Nancy Nygaard Gaynor (firstname.lastname@example.org) posted this series on WW1-L in the Spring of 2000 - reproduced here by permission. The original manuscript is from the Imperial War Museum.
Transcriber's note: I claim no responsibility for Nurse Garland's ethnocentrism or her taste.
DIARY OF TRIP ON BRITANNIC
Sailed from Southampton on Sunday Nov 12th 1916 at 10-30 am, it was a glorious morning when we sailed out from the docks but after we got out side it was rather stormy and rather foggy. It was very quiet on board and it seemed rather strange for it was our first trip without passengers the two previous trips we took a number of passengers both times several hundreds of Sisters & V.A.Ds but this trip we were not sorry to be alone we seemed more of a happy family. We passed the Acquatania just off the Isle of Wight we were all glad we were on the Britannic rather than on her.
Monday Morning arose at 7.30 and had Breakfast at 8 o'clock, the weather was very fine but rather cold. The Bay was just like a pond in fact we hardly knew when'we entered the Bay or when we got out which was rather remarkable considering the time of the year. We sat on deck all the morning after we had our Phisical drill something new this trip evidentally Matron thought we should get fat and lazy without exercise so arranged for us to do swedish drill on the Compass deck every morning at 10 o'clock. The first morning several of the Sisters came up as well and we were put through the first stages of swedish drill. I enjoyed it very much and felt much better for the excerise. After lunch we had lectures in the lounge all the Sisters and V.A.Ds attending. Capt Rentall gave us a very interesting lecture on Malaria and other fevers. After lunch I lay down and had a sleep afterwards Knowles Torbolton and I had tea in our cabin. In the evening after dinner there was a United Service in the patients dining hall on D deck which was well attended.
Tuesday Morn. 14th arose at usual time had breakfast and sat on deck untill the Phisical drill at 10 o'clock after Phisical drill we had boat drill and then we sat on deck untill lunch. After lunch I knitted for a while started another pair of socks for Jimmie and attended the lecture in the lounge at 2.30. After the lecture I had a sleep and then Knowles and I had a little tea party. After tea we walked on deck and sat and read untill it was time to dress for dinner after which was the usual service and the to bed. -Passed Gib 12-30 midnight.
Wednesday 15th. Got up usual time had breakfast and had to report in our wards. This trip I am put into E ward, a rise up. Ward is put down in K. Bayers is taken off night duty and put on day in S, T & V and Torbolton is put on night with Sister Patten. Sister McGuire is taken off night and put in K ward. I wonder how I shall get on with Sister Olford & Smith. I find Binks is still in E on day and he remarks to me we shall have a fine time this trip in E ward. The sheets & blankets & pillow cases are issued and we start making beds. At 10 o'clock we all assembled on the compass deck for our drill after which we worked untill lunch. After lunch we went into the wards for an hour and then went to the lecture by Capt Rentall. After lecture we sat on deck for a while and then had a quiet cup of tea in our Cabin. There was the usual service in the patients dining hall at 8.15 and then bed.
Thursday Morn. 16th. Arose at the usual time and had a good breakfast Went on deck for a few minutes to enjoy the beautiful weather. Who would be in England with the cold wet fogs, when only a few days out the most glorious hot Summer weather and the beautiful blue blue sea, calm as a mill pond. Went into the wards at 9 o'clock and made beds for all we were worth. I can tell you it's no joke making over 540 beds. We only stopped for a few minutes for the lecture, but we had the satisfaction of finishing all the beds before dinner. - Passed Sardinia 1 PM.
Friday Morn. 17th. Awoke quite early and caught the first glimpse of Vesuvius as usual a mist over the top we entered Naples about 7 O'clock so there seemed to be a fog over the whole place, but soon after we got in, the sun burst forth. After breakfast we went to the Purser's office and exchanged our money for Italian or at least a few shillings and them McCrea, Callin, Wilmott, Torbolton, Fawlkner & Ramsbottom and myself got our passes and after the usual wait went ashore about 10.30.
We first took a carriage and drove to the Aquarium, a lovely drive first through the principal streets and then down an avenue and along the sea front - the Aquarium is beautifully situated along the sea front and is surrounded by trees. We got tickets and wandered around inside. It is indeed the finest Aquarium in the world. It is difficult to realize that such beautiful and also such weird creatures live under the sea. In one case was a beautiful flying turtle, and he was as interested in us as we were in him. In the same case was a huge flat fish which gave you the creeps to watch him. There were also peculiar Electric fishes. I took one in my hand, and it gave me a distinct electric shook. There was also a weird kind of fish with scores of enormous legs. They say they are powerful enough to drag a man under water and drown him, and there were also minute invisible fishes they looked just like a tiny sun ray and then the beautiful sea plants of glorious colours and hundreds of different kinds of fishes too numerous to mention.
