23 October 2012

The Unsinkable Violet Jessop

Some people are just plain lucky. Violet Jessop is one of these people. Born on 2 October 1887 in Argentina, she was the first of nine children, but only six survived. When she was very young, she contracted Tuberculosis. The doctor said she wasn't going to make it, but Violet proved at that early age that she is one of the few born lucky and proved him wrong.

After her father passed away, she and her family moved to Great Britain, where she attended college until her mother became ill, when she left college to become a stewardess on a luxurious liner, the RMS Olympic, the largest passenger liner at that time. Violet Jessop boarded the liner on 14 June 1911. On 20 September, Olympic collided with a cruiser, the HMS Hawke. Olympic was able to make it back to port, where the liner was blamed for the incident.

On 10 April 1912, Violet boarded Olympic's sister ship, the RMS Titanic. Four days later, Titanic collided with an iceberg. Violet later said she was ordered to go on deck to set a good example for the non-English speaking passengers. She was then ordered into a lifeboat, where she was handed a baby. Later that night, hours after Titanic sank, the survivors in the lifeboats were rescued by the RMS Carpathia. While on deck, a woman ran up to her, snatched the baby, and ran off without a word.

During World War I, Violet worked for the British Red Cross, and in 1916, she worked on board the hospital ship, and also sister ship of both Olympic and Titanic, HMHS Britannic. On 21 November 1916, Britannic ran into a mine and because all the portholes were open at the time, sank rather quickly. While it was sinking, Violet's lifeboat was heading towards a propeller, so she jumped out. When she did that, she got pulled underwater and bumped her head on the keel of the ship, underneath. She later said that her thick auburn hair provided a bit if a cushion and saved her life.

Despite being involved in three mishaps with their ships, Violet continued working for the White Star Line for years afterward, retiring in 1950. Years after her retirement, she received a phone call from a woman asking if she, Violet Jessop, rescued a baby on the Titanic during the sinking. When Violet replied that she had, the voice on the other end replied, "I was that baby" and hung up. Her biographer said it was probably some local children out for a laugh, but Violet said, "No, John, I had never told that story to anyone before I told you now."

Clearly, one of the luckiest people to ever live. Violet Jessop died of congestive heart failure on 5 May 1971 at the age of 83.

Violet Jessop


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