The menu on September 24, 1916, consisted of turbot with homard sauce, duck fillet, lamb with mint sauce, Spanish melon, ice cream and other delicacies for the officers and nurses traveling on the HMHS Britannic, the Titanic’s sister ship. This was at the start of the fourth of five complete journeys made by the massive ocean liner, which had been requisitioned by Allied forces and transformed into a hospital during World War I. The food lived up to the ship’s reputation and was a small reward for the staff that treated thousands of casualties from the failed Gallipoli campaign and the Macedonian front, while also struggling to contain a massive outbreak of typhoid at a time without antibiotics and antiseptic drugs. Among the nursing staff was Sheila Macbeth Mitchell, a young Scottish nurse who was on one of the greatest adventures of her life, according to her grandson Jonathan Mitchell, who spoke recently at the “100 Years Kea Shipwrecks” conference that was organized by the Friends of Kea Association on the Greek island.
The Britannic sailed for the last time on November 12, 1916, from Southampton, and was headed to Moudros on the eastern Aegean island of Lemnos. Nine days later, while passing between Kea and Makronissos off mainland Greece’s eastern coast, a huge blast rocked the ship as the passengers were sat down to breakfast.
“She immediately went to her room, put on a life jacket, grabbed a knife, put on her coat and ran to the lifeboats,” said Mitchell of his grandmother’s reaction.
He was referring to a passage from her journal, which, he added, also includes descriptions of the heroic efforts made by the people of Kea to help the shipwrecked passengers. They were transferred to Athens and, according to wreck researcher Michalis Michailakis, the nurses were described by the Greek press at the time as being “tall and thin as cypress trees” and were seen shopping for ouzo on Stadiou Street in the city center.
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