What happened to the man that Bride and Phillips beat up?

Arun Vajpey

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Apr 21, 2009
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There have been passing mentions of this incident in several accounts without going into specific detail. Obviously, Harold Bride would have known exactly what happened except perhaps the intruder's identity. Since no one else was present and Phillips did not survive, one has to accept Bride's account of the incident, but to what degree I do cannot imagine.

I have often tried to reconstruct the sequence of events but might be off the mark in several ways as this is based solely on accounts of Bride's later reports. It was after Captain Smith had officially released them from duty and so the two wireless operators were by then on their own. It must have been somewhere between 02:10 am and 02:15 am on Monday morning. According to Bride, Phillips was still trying to send out distress calls and was at his desk with his headphones on, while Bride, who had removed hos own headphones, could hear people running about and shouting on the sloping boat deck. By then Bride had put on his own life jacket but the still pre-occupied Phillips had not; reportedly engulfed in admiration at his senior colleagues courage, Bride strapped Phillips own life jacket around the man's shoulders. But if Phillips was seated at his desk at the time still trying to work on the wireless, one assumes that Bride had not fastened Phillips' vest completely.

At around that point Phillips reportedly asked Bride to get their spare money from the inside room and another coat. Bride went in to do so and when he looked out, there was reportedly a stoker who was trying to quietly slip the still pre-occupied Phillips' life jacket off his back (other accounts have that Bride saw Phillips and the stoker scuffling and went to help his colleague). In any case, Bride reportedly said that in a fit of rage at what was going on, he seized "the first thing that he could get hold of" and hit the stoker with it, perhaps several times. At the end of the scuffle the stoker was reportedly lying motionless on the floor of the wireless cabin and in his later 'confessions' Bride reportedly admitted that he might have killed the man. Bride and Phillips cleared out of the wireless room a few moments later, emerging on the port side of the boat deck close to where Lifeboat #4 had been, where Bride reported that he could hear the band still playing ragtime tunes somewhere aft. There was a good deal of noise and confusion with people running in all directions. It was at this point that Phillips and Bride split up, with the former reportedly heading aft towards the rising stern and the latter towards the bow end and eventual survival on top of the overturned Collapsible B lifeboat. As far as I know, no other survivor saw what happened to Jack Phillips afterwards.

Events might have happened exactly as Bride reported them, at at least very close to it. In his reports, Bride appears to have stressed the point that the stoker was a much bigger man than himself but still he, Bride, did not hesitate to attack the intruder. But it seems unlikely to me that even the dedicated Phillips was so distracted that he was allowing the stoker to steal his life jacket and so the more likely scenario is that Phillips and the stoker were already scuffling when Bride went to help. After the man had been silenced, Bride would have known that the intruder would not now be able to survive (irrespective of whether he was still alive or not) and he would have later found out that Phillips did not make it either. That being the case, Bride would have known that there was no real need for him to have reported that incident to anyone at all, since it is highly unlikely that there as any independent witness. The fact that he did report it suggests that it must have been true, or at least very close to the truth.

On the flipside though, the one thing that makes me wonder about Bride's report of that incident is his mention of hearing ragtime music as he and Phillips emerged on the boat deck. Although early reports of the sinking, perhaps with embellishment by media of the time, said that the band were playing right till the very end, modern reconstructions of the final events suggest that the band had stopped playing and dispersed quite some time before the ships final plunge. I doubt very much if they would have had either the ability or inclination to continue to play on the uncomfortably sloping deck while everyone was shouting and trying to save himself or herself. And how could Bride have heard and recognised the tunes amidst all that noise around him?

(On a slightly digressive note, I have always thought that the band and the music that they played that night had a large psychological element. There is no doubt that light music at such stressful times can to some extent help to soothe frayed nerves and so I think that a lot of people were still "hearing" the music in their heads long after the band stopped playing it. This almost certainly would have been the case if the band had played till, say 01:30 and then dispersed; that would explain why so many people, still traumatised by the disaster and unable to think clearly, reported that thy could hear music till the 'very end')
 
Very interesting, Arun. But if I could just add a little thing that would be this : when you said that Phillips and the stoker were already scuffling when Bride came up because it seems unlikely to you that Phillips "was so distract that he was allowing the stoker to steal his life jacket" I have another theory upon that for I have studied psychology at university, and I remember that one of our professor told us that there is a phenomenon in psychology during a catastrophe that makes the brain goes off for everything except the task that you are doing to prevent you from thinking of the almost certain death that you are facing.

