|RMS Britannic postcard. Goossens website|
This month marks the 101st anniversary of the arrival of the HM Hospital Ship Britannic's arrival in Moudros Bay. Today we remember this hospital ship, those who sailed in her, those she cared for and those who suffered in her sinking off Cape Sounion in 1916. Lest we forget.
|RMS Britannic logo. Goossens website|
A White Stat Line ship, Britannic had been converted to a Hospital Ship during WW1.
In June, the British resolved to convert large ocean liners as troop transports for the Gallipoli campaign, such as the Mauretania and Aquitania. Mounting casualties, saw the Aquitania converted into a hospital ship in August 1915, with the liner Olympic taking her place as a troop ship in September. In November 1915, Britannic was requisitioned as a hospital ship.
|HMHS Britannic converted to a hospital ship. Goossens website|
The public rooms on the upper decks were transformed in wards for the wounded. Lower on the ship, the large first class dining room and the reception rooms became operating theatres and main wards. The medical personnel would occupy the B-deck cabins, while the rest medical orderlies and the less wounded patients would be accommodated on the lower decks. Surviving photos show that the partially covered first class promenade was also used as a ward. With all these modifications the ship's tonnage arrived at 48.158 tons and she could carry 3.309 casualties (the second largest capacity for a hospital ship after the Aquitania).
The hull was painted in white with a green band from stem to sternpost broken in three places by large red crosses. This color scheme was the international identification of hospital ships. Protection at night was crucial and the ship needed to be clearly identified. For this purpose two large red crosses were placed on both sides of the boat deck. Each one was lit at night along with a band of green electric bulbs, covering more than 2/3 of the ship's length. This way it was impossible for enemy vessels to be mistaken about the status of the Britannic.
The Britannic at Lemnos
Her maiden voyage took her from Liverpool to Lemnos' Moudros Bay via Naples, returning to Southampton.
She departed Liverpool on December 23 1915 on her maiden departure bound for Mudros. She made a call at Naples Italy early in the morning on December 28, where she would load coal and departed in the afternoon and arrived in Mudros on December 31, where she took on board some 3,300 casualties.
|HMHS Britannic in Moudros Bay, Lemnos, c1915/16. Goossens website|
While at Lemnos one of her patients died of tuberculosis - Private 1411 Arthur Howe of the Essex Regiment from Little Bromley, Essex. He was buried in Lemnos' East Mudros Military Cemetery on January 2, 1916.
|The grave stone of Private A Howe, East Mudros Military Cemetery. Photo Jim Claven 2015|
After the conclusion of the Gallipoli campaign, Lemnos' great Moudros Bay was used as a staging post for the transporting of sick and wounded Allied soldiers from the various active battle fronts nearby. These soldiers would have been transported from the Salonika front.
The Britannic returned to Lemnos on two other occasions during her service as a hospital ship - October 3-5, 1916 and October 28-30, 1916 - on each occasion returning to Southampton with her cargo of sick and wounded soldiers.
On the October 3-5 journey one of her patients died - Corporal J Seddon. One of the Britannic's medical staff on this voyage was Vera Brittain. During her stay on Lemnos she famously visited Portianou Military Cemetery and the graves of the two Canadian nurse buried there. She then wrote her poem the Sisters Graves at Lemnos. For more on Vera's visit to Lemnos, see our blog post by clicking here.
On the October 28-30 journey a patient died on the return journey - Corporal G Hunt.
The Sinking of the Britannic - 21st November 1916
The Britannic sank on her planned fourth voyage to Lemnos. Having departed Southampton on November 12 1916, she called in at Naples November 17-19 and proceeded to Greek waters. She sailed with 1,065 - 673 crew, 315 Royal Army Medical Corps and 77 Nurses .
|The sea south of Cape Sounion. Photo Jim Claven 2012|
It is thought that the mine had been laid by the German submarine U73 that had been laying mines the week the Britannic voyaged through the channel.
Over 1,000 of the crew were saved but 21 crew and 9 members of the Royal Army Medical Corps were lost at sea. Many of these were killed by the propellers of the ship as they tried to leave the sinking vessel in lifeboats. A number of these were buried or memorialised at Mikra Military Cemetery, Thessaloniki or at Piraeus Naval & Consular Cemetery.
One of the nurses - Violet Jessop - recording the story of the sinking in her memoirs. You can read excerpts of her account in the excellent website below by Michail Michailakis.
The wreck of the Britannic remains were it sank.
A recent BBC documentary has been released detailing the story of the Britannic, its sinking and showing footage of the wreck as it remains.
For more information, there are two excellent websites - Hospital Ship Britannic by Michail Michailakis and
HMHS Britannic by Reuben Goossens.
Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee