Leroy, Miss Berthe
Passenger: 1st Class - Maid to Mrs. Mahala Douglas
9 Aug 1884
Hersin-Coupigny, Pas-de-Calais, France
3 Jul 1972
Hersin-Coupigny, Pas-de-Calais, France
At the age of 19 Berthe left her small town for a job in Paris and in the beginning of 1910 she was asked to join the staff of Mrs. Mahala Douglas, wife of Mr. Walter Donald Douglas as her travelling companion. They travelled widely across various continents.
In April 1912 they were on a trip across Europe and Mr. Douglas had decided he wanted to celebrate his birthday in the US and so they saught the first available tickets for passage home. The party boarded the Titanic at Cherbourg after buying tickets at the White Star Line Paris office.
She sent a postcard to her mother from Queenstown, "Dear Mother, rest assured, I am the happiest on this beautiful boat and I would like to have you visit this wonderful ship."
Berthe had wonderful memories of her brief time onboard. A whirlwind of evening parties, gala dinners and events in the honour of various passengers. She shared a first class cabin with Augustine Serraplan, who was personal maid to Mrs. Lucile Carter. She described everything as simply beautiful until the shout "Everybody on deck" shattered the illusion.
Berthe recalled that she heard the impact of the collision, which woke her from her sleep, but thought it was a rumble of a storm. Augustine was reading and neither were concerned. There were multiple knocks at the door of their cabin with the order to leave ship but Berthe confessed in an interview in 1966 that she dismissed this as a joke being performed by a man on the ship that had some affection for her.
Later, she noticed the ship was tilting forward and as the man persisted at her door, she put a dressing gown over her nightgown and hurried out. She had just one slipper as she could not find the other. The corridors were deserted and unlit and she navigated by reading the brass cabin numbers glinting in the dark. She hoped to find her employers on deck and was one of the last passengers to leave the ship, onboard the penultimute lifeboat, number 2. In the dark she did not realise her employer Mrs. Douglas was also onboard.
Berthe stated she never heard the band perform "Nearer my God to thee".
Lifeboat 2 was the first to be met by Carpathia a little after 4am. The experience led to Berthe contracting severe pneumonia and she took six weeks to recover.
In 1919 Berthe was in Boston seeking musicians to hire for a party. In the crowd she spotted a face she knew from her childhood in France, Gaston Bourlard. She recruited him for the party and they were married in 1928. Gaston became Butler to Mrs. Douglas.
Berthe continued to travel without event in the rest of her life, although in a letter to her brother, Samuel, when sailing on the Lusitania she admitted to "feeling a little bit anguished sometimes." She narrowly escaped disaster once agian inher life after running out of a burning hotel in Florida.
She remianed in the employ of Mrs. Douglas, divided between Minnesota and Pasadena. She met many famous names as guests of her employer, including Walt Disney. Berthe sometimes returned to France, but became an American citizen on July 14th 1942. Mrs. Douglas passed away in 1945.
Berthe and Gaston retired to Santa Barbara, California. Gaston passed away in 1955. Berthe returned France to visit family during the summer on 1964 and decided to setlte her affiars and return to France permananently in 1964. As she got older she was in frail health but she stayed close to her family and in April 1966 she did an interview commitng her testimony of the events on April 1912.
In the first half of 1967 she suffered a severe heart attack but she recovered and eventually passed away in 1972, on American Independence day. Despite having lived almost a decade in France, she kept her American nationality to the end.
Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
Primary source : Encyclopaedia Titanica