As any old sea dog will tell you, it’s unlucky to have a woman on board ship.
Violet started life as a landlubber, her parents were Irish sheep farmers living in Bahia Blanca in Argentine. Violet was a born survivor from the get-go; three of her nine siblings did not live beyond infancy. She herself developed tuberculosis when she was a child and doctors said she would die.
But she didn’t. As events would later prove, Violet was pretty much unsinkable.
When her father died, her mother took Violet and her family back to England. When Violet left school she joined the navy, to see the sea.
And what did she see?
At 23, she saw the RMS Olympic as a stewardess. At that time the ship was the world’s largest luxury liner and was under the command of Captain Edward Smith.
Three months after Violet stepped on board, the Olympic collided with the cruiser HMS Hawke off the Isle of Wight.
The RN blamed the Olympic for the crash, but stopped short of blaming Jessop personally.
Taking this as a warning, Violet decided to sail next on something unsinkable.
She rubbed shoulders with Jack and Rose for just four days before her luck ran out again. After the ship hit the iceberg, Violet was ordered up on deck to set an example ‘to the foreign speaking people.’
She was ordered into lifeboat 16, and it was from there that she watched the Titanic go down, all the while thinking: ‘there’s a great idea for a movie in this somewhere.’
She was among those rescued the next morning by the Carpathia.
A lesser soul would have given up seafaring but Violet was made of sterner stuff. Besides, it was obvious where the problem lay.
The captain on the Olympic and the Titanic was Captain Edward Smith.
Clearly, he was the problem.
So Violet, confident her bad run was done, joined up on His Majesty’s Hospital Ship Brittania just in time for World War One – and you guessed it …
… it hit a mine in 1916 and sank in the Aegean.
She grabbed her toothbrush from her cabin – she was an old hand at being sunk, and said that her toothbrush was the one thing she wished she had gone back for when the Titanic went down.
Despite being sucked under the water and striking her head on the ship’s keel she somehow surfaced and was rescued by a lifeboat.
Years later, when she complained to a doctor about headaches, it was discovered she had fractured her skull.
Having gone down with the ship three times in five years a lesser soul might have looked for a job on dry land.
She worked for both the White Star and Red Star lines after the war. Neptune had done his best, and now gave up trying to scuttle her.
She spent the next thirty years at sea without further mishap and made her last voyage when she was 63.
Some wags would have you believe she was finally buried at sea. Not true.
Violet was buried in Hartest, in Suffolk, England – fifty miles from the nearest harbour.
Her story was at least the initial inspiration for my latest novel; Kitty also survives the sinking of the Titanic as well as the Lusitania. Unlike my Kitty, Violet did not experience the Russian revolution and the Irish civil war and was never arrested for her actions as a suffragette.
Kitty’s story became not just a tale of survival, against the odds. It is also a novel about finding love and peace at the end of it. And the influence for that – well perhaps we’ll get to that in the next post.
When fiery and idealistic Kitty O’Kane escapes the crushing poverty of Dublin’s tenements, she’s determined that no one should ever suffer like she did. As she sets out to save the world, she finds herself at the forefront of events that shaped the early twentieth century. While working as a maid, she survives the sinking of the Titanic. As a suffragette in New York’s Greenwich Village, she’s jailed for breaking storefront windows. And traveling war-torn Europe as a journalist, she’s at the Winter Palace when it’s stormed by the Bolsheviks. Ultimately she returns to her homeland to serve as a nurse in the Irish Civil War.
During Kitty’s remarkable journey, she reunites with her childhood sweetheart, Tom Doyle, but Tom doesn’t know everything about her past—a past that continues to haunt her. Will Kitty accept that before she can save everyone else, she needs to find a way to save herself? Or will the sins of her past stop her from pursuing her own happiness?