Violet Jessop was a stewardess and a nurse who survived the tragic accidents with the Titanic and the Britannic. She also survived a collision with another ship aboard the Olympic.

Early life

Violet Constance Jessop was the eldest child of Irish immigrants William and Katherine Jessop. William and Katherine had 9 children, of which 6 survived and reached adulthood. As a child, Violet became very ill. She probably had tuberculosis, a disease with a high mortality rate at that time. The doctors didn’t think she would survive, but she pulled through anyway.

When Violet was 16 years old, her father died due to complications from surgery. After this, the family moved to England. Her mother worked there as a stewardess, Violet went to school and looked after the children when her mum was away.

But when her mother became ill, things needed to change. Violet applied for stewardess, as her mother before her. This however, was not a simple task. Most stewardesses at the time were middle-aged women. Employers didn’t want to hire Violet because of her good looks and her young age (21), believing this could cause problems with the crew and the passengers. Being a resourceful woman, Violet overcame this problem by not putting on make-up and and wearing old clothes and such. Her job interviews went a lot smoother and she was hired by the “Royal Mail Line”. The first ship she served on was the Orinoco in 1908.

The Olympic collision

Violet started working on the RMS Olympic in 1910. On 20 September 1911, the Olympic had a collision with a British warship, the HMS Hawke. The Hawke was designed to sink ships by ramming into them. There were no fatalities because of the collision, and both ships managed to limp back to port despite suffering heavy damage.

Olympic
White Star Line R.M.S. ‘Olympic’ by Paul Townsend, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

The sinking of the Titanic

Titanic
Deep Ocean Expeditions by Roderick Eime, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Violet became a stewardess on the RMS Titanic on 10 April 1912. The White Star hired her to serve the VIP passengers aboard the ship. On 14 April 1912, the Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean, transforming the “unsinkable ship” into a modern day legend.

Violet was ordered to show the non-English speaking passengers on deck what to do. Later on, she was placed in lifeboat 16. When she took place in the lifeboat, she was handed a baby to care for.

The survivors, which included Violet, were rescued the next morning by the Carpathia. When she boarded the Carpathia, the baby she had with her was taken away by another woman. Violet thought this was the baby’s mother and gave it no more thought.

The Britannic explosion

In 1914, the first Word War broke out and Violet served for the red cross as a nurse during the war. On 21 November, she was aboard the HMHS Britannic. The Britannic was a sister ship to the Olympic and the Titanic, and was now converted to a hospital ship.

Violet Jessop
Violet Jessop as a nurse aboard the HMHS Britannic

Whilst the Britannic was sailing in the Aegean Sea, the ship sank due to an explosion of unknown origin. Some experts say the ship hit a German mine, others say she was struck by a German torpedo. No conclusive evidence has ever been found, so the exact cause is still a mystery.

Violet managed to get on board a lifeboat. But the Britannic’s propellers was sucking lifeboats under the stern, and Violet had to jump out of the boat to escape. Because of this, she suffered head injury, but she survived the ordeal.

Later life and death

Shortly after the war, Violet quit her work at the White Star Line and started working for Red Star Line. During her time at Red Star, she did 2 cruises around the world with the line’s biggest cruise ship, the Belgenland.

She closed her career at the Royal Mail Line, and retired at the age of 61. She led a quite life before passing away on 5 May 1971 because of congestive heart failure, aged 84.

One strange thing did happen though. Shortly after retiring, she got a phone call from someone asking her if she saved a baby that night on the Titanic. Violet replied “yes”. The other person claimed he was that baby, and hung up. Violet said she never told the baby story to anyone, so was it really the person she saved that night?

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