Remembering Britannic's Violet Jessop

100 years ago today 'Miss Unsinkable' - Violet Constance Jessop -  survived the sinking of HMHS Britannic.

The Last Olympian, Ken Marschall, HMHS Britannic, Richie Kohler, Rosemary Lunn, Roz Lunn, Kea Island, The Underwater Marketing Company, Lone Wolf Productions, Simon MilsJessop originally served as an ocean liner stewardess on the White Star ship RMS Olympic. At the time this was the largest luxury liner in the World.

On 20 September 2011 Jessop was on board when the Olympic sailed from Southampton. The first Olympic class liner collided with the British warship HMS Hawk. Luckily there were no fatalities and the ship made it back to port without sinking.

Just over six months later Jessop joined the crew of the second Olympic class liner on her maiden voyage: RMS Titanic. The loss of this supposedly 'unsinkable' ship during the early hours of 15 April 1912 had a huge impact on the owners of the White Star line and the British maritime industry. Harland and Wolff - the Belfast shipbuilder - quickly adopted a 'safety-first' approach, and amended the design of their third Olympic class liner.

The Last Olympian, HMHS Britannic, Ken Marschall, Rosemary E Lunn, Roz Lunn, The Underwater Marketing Company, Violet Jessop
Ken Marschall is a respected maritime painter | www.kenmarschall.com

Britannic was born at the wrong time because she was launched on 26 February 1914 - five months before the outbreak of WWI. She therefore did not see service as a transatlantic passenger liner. Instead the British Government requisitioned the last Olympian, refitted her and repainted her. Her hull was painted white complete with large red crosses. Britannic's role was to carry sick and injured troops home from Gallipoli. Violet Jessop joined the crew as a nurse.

On 21st November 1969 Britannic was steaming along the Kea Channel in Greece. At approximately 08.12 a violent explosion rocked the ship. The ship had hit a German mine. Despite Harland and Wolff's major modifications, Britannic sunk within 57 minutes.

"The white pride of the ocean's medical world ... dipped her head a little, then a little lower and still lower. All the deck machinery fell into the sea like a child's toys. Then she took a fearful plunge, her stern rearing hundreds of feet into the air until with a final roar, she disappeared into the depths." Violet Jessop

In September 2006 I joined a HMHS Britannic expedition led by Richie Kohler and John Chatterton. During the expedition I was asked to play the role of Violet Jessop for a re-enactment.

The Last Olympian, HMHS Britannic, Richie Kohler, John Chatterton, Martin Parker, Rosemary E Lunn, Roz Lunn, Evan Kovacs, rebreathers, Simon Mills
The 2006 HMHS Britannic Dive Team

We filmed the sequence on Sunday 24th September 2006 in Kea Harbour. The cinematographer was Evan Kovacs and the safety diver was Joe Porter, editor of Wreck Diving Magazine.

It was already a hot afternoon before I donned woollen stockings, a long dress, a big black woollen coat, long scarf and hat. The ensemble was topped off by a very bulky cork life jacket.

We quickly realised that the life jacket worked. A good thing you would think. However I had to be pulled underneath the surface to re-create the struggle that Jessop had gone through to survive the sinking. The solution. I wore my 20lb shot belt beneath the long dress.

Jumping into Kea Harbour was a blessed relief from the intense Greek sun. But the respite was short lived. Film work tends to be a lot of 'hurry up and wait' interspersed with some intense action. There was a lot of hanging around in the water, and I began to get cold.

And it was literally hanging around for me.  I had to hold onto something solid for surface support as my weight belt proved to be most effective at pulling me under water.

Petar Denoble, HMHS Britannic, Violet Jessop, Titanic, Simon Mills, Rosemary Lunn, Roz Lunn, Richie Kohler, The Last Olympian, The Underwater Marketing Company, Lone Wolf Productions,
Filming in Kea Harbour | Photo Credit: Petar Denoble

This particular shoot took at least a couple of hours - I was filmed from all angles performing a variety of moves such as my feet kicking in the blue water. I was also shot from topside and underwater being pulled beneath Kea Harbour.

Evan asked that I jump into the water a number of times. He wanted to film me from below the surface as I replicated Jessop leaping out of the lifeboat and into the Aegean Sea.

"To my horror, I saw Britannic’s huge propellers churning and mincing up everything near them - men, boats and everything were just one ghastly whirl.” Violet Jessop

The lifeboat that Violet Jessop was in was being pulled into Britannic's still rotating propellor. The only way to survive this giant mincing machine was to jump from the lifeboat. In doing so Violet struck her head on the keel and suffered a fractured skull.

All in all it was a great experience working with Evan and Joe on this shoot. When it was complete I climbed out of Kea Harbour with new respect for Violet Jessop. She must have been a remarkable lady.

