On November 21, 1916, at 8:15 am, the British destroyer the HMS Scourge had received the distress signal from HMHS Britannic. Immediately, her Captain set course for the Kea channel. He sent a request for assistance to the HMS Foxhound, another British destroyer, patrolling in the Gulf of Athens. He also requested the French tugs Polyphemus and Goliath to help rescue survivors.
At 8:28 am, the auxiliary cruiser SS Heroic, which had encountered the Britannic earlier that day, received the signal and reversed its course immediately.
At 8:35 am, the HMS Scourge requested the assistance of the HMS Foxhound, another British destroyer, patrolling in the Gulf of Athens.
Northwest of Korissia on Kea, the sea was littered with debris, corpses and survivors in lifeboats.
Fortunately, as I mentioned before, two lifeboats on HMHS Britannic were motor propelled and equipped with wireless sets for communications. These innovations proved crucial in the rescue of the hundreds of people scattered all over the area of the wreckage. The two motorized lifeboats quickly picked up as many survivors as possible as they traveled faster and were more maneuverable than the vintage non-motorized lifeboats. They transported the wounded to Korissia.
Greek fishermen from Kea were the first to arrive on the scene of the wreckage. They picked up a few people from the water.
Around 10 am, SS Heroic picked up 494 people from the lifeboats and from water.
A few minutes later, HMS Scourge arrived and picked up 339 survivors. The HMS Foxhound arrived at 11:45 am, followed by the HMS Foresight, one of two Forward class scout cruiser of the Royal Navy, at 2 pm.
A total of 1,036 people out of 1,066 on board the HMHS Britannic were saved. Thirty people – nine members of the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) and 21 crew members – lost their lives and 24 people were injured.
Even though HMHS Britannic was the biggest ship lost in the First World War, her sinking was not costly in terms of loss of human life when compared to the sinking of her sister ship RMS Titanic. There were 1,066 people on board, with 1,036 survivors picked up from the sea and lifeboats with the loss of 30 lives chopped by the giant propellers.
After the sinking of HMHS Britannic, Violet Jessop continued to work aboard ocean liners for 38 more years. After the First World War, she left the White Star Line and joined the Red Star Line and then joined the Royal Mail Line again.
She got married in her late thirties. The marriage was brief. In 1950 she retired to Great Ashfield, Suffolk.
Violet Jessop, often, allegorically called “Miss Unsinkable” by many, died of congestive heart failure in 1971 at the age of 83.
The book “Titanic Survivor” contains some passages of Violet Jessop memoir written in 1934, originally named Neptune’s Greenroom. It has been informatively annotated by editor John Maxtone-Graham.
I feel that Arthur John Priest, the lowly stoker in the boiler rooms, truly deserves the name ‘unsinkable‘ rather than Violet Jessop. He survived the following incidents:
- In 1907, the RMS Asturias foundering on its maiden voyage.
- On September 20, 1911, the collision of RMS Olympic with HMS Hawke.
- On April 15, 1912, the sinking of RMS Titanic. He was rescued, probably in lifeboat 15.
- On February 29, 1916, the sinking of SS Alcantara by the German armed merchant cruiser SMS Greif.
- On November 21, 1916, the sinking of RMS Britannic.
- In April 1917, the sinking of SS Donegal. Also, on board that ship was Archie Jewell, the lookout. Priest survived yet again, but Archie Jewell was killed.
John Priest died in Southampton from pneumonia in 1937.
Now, I wonder who the real Jonah was on the three ships: RMS Olympic, RMS Titanic and RMS Britannic. Was it Violet Jessop, the stewardess/nurse, or Arthur John Priest, the fireman/stoker?