic’s second wireless officer, Harold Bride. Her first wireless officer, John George Phillips, was dead.
Aboard the Titanic on the night of April 14, Jack Phillips’s duty with the earphones should have gone on until two the next morning but it had been a long, exhausting day and Bride, who was sleeping on the other side of the wireless cabin ‘ the bunks separated from the office by a green curtain ‘ had decided to get up and relieve him earlier. Not long before, Phillips had been warned of icebergs by the Californian, a ship in the vicinity’ A minute after Bride put on the headphones, Captain Smith stuck his head in the wireless cabin door to tell the men that the ship had struck an iceberg. They were to stand by while an inspection was made to see ‘what it has done to us” but were to send no message until he told them to.
The Captain was back in a few minutes, commanding: ‘Send the call for assistance.”
Harold Thomas Cottam, aboard the Carpathia, took down the first message: ‘Come at once, we’ve struck a berg. It’s CQD, OM. CQD ‘ Come quick, Danger.”
Harold Bride remembered, as Phillips pounded out the CQDs (-.-./–.-/-..), that the old distress signal was being replaced with the far easier-to-send letters SOS (‘/—/’) and suggested that Phillips use them. It was also the first time that signal was ever put on the air.
The Carpathia log reads: ‘Heard Titanic calling ‘SOS’ and ‘CQD’ and ten minutes afterward, ‘Course altered.'” ‘ At 1:45 Phillips wired Cottam of the Carpathia: Come as quickly as possible, OM; engine room filling up to the boilers’ Phillips continued to send, in spite of the fading power. The Carpathia noted: ‘Signals very blurred and end abruptly'” A few minutes after two o’clock the Virginian heard two Vs ‘ the last call that was picked up’ At 8:20 in the morning, after Bride was hauled aboard the Carpathia, he passed out.
When he came to, he went to work as soon as he could stand on his frozen feet. Thomas Cottam was close to collapse himself’ As Marconi came down the gangplank after his long interview, he was bowed with grief but’ aboard, one of the survivors had said to him: ‘I wish you had been there in the early hours of the morning to hear the gratitude that went out to you.”
Not everyone felt gratitude. The public now remembered how’ it had been told, on the basis of wireless messages, that the Titanic was safe [and had not actually been sunk, and was being towed to Halifax with ‘all saved”]. Marconi defended himself and his invention with a show of temper altogether foreign to his ordinary public demeanor.
‘Good gracious,” he fumed, ‘hasn’t wireless done enough in this instance to free it from complaints? If you can prove that one of our operators either sent or gave out that message, I’ll take my hat off to you. It is you journalists who are responsible for the confused and unreliable rumors about the Titanic, not wireless.
‘This sort of thing happened before there was any wireless. Look at the confused and false reports that circulated about the Spanish-American war. Yet there was no wireless in operation then. Here is John Smith, who happens to have a wireless outfit of his own. He gets what he thinks is a flash from the Titanic or some other ship, and he reads it as best he can. Then he sends word to the newspapers that he has word from the disaster. He gives it out and the papers print it. It may be entirely wrong or it may be partly correct; but how is anyone to know.”
‘Now it is perfectly simple to understand why there should have been the long wait between the first wireless message telling of the collision and the dispatch telling of the Titanic’s sinking. What happened was this: The Titanic struck an iceberg. Immediately the ship’s wireless sent out word and it [the distress call, was relayed until] it reached land. The wireless kept working until it could not operate longer; the ship had gone down.
‘Then came the long silence. The Carpathia reached the scene but could send no word ashore. Her wireless was too weak. Her wireless was too weak. All she could do was to keep on flashing until the Olympic, which had also got the Titanic’s call, got within range. Then the Olympic, with her more powerful apparatus, relayed to land what the Carpathia sent. Hence, until the Olympic got near enough to receive the Carpathia’s waves there was no means of communicating with land after the Titanic sank. Whatever messages came during that interval certainly would not have been very reliable.
‘I myself sent a long message to the Carpathia and was unable to get a reply.”
It sickened him that wireless operators should be under attack in such an hour. Young Jack Phillips, the boy from Godalming, who earned $30 a month, had stuck by his post after Captain Smith relieved him of responsibility, as had twenty-two-year old Bride (his pay was $20) and Cottam had worked himself beyond endurance. For what? To be abused by the papers?
My father Marconi was proud of them but far from satisfied with himself. Many lives had been saved, and he thanked God. Many more should have been’ The Carpathia had found the wreckage and the survivors of the Titanic 34 miles from the position she had reported. [Had she not found a flare-equipped lifeboat directly in her path, she’d have steamed right past them.] Marconi conceived the idea of wireless lighthouses on shore to prevent such mortal mistakes thereafter: ‘By means of a wireless wave, which will be used exclusively for this kind of work, we are going to give him (the ship’s skipper) his sense of direction. It is merely a matter of triangulation. The operator tunes in the wireless lighthouse at his right and then the one on his left and where the two bearing lines cross that is the exact location.”‘
Mr. Marconi’s ‘wireless lighthouse navigation system” was directly ancestral to the 21st century’s global positioning satellite system.
The Marconi documents arrived shortly after the French-American expeditions, led by George Tulloch, provided the first photographic evidence that the Titanic’s Marconi apparatus was still mounted in place and reasonably intact. Part of the transmitter was revealed hanging from its brackets, by the deep-ocean robot Robin (named after the daughter of Isaac Asimov, creator of science fiction’s I, Robot series). Six years later, during an expedition led by explorer/engineer James Cameron, the machinery was filmed in detail by the robot Jake (named after one half of the Blues Brothers team). In an ultimate, ironic reversal of 1912, a family member amongst’ the crew of a research vessel at the Titanic found himself cut off from New York and trying to learn, on September 11, 2001,’ the fats of a loved one trapped in the World Trade Center Twin Towers (in whose shadows the old White Star Line telegraph office had long ago been converted to a store belonging to an electronics retailer named Radio Shack).
On August 31, 1995, a thank you letter ‘ C. Pellegrino to Gioia Marconi Braga ” read: ‘Very ‘ very ‘ many thanks for the fascinating letter and excerpt concerning your father, whose first practical demonstration of what wireless technology could really do and whose struggle against incredible criticism (to build that relay station at Halifax) ultimately [ranked him amongst] the heroes of April 15, 1912′ Now that his apparatus has been photographed intact in the [Titanic’s] Marconi Shack’ I will try to get you, as soon as possible, photos. I leave for France next week, in fact, to work on the materials recovered from the wreck. Yours sincerely, Charles Pellegrino”
Posted August, 2004