Arrival to Athens
As soon as the first rescue ships arrived in the Bay of Salamina, Admiral Darrieus (the commander of the French Third Squadron) offered his vessels to the British for the transportation of the survivors. The difficult task of accomodating and feeding nearly 800 persons was put on the shoulders of Rear-Admiral Arthur Hayes-Sadler. The wounded survivors were first moved on the sick bay of the flagship of the British Adriatic Squadron, the HMS Duncan,and then sent to the Russian Hospital at Pireaus. The crew members and the RAMC orderlies were moved on various British and French ships of the Allied Fleet, while the nurses and the medical officers were ferried to the port of Pireaus where it was arranged to be accomodated in two seperate hotels at Phaleron (the Aktaion and the Phalere). Late in the afternoon, a motor launch from the flagship collected the bodies of Fireman J. Brown (from the French tug Goliath), Private A.Binks and Trimmer C.Phillips (both from the British destroyer Heroic).
The tug Goliath (near the Greek cruiser Hydra) at Pireaus, while joining the Allied forces on October 26, 1916.
Survivors from the Britannic posing on deck of the HMS Lord Nelson.
(Photo: Titanic Historical Society archives)
The Russian Hospital
Many of the most seriously wounded survivors were taken in this hospital as soon as they arrived from Kea. Britannic's nurses worked there for one week, cooperating with the Greek medical personnel. They contributed very much to the improvement of the unsufficient sanitary services of the hospital and their work was deeply appreciated by the Greek doctors, who had received the Sisters rather coldly at first. Nurse Sheila Macbeth Mitchell recalled: "They also became most friendly with us, offering us the use of their baths, beds and clothing. If we had stayed there another month, I guess it would have been the best hospital in Greece, for it certainly was a fine building, beautifully kept, besides having some very clever surgeons who worked extraordinarily hard. With a few good Sisters, it would have been a perfect place to work."
(Photo by Michail Michailakis - September 2000)
Located at Neo Phaleron, near the port of Pireaus, the Aktaion was one of Greece's' finest hotels. Here were hosted the nurses from the Britannic. When the survivors arrived at Pireaus the hotel was closed for the winter but the owners were Venizelists (sympathisers of resigned Prime Minister Venizelos who was supporting the Allies) and they offered some rooms. In his account Rev. J.Fleming recalled that "..the nurses found themselves among Venizelists, who proved the loyalest of friends and showed them no little kindness..." , while the officers "...had the misfortune to hit upon an anti-Venizelist hotel, where their lot was hardly happy or safe...".
(Michail Michailakis collection)
Old postcard of the coast of Phaleron. The luxurious Aktaion hotel is the large brown building on the right.
At 01.20 p.m. of Wednesday 22nd November 1916, the ensign of the HMS Duncan was lowered to half mast as the bodies of the three men who had lost their lives during the sinking of the Britannic were taken ashore in order to be buried. The sailors of the British flagship prepared wreaths dedicated "To the Heroes Of Britain". Many Greek civilians and British citizens living in Athens joined the funerals and shared the pain of those who were left behind. The dead were buried with military honours at Drapetsona, an area located near the port of Pireaus. When the services were concluded, at 03.00 p.m., the ensign on the flagship was again raised to the top of the mast. Some days later, Lookout G. Honeycott died of his injuries at the Russian Hospital and was buried at the same cemetery. The four graves are still there.
The investigation regarding the loss of the HMHS Britannic was conducted on the HMS Duncan by Captain Hugh Heard (Commanding Officer) and Commander George Staer (Chief Engineer). The problems were many, as most of the 1032 survivors were scattered around the ships of the allied fleet and some of their accounts were contradictory. Despite the difficulties the two officers concluded their investigation on November 24, 1916 and prepared a thin 726-word document and three simple sketches of the damaged areas of the Britannic. The report was mainly a summary of the event and failed to present convincing evidence regarding the cause of the explosion (mine or torpedo). The final sentence was "The probability seems to be a mine". Additional reports were later submitted by Captain Charles A. Bartlett (Captain of the Britannic), who wrote that "...a mine might have been the cause, but there is good evidence that the tracks of two torpedoes were seen...", and by Lieut.Col Henry S. Anderson (Commander of the RAMC troops on the Britannic), who wrote a very detailed list of the actions performed by many of his men during the sinking.
Return to England
The RAMC officers of the Britannic andthe uninjured crew members started the long journey home on the RFA Ermine. The ship left Pireaus on November 24th, escorted by the HMS Foxhound, and arrived at Salonika the following morning. The men had to wait another day in order to be transferred aboard the HMS Lord Nelson, where they finally managed to take a bath and then to eat a decent meal. Then they went aboard the transport HMT Royal George. The transport left Salonika the following afternoon for a five-day journey to Marsailles. During the trip many men suffered from dysentery. When the ship arrived in France on Saturday 2nd December, Captain Bartlett took a scheduled overland train for England while the rest of the men had to wait until Monday in order to get their train. The fifty-hour journey was terrible as the carriages were not heated and food was scarse. Some men managed to buy some bread and cheese from some stations but the situation soon became desperate. On December 6th, the train finally arrived at the station of Le Havre, from where the men walked for five miles in order to arrive to their Rest Camp in order to pass the night. The next morning there was no breakfast and they had to wait until 03.00 p.m. for the meal. One hour later, they departed for a six-mile walk to the docks, where they embarked on the trasport Caesarea. Their nightmare ended at 09.00 a.m. of December 8th, when the ship finally arrived to Southampton. Captain Bartlett was on the quay to welcome them and each man was granted a survivor's leave of two weeks.
The medical staff and the wounded survivors remained in Athens until November 27th. Then they were taken aboard the HMHS Grantully Castle and departed for Malta, where they arrived on November 30th. The group stayed there for seventeen days and there was much time to relax before finding a vessel for their return to England, the HMHS Valdivia. The voyage was very difficult because the ship was rolling too much and there were not sufficient supplies of fresh water. The situation became more critical when arrived the order to close all the portholes on the lower decks. The hospital ship finally docked at Southampton on Boxing Day. This was the final chapter of the story of the third Olympic-class liner.
- Hostage To Fortune - Simon Mills
- HMHS Britannic:The Last Titan - Simon Mills