This task becomes obsessing for the individual who do it as compulsion : your brain is unable to do or think of something else (like "how to actually save your life"!!!), and I think likely that this phenomenon is the one that Phillips experienced at the time the Titanic was sinking. His obsessive task was to send distress signals, and that was the only thing he was thinking about, and nothing else.

I've read somewhere that on septembre 11, 2001 some persons in the WTC continued to make business on their computer long after the planes had hit the twins towers. If I remembering well my psychology courses, the understanding of this psychological phenomenon first arrived in the 60's or 70's after a plane crash : the plane was seriously endangered, but the pilot became obsessive with only one system and he became unable to do something else to save his flight. The First officer that did survived (captain had not) said in his testimony that it could have been possible for the commandant to save the plane, but when he tried to talk to him, the latter seems like in a bad dream, not fully awake, like someone who walk in his dream, and even if the first officer touch and push him physically to have him reacted, the captain was like a zombi or something of that sort.

I think that this phenomenon was likely the one that Phillips did experienced and it explain also two other facts : first of all when he and Bride left the Marconi Room, and second, the fact that Phillips didn't followed Bride in the Collapsible for he went the other side of the sinking ship : he was still like a zombi and maybe walked right ahead of him until the ocean. If ocean would have been asphalt, he would have walked right back in the U.K without knowing how he would have get there!!!
This phenomenon happened when the brain tries to protect an individual for whom realizing that death is maybe waiting right on the corner would have been too hard to support the shock. It's a protection for mind of a person, just like an allergy is a protection against something your body have find threatening but in fact, the body's reaction (the allergy) will kill you more certainly than the threat will as well. Hope I'm clear enough for you to understand well my point. If it is not, let me know, for English is not my first language.

I have tried to recall the name of this psychological phenomenon, but it's been more than 15 years now that my courses are over, and sometimes our brain decide to make some cleaning of what is not very useful, and I think that mine felt free to take garbages out without my permission... If someone else here could help, he must feel free to do, and if the name of this psychological theory gets back, I will come back here and write it.
 

Arun Vajpey

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I think likely that this phenomenon is the one that Phillips experienced at the time the Titanic was sinking. His obsessive task was to send distress signals, and that was the only thing he was thinking about, and nothing else.

I think that this phenomenon was likely the one that Phillips did experienced and it explain also two other facts : first of all when he and Bride left the Marconi Room, and second, the fact that Phillips didn't followed Bride in the Collapsible for he went the other side of the sinking ship : he was still like a zombi .
I agree to the possibility that Phillips was concentrating so much on sending out messages that he did not notice the interloper till Bride jumped into the fray. All his attention would have been on his machine and the stoker could have succeeded in taking advantage.

But I'm afraid I do not buy the second part quoted above. IMO, Phillips would have had the same instinct for survival as Bride except that the former simply made the wrong choice, assuming that Bride's story is true. Bride, instinctively or otherwise, went towards the dipping bow and eventually ended up in the vicinity of Collapsible B. Phillips on the other hand, might have sought the pseudo-sanctuary of the rising and still dry stern like hundreds of others. In a situation like the wireless operators found themselves in, clear thinking would have been difficult. It took a conscious effort to go towards the sinking end of the ship, which was what Bride did. Phillips' choice was perhaps more "natural" under the circumstances but unfortunately for him, it did not pay off.
 

Ryan Burns

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I hate to say this but I've often wondered if the incident even happened. The Marconi Room was an internal room. What would a stoker be doing in that area of the ship? I mean, I guess I could understand if he was wandering around room to room looking for a lifebelt that was left behind, but to go into a room with other people in it and then attempt to take the lifebelt off another grown man? I have a hard time visualizing that. Everything about the story has always seemed weird to me.
 
