Belfast Telegraph

Irish nurse Violet Jessop survived both Titanic and Britannic sinking

By Allan Preston

One hundred years ago today a nurse who was rescued from the Titanic made a second miraculous escape from the sinking of the tragic liner's sister ship, Britannic.

Violet Jessop was 28 years-old when the Britannic struck a German mine on the Aegean sea off the coast of Greece.

As the ship sunk, she said she only survived a blow to the head from the ship's propellers because of her thick auburn hair.

"I leapt into the water but was sucked under the ship's keel which struck my head," she said.

"I escaped, but years later when I went to my doctor because of a lot of headaches, he discovered I had once sustained a fracture of the skull."

The wartime hospital ship was the last Olympic class liner to be built in the Harland & Wolff shipyards in Belfast, and many had dubbed the vessel 'Titanic 2'.

Born in Argentina to Irish immigrant parents, Violet grew up to become a stewardess for the White Star Line.

As a taste of things to come, Violet experienced a sea collision at sea on board another Harland & Wolff liner, the Olympic, in 1911 when it crashed into a British naval ship, HMS Hawke.

The following year her friends had convinced her that working on the Titanic would be a "wonderful experience" - although she had reservations about the weather on the North Atlantic route and rumours of the demanding passengers that were on board.

After working a 17-hour day on the Titanic, she said in her memoirs she was "comfortably drowsy" in her bunk when the ship struck the iceberg.

"I was ordered up on deck," she said.

"Calmly, passengers strolled about. I stood at the bulkhead with the other stewardesses, watching the women cling to their husbands before being put into the boats with their children. Some time after, a ship's officer ordered us into the boat, first to show some women it was safe. As the boat was being lowered the officer called: 'Here, Miss Jessop. Look after this baby.' And a bundle was dropped on to my lap."

Eight hours later when the Titanic was at the bottom of the Atlantic, she was one of 710 passengers rescued by the Carpathia.

"I was still clutching the baby against my hard cork lifebelt I was wearing when a woman leapt at me and grabbed the baby, and rushed off with it," she recalled.

When the First World War started in 1914, Violet chose to return to the sea, working as a nurse for the British Red Cross.

On November 21, 1916, when the Britannic shook after hitting the German mine Violet was terrified as she stood in the ship's pantry holding a teapot.

More than 1,000 people were aboard the Britannic, although it had 44 lifeboats - unlike the Titanic which had just 20.

Violet believed she would be safe when she climbed into a nearly empty lifeboat but was gripped by terror when she saw her boat was being dragged back to the ship's propellers towards "a scene of slaughter".

The blades were "mincing up everything near them - men, boats and everything were one ghastly whirl," she said.

Jumping into the sea Violet began to sink when she was hit on the head by the starboard propeller, the injury that caused her headaches in later life.

She was eventually rescued by the Royal Navy, but 30 men had been killed by the propellers. Despite her double trauma at sea, Violet continued to work as a ship stewardess until 1950 and lived to the age of 83.

Unlike the crumbling remains of the Titanic, the Britannic remains well preserved at the bottom of the Aegean sea.

Recently plans have been unveiled by a Greek diving school to convert the Britannic into an under water theme park for divers keen to witness the historic vessel for themselves.

Belfast Telegraph

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