Footnote

There have been a number of documentaries and books about HMHS Britannic. The latest book - 'Mystery of the Last Olympian' - has been co-authored by Richie Kohler. Richie has dived this Olympic class liner in 2006, 2009, 2015 and 2016. He answers the century-old question as to why all the engineering solutions built into the mighty Britannic could not save her from sharing the same fate as Titanic.

Award Winning Diving Stars Speaking In Chicago Today

Jill Heinerth, Dr Neal W Pollock, Our World Underwater Chicago, Bell Island Expedition, Steve Lewis, Rosemary E Lunn, Roz Lunn, The Underwater Marketing Company, Rebreather Forum 3, cave diving, scuba diving
Jill Heinerth and Neal Pollock during the 2016 Bell Island Expedition - Photo Credit : Steve Lewis

Two explorers and a diving doctor are headlining 'Our World Underwater' in Chicago this weekend.

You can find Jill Heinerth, Richie Kohler and Dr Neal Pollock at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, Rosemont.

Jill and Neal have just flown in from Newfoundland - they were part of a team exploring and surveying the Bell Island Mine - and are pictured here in Conception Bay South.

They are going to be talking on subjects close to their heart.

Jill is speaking about the science of cave diving and giving advice on rebreather diving, whilst Neal will be discussing managing decompression stress and concerns of the aging diver. You can find the talk schedule here.

Dive Rite, Lamar Hires, Jared Hires, Our World Underwater Chicago, Transpac, Rosemary E Lunn, Roz Lunn, The Underwater Marketing Company, scuba divingIn between talks visitors have the opportunity of perusing the very latest in scuba diving equipment. Whether you are looking for your first snorkel or first rebreather, you should be able to find it here.

If you are considering more adventurous diving it is worth checking out Dive Rite. This company extensively designs and tests their gear by taking it real life diving. In reality it means that you benefit from equipment that fits properly and is capable of supporting the dives you want to do.

Did you know that several rebreather divers use a Transpac harness underneath their unit because it is so comfortable and hard wearing? And that many divers are diving Dive Rite products that are 10 - 20 years old because they are durable and so well made?

Last Olympian, Our World Underwater Chicago, Rosemary E Lunn, Roz Lunn, The Underwater Marketing Company, Richie Kohler, Rebreather Forum 3, O'Three Drysuits, scuba diving, wreck divingDive Rite equipment would not be out of place being dived on *HMHS Britannic.

Britannic is **RMS Titanic's bigger sister, and she also sunk. But why did she sink?

Britannic was being built in Belfast when Titanic sunk early on the 15th April 1912. Titanic's catastrophic loss was such a shock to her shipbuilder - Harland & Wolff - that the engineers redesigned the mighty Britannic so that she would not share the same fate as her sister. But she sank twice as quickly as Titanic. How was that possible?

A man with some answers is wreck explorer and deep sea detective Richie Kohler. Richie is going to be talking about 'A Decade of Exploration on HMHS Britannic'. And, if you are lucky, you might even be able to get your paws on a copy of his latest book, 'The Last Olympian'. Why not get it signed!

*   HMHS = His / Her Majesty's Hospital Ship
** RMS = Royal Mail Ship (sometimes Steam-ship or Steamer)

McCartney Headlines In Liverpool

No, not Paul. Renowned maritime historian, archaeologist and technical diver Dr Innes McCartney will be speaking in Liverpool on Saturday 9th May.

Dr Innes McCartney, SS Andrea Doria, RMS Lusitania, HMHS Britannic, HMS M1, Submarine Historian, Rosemary E Lunn, Roz Lunn, The Underwater Marketing Company, Merseyside Maritime Museum, Otter Drysuits, AP Diving
Respected submarine historian, Dr Innes McCartney

 
Dr McCartney is known for his discovery and archaeological research into shipwrecks including the wrecks of the Battle of Jutland, 1916 and many British and German submarine wrecks. He has contributed to shipwreck documentaries, such as Time Team Special, Deep Wreck Mysteries and Wreck Detectives series. In addition Innes McCartney used archaeological research to identify 40 new German submarine wrecks in the waters around the UK and Ireland, such as the rubbercoated U480.

He initially became interested in shipwreck archaeology when he learned to dive in 1989. In 1994 Innes McCartney became one of Britain's first Trimix-certified scuba divers and 1998 became the first person to have dived on the three great liner wrecks, SS Andrea Doria, RMS Lusitania and HMHS Britannic. Innes has always been fascinated by submarines, and in 1999 he discovered the 12-inch-gunned submarine HMS M1 off Start Point in the English Channel.

Over the past two decades Innes has focused on researching and locating lost historic shipwrecks and finding innovative methods to interpret his fieldwork.

On Saturday 9th May, Innes will be discussing key aspects of the first U-boat war and exploring some of the U-boat wrecks as they are seen today.

This free event is being hosted at the Merseyside Maritime Museum.