Today I was researching a number of ships (odd, I know), one of which was the Britannica. This was a third ship built for the White Star Line by Harland and Wolff. She was a sister ship to the Titanic. She had another sister…actually they both had another sister, the Olympic. The Olympic was really finished before the Titanic but, because of the history and the iceberg, the Titanic always seems to come out as the main sibling.
It was while I was researching the Britannica that I came across the amazing Violet Jessop.
Violet was a very attractive stewardess aboard the Titanic. This was at a time when stewardesses were supposed to be dowdy, middle aged women. In fact, when Violet first started applying for jobs, she was having no luck. For reasons known only to her, she decided to try going to an interview with no make up and particularly dowdy clothes. She was hired immediately. It just shows you how things have changed. Or reversed.
So Violet worked her way up to the First Class passengers and proved an amazing asset to her bosses.
By 1910 she was working with the White Star Line, enjoying it immensely. She was on the Olympic when she had her first taste of disaster. The ship was involved in a much reported collision with HMS Hawke. Although both ships were extensively and gapingly holed, they managed to limp back to port.
Shortly after this, and at the urging of her friends, she applied for a stewardess position aboard the Titanic. When she was told she’d be working on the maiden voyage she was, naturally, delighted (with a total lack of hindsight) and sailed accordingly, directly into the iceberg.
Violet was actually asleep when they hit the iceberg. She was woken up by the crash and made her way to the top deck where people were milling about. She was told to climb into a lifeboat, in order to show the female passengers that it was safe. Someone threw her a baby and they were off, to be saved by the Carpathia.
Oddly, the baby’s mother turned up and snatched the child from Violet’s arms without a word of thanks. Most uncivilised behaviour.
Not long after returning, Violet went back to work doing what she loved most. And then war struck. During the First World War, ships were regularly requisitioned by the government and when they spotted the never before used, still wrapped in bubble wrap, Britannic, they grabbed her. She became a hospital ship and carried a whole load of doctors back and forth to wherever they were needed.
Violet, like lot of people, wanted to do her bit and volunteered to serve as a nurse aboard the Britannic. And I have to say, I think she looks pretty good in her uniform.
So, everything is fine aboard the Britannic until they reach the Greek Islands. There was a sudden explosion, ripping a great hole in the side of the ship and she started listing to one side as water flooded in. Unfortunately the nurses had opened all the portholes to let fresh air in for the wounded. This just meant the water could get in easier.
Following the monumental lack of lifeboats on the Titanic, her sister ship had so many more and the crew started lowering them. It was rather unlucky that the boat was listing because the propeller was showing above the water, right where the lifeboats were going to be lowered. The guy winching the lifeboats stopped, suspending them about six feet above the water.
The occupants of the first lifeboat thought something had gone wrong and they managed to manually drop the boat into the sea. The boat went straight into the propeller blade and all the passengers and the boat itself were slashed and smashed.
Meanwhile, Violet was in the other lifeboat and had seen what had happened. Even so, there was some idiots in her boat trying to do the same thing. And the boat crashed into the water and started heading for the giant, scary propeller. Violet (being a dab hand at sinking ships by this stage) wasn’t sticking around to become so much prop-fodder.
She dived over the side of the lifeboat and into the water. Even so, she was still dragged back towards the spinning blade. And by some unbelievable bit of luck, she was sucked through and spat out, completely unharmed. As she rose to the surface, she knocked her head on another lifeboat, almost sending her unconscious but a friendly hand grabbed her and dragged her from the water.
Even this episode didn’t put Violet off. She continued working on ships until she was 63. And then she finally turned her back on the sea, retiring to a thatched cottage in Suffolk. She lived there until 1971 when she died of a heart attack at the age of 84.
Well, I take my hat off to you, Violet Jessop. You were one amazing woman.