We all spent a very enjoyable hour there then we got into the Carriage again -- Ramsbottom, Torbolton, and myself occupying one carriage, the others went on in front. We all arranged to meet at San Martino but our driver somehow lost the others and instead drove us first to see an old Catholic Church, marshaled us all in the midst of the service. It was a most glorious building and the people all seemed so devout at their worship. Little tiny tots came in and climbing up to the fount of holy water, sprinkled some on their faces and crossed themselves, knelt on the floor. Then all around the building were numerous Confession boxes.They were huge oak structures with little windows at the side, and the priest sat inside and the people, knelt at the little open windows and confessed to the Priest. In one corner was the figure of Christ on the cross. There was a circle of electric lights around his head and shaded lights all around. Opposite was the Virgin Mary with the little Christ child in front of her praying and counting beads. The one drawback to these beautiful buildings is the gaudiness. There seem to be too much colour.
Coming out of the church the cabby wanted to take us down some hovel to another Church he said, but we not liking the look of the place refused and told him to take us to San Martino for the others would be waiting for us. So off we drove again and the silly duffer took us as far as the trains instead of driving us all the way, took us up the hill by train. When we arrived at the top the old chap would come with us. At last we found the others and we decided to pay the old fellow and get rid of him. It was his idea to act as our guide but we wanted to be on our own. He agreed to take us at the docks to the Aquarium and San Martino for 2 lire and when we paid him he put his price up to 4 lire. McCrea, who can speak Italian, argued with him and would not give him more than 3 lire. He threw it on the ground and we left him to get lunch.
We were very hungry and had to wait half an hour whilst they cooked the macaroni, and then they brought in huge plates of the beastly stuff, yards and yards in length, no cutting it. We tried hard to get it in our mouths but could not manage much,.It was too slippery. Then they brought in an omelette which looked enough for one, but they thought different evidently, and divided in into three. Then they brought us some black coffee which we could not drink, and to improve matters,some musicians came in and screamed Tipperary in their broken English.
We came out of the Hotel, and there was the old cabby still waiting for us and he followed us down the street to the Monastery, a perfect nuisance. At last we found we had better give him the other lire and get rid of him. I had one in my purse so handed it to him the swindler, for that's what he was, he changed it in his hand and swore I gave him a twopenny piece and followed us again. I was certain that I gave him a lire, but we gave him another for he was really a pest. We could not move for him, and he was getting quite nasty.
We went into the Monastery and had a look around, and the beautiful paintings and carvings are too marvelous for words. Words can't describe their beauty. One can't help marveling at the patience those monks must have possessed to work year in and year out to complete in such a wonderful way those beautiful things in the first place. The walls are all of marble and the floors mosaic, and the ceilings are all of beautiful paintings, and each monk had a beautiful carved chair of old oak from the monastery. We went to the Museum and saw all the beautiful things there and had a splendid view of Naples from one of the balconies & leaving the Monastery we made our way up past the Prison and took the tram back to the city and looked at some shops and then went in to one of the Arcades and had a very good tea.
After tea we got some Post cards etc. and then found our way down to the quay and took the first boat over. Matron and the British Consul and his wife went over as well. It was raining rather heavily as we left the docks to go back to our beautiful Home which looked indeed the loveliest sight we had yet seen for the day as she lay there in the bay so majestic with all her beautiful green lights all around the deck, and the two huge red crosses on either side, and underneath the green lights were the lights of all the cabins. Arriving on board in good time to dress for dinner at 7 o'clock and told to look extra smart in honour of the guests. After dinner I went to bed after a short walk on deck. A very pleasant day spent in Naples.
Saturday Nov. 18th. A very stormy day. After breakfast we had to report in our wards and the stores were brought down. Binks, Rogers, and myself cleaned them and stored them away in their places in the pantry. We finished all this before lunch. Spent a good part of the time hanging out of the Portholes in K ward buying oranges. I also bought a pair of lovely grey suede gloves for Mother from the gangway in Scotland Road. It's very amusing being anchored in the Bay of Naples watching all the little boats surrounding our boat, each one selling different wares. One is screaming oranges, another corals, and Post cards, and then our favourite old women with the lovely scarves shouting "cheep very cheep!" "Send your money down."