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Arun Vajpey

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I hate to say this but I've often wondered if the incident even happened. The Marconi Room was an internal room. What would a stoker be doing in that area of the ship? I mean, I guess I could understand if he was wandering around room to room looking for a lifebelt that was left behind, but to go into a room with other people in it and then attempt to take the lifebelt off another grown man? I have a hard time visualizing that. Everything about the story has always seemed weird to me.
I confess that I have occasionally considered the same line of thought but then given Bride the benefit of doubt. He barely survived himself while Phillips did not. As you say, the Marconi room was an isolated one and whatever happened there so late in the sinking, there would not have been any independent witnesses. Under those circumstances, Bride had no need to explain himself to anyone in any way. He remained on the ship sharing his duty till the end with Phillips and tried to get off almost too late. No one would have questioned or blamed him about his survival and he might have just as easily said nothing.

Now put yourself in the position of the stoker, assuming for a moment that he really existed. If you desperately wanted to survive but needed a life jacket and did not have one, where would you look for one? The stokers' quarters were probably underwater before this man realised that the ship really was going to sink. Maybe he could not find a spare jacket anywhere else and in desperation decided to look in the Marconi room on the off-chance that the operators were too busy to notice him stealing one of their jackets.

Where I doubt Bride's words is when he supposedly claimed that the interloper was trying to slip the jacket off Phillips' back. What is more likely is that Phillips had not yet worn his life-jacket and had left it hanging on his chair or something when the stoker tried to steal it but got caught.
 

Ryan Burns

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Where I doubt Bride's words is when he supposedly claimed that the interloper was trying to slip the jacket off Phillips' back. What is more likely is that Phillips had not yet worn his life-jacket and had left it hanging on his chair or something when the stoker tried to steal it but got caught.
Bingo! That makes much, much more sense. It would quite literally be impossible to take that type of lifebelt off someone without them noticing. You can see how silly that looks when you see movies that portray that scene, such as with The Last Signals at the 27:45 mark

 
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SmileyGirl

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I confess that I have occasionally considered the same line of thought but then given Bride the benefit of doubt. He barely survived himself while Phillips did not. As you say, the Marconi room was an isolated one and whatever happened there so late in the sinking, there would not have been any independent witnesses. Under those circumstances, Bride had no need to explain himself to anyone in any way. He remained on the ship sharing his duty till the end with Phillips and tried to get off almost too late. No one would have questioned or blamed him about his survival and he might have just as easily said nothing.

Now put yourself in the position of the stoker, assuming for a moment that he really existed. If you desperately wanted to survive but needed a life jacket and did not have one, where would you look for one? The stokers' quarters were probably underwater before this man realised that the ship really was going to sink. Maybe he could not find a spare jacket anywhere else and in desperation decided to look in the Marconi room on the off-chance that the operators were too busy to notice him stealing one of their jackets.

Where I doubt Bride's words is when he supposedly claimed that the interloper was trying to slip the jacket off Phillips' back. What is more likely is that Phillips had not yet worn his life-jacket and had left it hanging on his chair or something when the stoker tried to steal it but got caught.
If this incident did happen, was it not something Bride could have been prosecuted for?
 

Arun Vajpey

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By whom? If some independent body had done so on Bride's own 'confession' (and I don't even know if that was possible without 'evidence') he could have claimed that he just hit the man to help his friend - acceptable under the circumstances - and his earlier "might have killed him" comment was a figure of speech. With no one other than Bride - and perhaps not even Bride himself - knowing the identity of the stoker, the latter's family were never the wiser.
 

George Jacub

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I hate to say this but I've often wondered if the incident even happened. The Marconi Room was an internal room. What would a stoker be doing in that area of the ship?
Bride testified in America that all order had collapsed on the ship by this time and people were literally wandering around the officers' cabins and other rooms.

2702. These people that you say were running around were running around these decks, all of them?
- The officers' quarters were situated together with the Marconi cabin, the officers' rooms, and other places, and the people were running around through these cabins. We had a woman in our cabin who had fainted.
2703. A woman in your cabin who had fainted?
- And we were giving her a glass of water there and a chair. We set her down on a chair, which she wanted badly, and then her husband took her away again.

2704. You gave her a glass of water and revived her, and her husband took her away?
- Yes, sir.
 
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SmileyGirl

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By whom? If some independent body had done so on Bride's own 'confession' (and I don't even know if that was possible without 'evidence') he could have claimed that he just hit the man to help his friend - acceptable under the circumstances - and his earlier "might have killed him" comment was a figure of speech. With no one other than Bride - and perhaps not even Bride himself - knowing the identity of the stoker, the latter's family were never the wiser.
Ok thanks for that :)