The Titanic Historical Society

To Hell And Back

The Maiden Voyage of Britannic

by Simon Mills

Simon Mills, a long time friend and member of the Titanic Historical Society has written a special chapter for his latest book "To Hell And Back, The Maiden Voyage of Britannic" exclusively for The Titanic Commutator. We will be offering you a taste of the article here and the complete article will appear in the February/May 2003 issue of The Titanic Commutator.

Her first voyage was a far cry from that originally planned for the ship.

Early on the frosty morning of Tuesday 22nd December 1915, a taxi from the London & NorthWestern Railway Hotel pulled up alongside Liverpool's Gladstone Dock carrying a passenger who, although by no means a novice, had every reason to be particularly excited.

At thirty-nine years of age Dr. Harold Goodman was already more than familiar with life's trials. After leaving school at the age of seventeen, and started his medical training at St. Bartholomew's Hospital in London and after qualifying in 1899 he moved to Beckett's Hospital in Barnsley. Archive photo compared to the underward photo of same portionShortly afterwards he took a locum at Hemsworth, where he would eventually take over the medical practice, and throughout this time he would use the Warde Adlam Cottage Hospital, adjacent to the Frickley Colliery, to operate on his surgical cases.

His experience of this hardened industrial background was now about to pay dividends, for Dr. Goodman's latest assignment was to His Majesty's Hospital Ship Britannic, the largest, if not quite the most luxurious hospital ship in the world.

In fact, both doctor and vessel were new to the military lifestyle. After lying dormant for the first fifteen months of the war, the value of the incomplete leviathan lying at Belfast could no longer be overlooked by the Military Transport Division. Britannic was finally requisitioned for service on 13th November, and throughout the ensuing four weeks the workforce at Harland and Wolff, Belfast, had worked around the clock to transform the hollow shell into the finest hospital ship afloat. By the time Britannic was ready to depart on her trials on 8th December the cavernous interiors had been fitted out with over 3,300 cots, mostly of the permanent two decker type, although there were also the slightly more comfortable camp beds for the more fortunate. The neglected hull paintwork had also undergone a total transformation from a shabby grey to the internationally recognized colours of a hospital ship a glistening white hull, with a green band running from stem to sternpost, broken by three large red crosses. As a finishing touch, the ship's four giant funnels were painted yellow, thus helping to ensure that the enemy would have no difficulty in identifying Britannic as a hospital ship.

After an overnight crossing from Belfast, Britannic, under the command of Captain Joseph Ranson, finally arrived at Liverpool's Gladstone Dock early on the morning of 12th December to complete the fitting out and to take on the medical staff and supplies, being officially commissioned as a hospital ship that same day. Two days later Captain Charles Bartlett arrived from Scotland to assume command and with his arrival the command structure was all but complete.

Dr. Goodman's call to the colours was even more recent, having only been appointed as a lieutenant in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) on 14th December. The ensuing week and after spending the last in England at the NorthWestern Hotel was, at last, ready to "do his bit."

Flying the flags on Carolyn Chouest's foremastUnfortunately, it seemed that everybody would have to wait a little bit longer. At 11.00 a.m. Britannic pulled out into the Mersey, only to promptly drop anchor and remain strangely immobile. For all the effort to get the ship ready, two hundred RAMC orderlies had still not arrived from Aldershot and were not liable to be onboard for another twelve hours. To pass the time, after settling into cabin 51, a two-berth stateroom that he was to share with Lieutenant Anderson, Goodman spent the rest of the day going over the ship. In that Britannic was a vessel of such a colossal size it was to be time well spent, because the missing orderlies would not finally arrive on board until midnight, but twenty minutes later the order was given to raise the anchor as the fully illuminated Britannic finally headed westward into the Irish Sea.

The devil makes work for idle hands, and on board Britannic it was to be no exception. Throughout the day rumours were rife as to where the ship was actually headed. For some curious reason Australia seemed to be the leading contender, but Goodman wasn't convinced. The monotony was briefly interrupted by the morning parade at 10.30, after which Lieutenant Colonel Henry Stewart Anderson, the Senior Medical Officer, made his daily round of the ship, and by the time it was over, Goodman and four others had been allocated the 426 beds of F, L, M, N and V wards, located in the starboard forward part of...

Archive photo compared to the underward photo of same portion

Titanic Commutator 133
Issue Number 133
Read about the research trip to the wreck of the Britannic by the THS with Dr. Ballard, Ken Marschall, Eric Sauder and Simon Mills in this Special Issue of the Titanic Commutator. The cover features a painting by Ken Marschall of Britannic as a hospital ship. Printed issues are available from our Museum Shop.
 (Click to purchase a copy)

Eric Sauder holding memorial plaque
Eric Sauder holding the THS memorial plaque shortly before it was placed in near Britannic. Eric was a member of the team that went with the THS to the Agean to visit and investigate the wreck of the Britannic.