Film: Survivor of three Titanics

Richard D North discovers a woman who survived three shipwrecks, including the 'Titanic'

Next Wednesday an estimated pounds 25-30,000 may secure three playing cards which were part of a hand of bridge when Titanic struck her iceberg, and survived. Sotheby's sale also features copies of radio signals sent that April night, and yet more will be on offer at Christie's on 14 May.

The mythic potency of anything associated with Titanic shows no sign of waning: 66 titles about Titanic were published by 1975 and there have been another 105 since.

One of the most fascinating accounts of the sinking, however, has only now come to light, 86 years after the event, as though it had somehow miraculously struggled free of the wreck, two and a half miles down.

It is the story of Violet Jessop's maritime career. She was already an experienced stewardess when shipwrecked: a veteran of Titanic's sister ship, Olympic's maiden voyage. She survived Titanic, and four years later, now as a nurse, she survived the sinking of Titanic's other sister ship, Britannic, too.

"She was a raging beauty," says Margaret Meehan, one of her two nieces, now living together in London. "See, here - she had an 18-inch waist." We're looking at sepia snaps which, unaccountably, its enterprising UK publisher did not include in Titanic Survivor - the memoirs of Violet Jessop.

Working on the White Star Line, which catered especially to the American market, Violet understood that the self-deprecating English upper middle- class style often concealed dislike or indifference toward the lower orders, while the more demanding Americans at least treated staff as individuals. About the latter passengers, she wrote, "You were faced with the paradox of being considerably overworked and yet much happier and free because of their attitude."

When she wrote her account, 20 years after the sinking, Violet's story was spurned by the organisers of the literary competition to which she entered it. But her nieces knew of its existence. One of the pair, Mary, had sailed with Aunt Vi in 1949, and later typed up the manuscript. A quarter of a century after its author's death in 1971, Margaret - an art teacher - went to the library to unearth the address of a likely New York marine publisher. Lothar Simon, of Sheridan House, Dobb's Ferry, NY, was quick off the mark and - perhaps on the back of the tastelessly inaccurate James Cameron movie - the book went through four US editions during 1997.

This must surely be the last book which we will have from a survivor, and beyond being perhaps the best observed it neatly completes the range of accounts. There are the survivors' testimonies from the inquiries - those vignettes which turn up in the two pretty fair British films of Titanic. But also, the scriptwriters had the fuller account of a second- class passenger, the science schoolmaster Lawrence Beesley and the account of Colonel Archibald Gracie, a first-class passenger. We don't have a steerage account, though far more third-class men and nearly as many third- class women survived as did from second class.

Filson Young (my grandmother's second husband and a prolific journalist covering many of the national dramas of the first third of this century) got his Titanic into the bookshops within three weeks of the sinking. He dwelt on, but did not exaggerate, the nobility of many people's behaviour on Titanic. True, he had not grasped and did not dwell on the less noble behaviour of most of the saved. Few of these turned their lifeboats back to rescue the people freezing to death after the sinking.

Probably rightly, he did not suppose that there was much positive discrimination against the steerage passengers (omission more than commission sealed their fate). He was surely right to stress that the disaster forced the classes which had been so conspicuously separate before it to intermingle very dramatically. "There were people on the Titanic who had so entrenched themselves behind ramparts of wealth and influence as to have wellnigh forgotten that, equally with the waif and the pauper, they were exposed to the caprice of destiny."

Michael Davie, the journalist, drew attention in his Titanic of 1986 to Titan - or Futility. However, the fictional mid-Atlantic sinking of the ship Titan depended on the venality of its owners and officers. In real life, cock-up, not conspiracy, was the villain. And the main lesson of the disaster was to guard against complacency, rather than criminality.

That was more or less the lesson from the extraordinary second UK official inquiry into the Titanic disaster. Held in 1992, it used the full advantage of hindsight to declare that the captain of the Californian, a British ship which did not respond to Titanic's distress rockets, was, anyway, too far away to help even if he had been less tardy.

And that should be that. Except that this is one ship which seems to intend to go on as it began - being talked about. If final proof of that were needed, have you heard the one about the difference between Bill Clinton and the Titanic. No? Well, only 750 women went down...

'Titanic Survivor' by Violet Jessop, Sutton Publishing, pounds 8.99

News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
News
Comic miserablist Larry David in 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'
peopleDirector of new documentary Misery Loves Comedy reveals how he got them to open up
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
News
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Environment
Dame Vivienne Westwood speaking at a fracking protest outside Parliament on Monday (AP)
environment
Life and Style
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

    Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

    Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

    £120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

    Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

    £70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

    £24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
    World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

    Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

    The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
    Why the league system no longer measures up

    League system no longer measures up

    Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
    Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

    Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

    Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
    Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness