Neerja, a Hindi film, is currently the movie with the second highest box office opening for 2016 in U.K. It is based on the true events of the hijacking of Pan Am Flight 73 where flight attendant Neerja Bhanot sacrificed herself to save 359 passengers. The movie also received rave reviews worldwide.
Stories like Neerja’s should not go unnoticed and forgotten. Here are others who are just as brave as she was:
#1 Mary Ann Rogers (1899)
Mary was a stewardess on board the SS Stella, a passenger ferry that operated on the Southampton – Channel Islands route. The ship’s bottom was ripped open by a submerged granite reef, causing it to sink within eight minutes. Mary was given a lifejacket and a place in earlier lifeboats but she gave it up, allowing other passengers to escape first whilst she comforted and helped the remaining ones. She was last seen going down with the ship, singing a hymn.
Today, a memorial (above) to Mary Ann Rogers stands in Southampton as a tribute to her.
#2 Barbara Jane Harrison (1968)
Just like Neerja, Barbara was also stewardess, but for the British Overseas Airways Corporation. The flight she was on caught fire at Heathrow Airport and she helped passengers escape from the burning plane. According to eyewitnesses, flames were “licking her face” as she pushed the passengers out to safety. Barbara was close to escaping death but instead, she returned to the cabin to save the others.
After the explosion, they found her body together with four other passengers. All had died from asphyxiation due to inhalation of fire fumes.
#3 Edith Cavell (1915)
“Patriotism is not enough”, nurse Edith once said.
She felt that she needed to do something to help others amidst the chaos during World War I. Unlike most people, Edith helped both Allied and German soldiers. She was caught harbouring Allied soldiers in German-occupied Belgium. When charged, she was found to have saved at least 175 soldiers.
The German court condemned her to death and she was sent to the firing squad despite pressure from several governments asking for her life to be spared because she was a medical personnel. Nurse Edith was executed at the age of 49.
#4 Sybil Kathigasu (1948)
Nurse Sybil was one of the manySoutheast Asian heroes during World War II. She smuggled medical supplies and information to the resistance forces in Malaya during the Japanese Occupation whilst also helping injured fighters. In an effort to force resistance information out of her, Japanese soldiers threatened to burn her youngest daughter. Both mother and daughter refused to budge.
Despite being interrogated and tortured by the Japanese military police, she persisted in her efforts. After Malaya was liberated, she was flown to Britain for medical treatment and succumbed to the wounds from the torture, dying a few months later. She is the only Malayan woman to ever be awarded the George Medal for bravery.
#5 Qiu Jin (1907)
Known as the Female Knight of Mirror Lake, Qiu Jin was a progressive woman in old China during the Qing dynasty who advocated for women’s rights. Coming from an unhappy marriage that she was forced into, she campaigned fervently for the freedom to marry as well as calling for the abolishment of foot-binding.
Qiu Jin was publicly beheaded by authorities for her involvement in the Anqing uprising during the Xinhai Revolution; the revolution that overthrew China’s last imperial dynasty (the Qing dynasty) and established the Republic of China.
#6 Petra Herrera (early 1900s)
Petra was one of the solderadas – Mexican women who fought alongside men – during the Mexican Revolution. She was so good at war strategy that she led 200 men into war at one point, and even managed to take the town of Torreón. She set up her own brigade of solderadas after that and was promoted to the rank of colonel, though she requested to be promoted to general.
Petra died from gunshot wounds while working as a spy for the leader of the Mexican Revolution.
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Words by Esther Chung.
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