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Massachusetts Medical Society




In the lore of the sea there are few events that have so exemplified heroism and self-sacrifice as the acts of the soldiers and sailors of the British ship Birkenhead when it sank in 1852. The soldiers of the 74th Highland Regiment stood at attention on deck (with the band playing) “while the women and children were saved and the captain very properly went down with his ship.” More than 450 lives were lost, and the phrase “women and children first” was introduced into the language as part of the “Birkenhead drill.” As Kipling put it in his poem “Soldier an' Sailor Too”: “to stand an' be still to the Birken'ead drill is a damn tough bullet to chew.”


From The New England Journal of Medicine, George J. Annas, Women and Children First, Volume 333, Page 1647 Copyright ©(1995) Massachusetts Medical Society. Reprinted with permission.

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