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MAY 5th  

On this day in history in 1971, died Violet Jessop.

Violet Jessop was a born survivor who lived to tell the tale of three shipwrecks.  

Violet Jessop was born in the Argentine, daughter of sheep farmers who had emigrated to watch over the flocks grazing on the luxuriant pampas. As a child, she contracted tuberculosis and was given only weeks to live, but her natural resilience enabled her to survive. When her father died suddenly, the family moved to London where her mother took up a position as a stewardess on the Royal Mail line, whilst placing the children in the care of a convent school. When her mother’s health forced her to retire, Jessop took up her mother’s job in order to feed the family.  

In 1911, while she was on duty aboard RMS Olympic, the vessel was rammed by a Royal Navy warship, HMS Hawke, causing a major disaster. Mercifully Jessop was not amongst the casualties. In 1912, hoping for a safer voyage, Jessop signed up for service on RMS Titanic, known as the ‘unsinkable’. Sadly, the Titanic, did not live up to its nickname as it sank on its maiden voyage, with the loss of 1500 lives. Jessop was asleep at the time of the incident. She records in her memoirs that passengers and crew were calm, that she and others were placed into lifeboats and that she was given an infant to look after, presumably because its mother or nurse could not be found. After eight hours in the chilly waters of the Atlantic, the lifeboat was picked up by the Carpathia, and she was able to restore the lost infant to its distraught parents.  

In the First World War, Jessop volunteered as a nurse serving on board a hospital ship HMHS Britannic, a vessel secure from attack by the enemy on account of its medical status. In 1916, when the Britannic was on tour of the Aegean, it collided with a naval mine and sank with the loss of 30 of the crew. Jessop was propelled overboard by the impact and sucked under the keel, striking her head in the turmoil. Years later, she found that her cranium had suffered a fracture which had gone unnoticed at the time. Jessop attributed her survival to her thick locks of auburn hear which cushioned her head from the blow.  

Jessop was undeterred by these incidents and continued to work at sea for another forty years. She was married in 1929, or thereabouts, and separated soon afterwards. Jessop would never release details of this broken marriage, not even to her family.  In 1950, she retired to a cottage in Suffolk and died peacefully in 1971. She is buried in Hartest Cemetery. [Hartest Cemetery, Hartest Hill, Hartest, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, IP29 4DH]

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