When we imagine life on the Titanic, our minds usually go first to glitz and luxury. Ornate staircases, ladies in evening gowns and expensive jewels, forbidden loves with tragic endings. But there was another world below deck: Titanic's passengers were served by a dedicated and tireless crew of cabin crew. These cabin crew, a collection of people from all over the world, were responsible for cleaning the rooms and corridors, serving meals, and attending to passengers' needs, however difficult or trivial.
One of these modest but hard-working friends was Violet Jessop, who during her lifetime had an impressive career at sea. She also managed to survive the sinking of the Titanic, as well as two other disasters: that of the Olympic in 1911 and the Britannicus in 1916.
Jessop was born on October 2, 1887 in a house outside the city of Bahía Blanca, Argentina. She was the first of nine children born to Irish immigrants William and Catherine Jessop. From a young age, Violet's parents relied on her to take care of her younger siblings.
Her father died of complications from surgery when Violet was 16, and after his death her mother decided it would be best for her children to move to England. The Jessops traveled to London, where Violet enrolled in a Catholic school. Catherin worked as a chambermaid on one of the Royal Mail ships until Violet's 21st birthday, when she fell ill.
Unable to work, Chaterin entrusted her eldest daughter with the family's financial support. Following her mother's example, Violet began applying for jobs as a maid, but was rejected due to her young age. After many attempts, she got her first job in 1908 on a Royal Mail liner serving the West Indies.
After nearly two years with the Royal Mail Line, Jessop was fired when she was falsely accused by a captain of flirting with his ship's officers. He looked for work again and after a series of rejections, he was forced to apply to ships serving the North Atlantic route. In need of work, Jessop accepted an offer from the White Star Line to work aboard the Majestic.
On 20 September 1911, Jessop was on board another company ship, the Olympic, when it collided with the battleship Hawke during her voyage to New York. Although both ships were badly damaged, they managed to reach port without loss. This fact helped the reputation of the Olympic and White Star Line, which began to advertise the safety of its ships by referring to them as "unbreakable".
At the time, shipbuilder Thomas Andrews surveyed the company's employees, asking them what improvements they would like to see in its future ships. Jessop and her colleagues suggested a number of minor changes, including improvements to staff cabins. So when Violet and the rest of the Titanic crew boarded the ship on April 10, 1912, they did so with a dose of pride for their part in its creation.
On the night of April 14, Jessop was in her cabin when she heard a loud bang followed by the sound of sheet metal creaking. The Titanic stopped. She then heard her colleagues get up and return to their duties and decided to do the same. A short time later, the crew was notified that the ship had struck an iceberg and was sinking.
Jessop couldn't believe it at first. After all, the Titanic was advertised by the White Star Line as an "unsinkable ship". The crew was instructed to tell the passengers that there were other ships in the area and that rescue was imminent. She followed the passengers on deck, where she was asked to instruct them on proper behavior until she finally got into a lifeboat.
Violet was in the lifeboat when the Titanic completely sank and remained in it until the Carpathia, a nearby ship, rescued the survivors. About 1,500 people lost their lives, more than half of those on board.
Despite the experience, Jessop knew she had to get back to sea as soon as possible or risk losing her career. Less than two months later, he returned to Olympic as part of her crew.
When the First World War broke out in 1914, Violet stayed ashore for a time, where she trained to join the volunteer nursing corps. Two years later, he returned to sea as a member of the crew of the Bretannicus, which had been converted from a passenger ship to a hospital ship.
On 21 November 1916, Bretannicus struck a sea mine while sailing through the Kea Straits to the hospital station at Lemnos. The explosion was felt throughout the ship, but there was a sense of calm and coordination prevalent during the evacuation of the ship, as the crew were all wartime professionals.
Captain Charles Bartlett who believed he could avoid sinking continued to start the ship's engines. The turning of the propellers created a current that engulfed the lifeboats, destroying two of them and injuring several of their passengers. Jessop managed to escape at the last moment, but suffered a serious head injury. She was eventually rescued by another lifeboat and spent the next few months recuperating on an island in the Cyclades.
After her third accident, Jessop decided it was time for a break. He got a job in a bank and worked there for three years. But the sea was calling her, so she returned to the White Star Line in June 1920. The remaining years of her career at sea were relatively quiet.
In June 1950, she boarded a ship for the last time. Her last assignment was on the Andes, a mail ship serving South America. In December of the same year, she retired to a small cottage in Suffolk, where she spent the rest of her days.
Jessop died in 1971 of a heart attack. She left behind an incomparable legacy, in part due to her fascinating but incomplete memoirs, which have been published under the title Titanic Survivor. Her experiences and her literary voice form one of the truest and most human accounts of the sinking of the Titanic.