World War I Project – August

The Troop Ship RMS Olympic and Her Sister Ships

Updated Oct 18 2022 with a new YouTube link

Towards the end of July 1916, our 112th Battalion from Windsor set sail on the RMS Olympic from Halifax to Liverpool. It is interesting to learn that the Olympic was the first of 3 sister ships – the others were the more famous Titanic and the Britannic. All three ships were the same design, built in Belfast, and owned by the White Star Line. The Olympic started service in 1911, the Titanic in 1912, and the Britannic in 1914. We all know what happened to the Titanic on April 15, 1912. (The above photo was taken the month before in Belfast on March 6, 1912; Olympic is on the left and Titanic on the right being outfitted for her maiden voyage). After the disaster, 24 lifeboats were added to the Olympic and the water tight bulkheads were improved.

During World War 1, the Olympic was converted to be a troop carrier. She was painted in camouflage colours, and heavy guns were installed at the bow and stern. She was designed to normally carry 2400 passengers and a crew of 860. However, she was modified to transport 6000 soldiers at a time. She was a common sight in Halifax Harbour at Pier 2, making 10 trips to England, loaded with Canadian soldiers.

The Britannic was launched in 1914, after the War had started. She was converted into a hospital ship. The dining room was turned into a hospital ward and surgery. There were accommodations for 3000 casualties. She was painted white with large red crosses on both sides so submarines would not attack. Casualties from the Eastern Mediterranean (Turkey and Egypt) were sent to Greece and then taken on board the Britannic for the trip back to England. On November 21, 1916, while passing through the Greek Islands, the Britannic struck a mine deployed by a German Submarine. Just like the Titanic, she quickly sank and is still at the bottom of the Aegean Sea in about 110 meters of water. There were 1065 crew and medical staff on board; 30 died in the disaster but all the rest were rescued. Luckily there were no war casualties on board at the time. In 1975, Jacques Cousteau located the wreck and made a film about exploring the ship (now available to watch on You Tube, one of several video links provided at end of this post).

The RMS Olympic was the only survivor of the 3 sister ships. After the War, she brought our troops home and then resumed regular trans-Atlantic passenger service. She was retired in 1935 and was scrapped.

(note: RMS Royal Mail Steamship)

The West Hants Historical Society is saluting our local soldiers who died in World War 1. One hundred years ago in August 1916, there was only one soldier from Hants County killed in action:

Irving, Thomas Herbert

Regimental No. 427805

Private Thomas Herbert Irving was born in Harcourt, NB on February 8, 1887. He was working as a train brakeman. He volunteered for service in Swift Current on August 4, 1915 and was assigned to the 58th Battalion. He was killed in action in Belgium on August 19, 1916. His next of kin was his father, James F. Irving residing in Shubenacadie, Hants County. His name is remembered at the Menin Gate (Ypres) Memorial, Belgium.

The West Hants Historical Society is saluting our local soldiers who died in World War 1. This post is part of a series presented here on our website.

Note: If you have any old photos, post cards, letters, or diaries from these soldiers (or others); please share them with us at the West Hants Museum in Windsor. We are open every day through the summer.

YouTube video of Search for Titanic’s Sister Ship, Brittanic Full Documentary (55min)

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