The afternoon was very cold. I rolled myself in my rug and found a snug little corner on the boat deck and read & knitted all the afternoon. As I was walking along the deck one of the Sisters asked me to do something at the Concert they were having in the evening in aid of Edith Cavell Fund. As she was very pressing, I said I would recite. Then I had to puzzle my brains for something to recite. I decided on the Inventor's Wife for it was the only thing I could remember, and I set to writing it off just to refresh my memory. I dressed early for dinner putting on clean cap, cuffs, and collar in honour of the concert which took place at 8 o'clock immediately after dinner. It was a real swell affair every body being present. Just imagine my dismay when the programmes were brought round to find my name almost the first on the list, and out of all the Nursing staff, only three V.A.D.s consented to do anything. Another V.A.D. recited and Doyle opened the concert with a Piano forte Solo. Several of the orderlies sang, and then a number of the Ships company took part. The quarter gave some excellent pieces and several of the Stewards rendered some fine songs. One boy particular gem - had a magnificent voice and together with another steward, they rendered Excelsior magnificently. I never heard better. The concert closed at 10 'clock with the National Anthem. The collection in aid of the fund amounted to 5.17.4. Wonderful only our own party.
Sunday 19th. The weather still very stormy. Too stormy to move out of the harbour so shall not be able to sail until the evening owing to passing the straits in day light. The service was held in the dining hall on D deck at a quarter to nine. After the service we reported in our wards but we had nothing to do beside dust for the kits were not to be issued until after we left Naples. After we dusted we were free to do what we like for the day. I went to the library and exchanged my books; got two more. So spent a very enjoyable day sitting on deck reading. The sun was very hot although it was still very stormy. About 4 o'clock Knowles and I went down and made ourselves a cup of tea in our cabin and then we went on deck for we were just about to sail 4.30 Pm. It was seeming very much calmer in the Harbour, but as soon as we got outside it was very rough and we had great difficulty in getting the pilot off and the boat started pitching and tossing. I did not feel too good but dressed and went up to dinner. It seems I was not the only one who felt queer, for six of the Sisters had to leave the dining room during dinner but the V.A.Ds all stuck to it not.-one left the table although there was more than one green face amongst them. Immediately after dinner I filled my hot water bottle and went to bed. Ate one of my precious oranges. I bought about 4 dozen at Naples to take Home for Xmas. Oranges big, very cheap 3d a doz. You see them growing every where by the hundred. Oh! how the wind howls.
Monday 20th. Arose at the usual time. It has been a very rough night and is still very stormy and a heavy sea. As soon as breakfast is over we all go to our wards and in E. K. S. T and V all the kits have been issued, so we start in. E. Rogers and myself and the orderlies counting everything and them putting them all in bundles ready for the patients. Tying blue trousers jacket, flannel & cotton shirt handkerchiefs, socks towel & soap in a red neck tie and then locking them all in the bath room to give to each patient as they come in in E ward. We have half of blue kits and half Pyjamas for we expect more than half to be bed cases. After finishing E, we go down to K as they have 244 blues to tie up. I can tell you we all slaved hard and finished the 530 kits before lunch, and then we were told we could finish for the day. So after lunch I took my book and rug and found a cosy nook on the compass deck, rolled up in my rug and slept and read until 5 o'clock then I came down as it was getting cold and dark and lay on my deck until it was time to dress for dinner. I am afraid it is going to be a very rough night as there is a very heavy sea and a very dark night. I put on my mess dress for the last time for work begins tomorrow and then no dressing for dinner. We shall only get time to have dinner. About for it after dinner, Knowles and I went to bed for it was fairly cold so we lay in bed and read until quite late.
Tuesday 21st. Was called at 7:20 but felt rather tired and stayed in bed until a quarter to eight and as breakfast was at eight we had to fly. I did not put on my watch or my apron for it was rather soiled, so I thought it was clean enough to wear in my work. I got in the dining room at 8.5 am five minutes late. I ordered compote of pears and had just started eating them when we heard a loud report which seemed as if something ran against the side of the ship. We all stood up, some rushed from the dining hall. There was a loud clatter of falling plates and glasses, the stewards were ready to dash out of the room then suddenly they came to their senses and told us to sit down and have our breakfast as we had only run into a barge. I sat down and started my pears again when the order rang out,"Ladies go to your cabins put on your life-belts and go up to the boat deck." We all walked out very quietly and quickly and down to C deck to our cabins. I did not run until I got to the to top of the corridor then I ran down to my room took off my coat from the peg also my hat, picked up my rug off my bed and when passing table snatched up a Photo frame with Sister Townsend's Photo, also a little case with a silver serviette ring which Sister Townsend gave me on her way out to India on the Britannic and then ran up the emergency staircase, passing Matron on the way who remarked, "Hurry up Children." Coming up on the boat deck, I put on my coat and tied my life belt very tightly and was ready for what---- I thought everybody looked rather frightened, but they all kept perfectly quiet. In a few minutes the order came: all Sisters come forward port side and we all calmly walked forward, naturally in the time of peril standing for the Sisters to go first. We received orders to get into No 17 boat as quick as possible, and we all started scrambling over into the boat which was hanging over the side ready to be lowered. I remember scrambling up, when the barber said. "put your foot on my knee, Sister," which I did and got in much easier. We were about 30 ladies in our boat when the order was given for 6 men to get in I think 8 got in and then the boat men, they all took their oars and then the order came to lower and we were gradually lowered over the side to the water. I noticed it was not such a great distance. That shows our beautiful boat was sinking sure and fast: we bumped against the side of the boat a good deal when we reached the water and it seemed several minutes before we could get away from the structure at last the men, after pulling hard, managed to put a few yards away from her. Our boat was the first to be lowered on the port side. We were let down by steam cranes. It was a lucky thing that it was such a glorious morning and that the sea was as calm as a mill pond for the men in our boat knew no more about rowing than my pencil. They never pulled once together; their oars were going in all directions and clashing against each other. Any rate, there would have been no hope for any of us if it happened the day before, nor I darn't think what it would have ended like if it happened in the night. It was 8-10 am when the shock came and about 8-20 we were on the sea in the little boat. We pulled away for about 1/2 mile I should think and then watched our beautiful majestic boat disappearing under the sea. She was going down bows first until the water reached her first deck. Then she reeled over star board side; she seemed like a pitiful dumb animal tortured, her sirens blasting for help which sounded awful, and then we could hear cries from the men which we did not understand at first but afterwards we found it must have been the boats that got smashed by the propellers and the poor men in them dashed to pieces and others wounded from the slashing of the huge propeller. I was glad we were not near enough to see the last awful sights, it must have been terrible. We had been in the boats for nearly two hours when we saw a boat steaming towards us, which we hoped was one of our own, and very soon she came quite close and we found it was one of our destroyers. Our men pulled towards her and we were soon alongside and eager hands were outstretched to pull us up the side. I shall never forget the sight. Wreckage all around the boats overturned with huge holes in the bottom, every sort of thing floating on the water and then our little boat tossing up and down alongside of the destroyer. One minute we were high enough that I handed my rug to a sailor on the deck, the next minute we should be down. We waited our opportunity and as she rose, would jump on to the gang way and be pulled in one by one and handed one to another until we got to the deck. Then we were all told to go down to the Cabin-- such a tiny little room which was already crowded with Sisters. There was a couch and large table and several chairs. They were also bringing down wounded men who were groaning and shrieking with pain to make room for them 6.
I sat on the floor between the Sisters and half under the table, and after a while I was wedged in, could not move hand or foot. There was a man on the table. I was under shrieking with pain. I don't know what I felt like-- nearly suffocated. I just remember Sister Olford unfastening my life belt and opening my coat and forcing me to drink a glass of Brandy which revived me a bit, then I was pulled out from under the table and we were allowed to go on deck. I soon felt myself again, and we all sat on the deck huddled together. The dear sailors bringing up their blankets and coats and wrapping around us. We -got on the Scourge 10:30 so we were about 2 hrs in the small boats. The boys on the Scourge were soon busy feeding us . They cut dainty little ham sandwiches and took around, we soon finished them. Then they brought up hampers of oranges and gave us 3 or 4 each. The sweetest oranges I ever tasted, then they rummaged their larder and brought up plates of ships biscuits and made huge tins of tea. We used one cup between a dozen had a sip all round. The sailors could not have treated 'us better if we were Princesses. They told us we were the eighth boat they had rescued, but ours was the first Hospital Ship. We were on the Scourge until 5 O'clock when we arrived at the bay of Piraeus. The bay was full of boats boat English and French, and they gave us such a welcome as we steamed in-- cheered until their throats were hoarse.
Return to WWI The Maritime War
Return to WWI Archive main page.