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The Sinking of the Lusitania page 2


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But soon it became certain that a great disaster had indeed happened. Shortly before 6.30 official confirmation was received at the offices of the Gunard Company in Gockspur Street. The Lusitania had been torpedoed and sunk. There were no details of the lost - or of the saved. People began to collect outside the office waiting for news. Telegrams were posted up as they arrived. As late as 10.30 no definite news had been received of the probable number of the survivors.

Women stood in the streets for hours, never moving except when a fresh bulletin was displayed behind the plate glass.

In Liverpool - the vessel's home port, and therefore the port from which the majority of the crew was drawn - crowds gathered outside the company's offices waiting for news. The Lusitania there was known affectionately as "Lucy," just as her elder sister was called "Mary," and there, again, people remembered the rumours.

"Names, names," was the cry. But there were no names yet.

Across the Atlantic there were other crowds - waiting. Among them were Germans and German-Americans; and they openly jeered.

"We warned them. Our Embassy advertised the warning. We are within our rights," they said. But the temper of the crowd was ugly. Outside the offices of the Tribune one of these gloaters was mauled and almost killed. It was only the absence of definite news that prevented a more serious outbreak. It was well known that many American passengers were on the vessel. "If any American has been murdered," the crowd said, "we shall want a reckoning."

The news caused a temporary panic on Wall Street, leading stock in railways and industrials falling six to ten points. The principal banks, to avert the panic, bought heavily, but the market closed in confusion.

The question was: "What would Wilson do? Would he act up to the letter of his Note and call Germany to "strict accountability?"

Survivors' stories filled the main pages of all the newspapers; every London daily had sent a man post-haste to Queenstown, and columns were filled with personal impressions of the disaster, which, allowing for the difference in the individual, bore a striking resemblance. Nowhere did one find evidence of panic - some of the survivors saw one side of the affair, some another. Here is the narrative of Dr. Moore, of Yankton, South Dakota, as he told it while sitting on a Queenstown jetty.

"At ten minutes to two," he said, "I went down to luncheon, and ten minutes later there was a muffled, drum-like sound coming from the direction of the bow. Immediately after the ship began to list to starboard.

"There were general exclamations on the part of the women at the noise of the explosion. The men soothed them by declaring that there was no danger, and that we had only struck a small mine. The first panicky feeling soon disappeared, and the passengers made their way in perfect order to the deck above.

"There were no boats being lowered on the starboard side where the sea was now only about twelve feet below the rail....

"I saw a woman clinging to the gunwale of an unlowered boat. Looking over the side I saw a boat which was being lowered about eight feet below, so I pushed the woman over. She fell into the boat and I dropped over after her. As the lowering of the boat proceeded the ropes at the bow got fast, and the stern fell, until the boat was almost perpendicular.

"A young fellow - one of the stokers, I believe - seized a hatchet and cut away the ropes. The boat dropped straight into the water with a splash. Strangely enough none of us fell out.

"Two men, one of whom had sung at a concert the night before, were in the water alongside us, and tried to get into the boat, but some of the men already in exclaimed: 'Shove away or we shall go down in the suction.'

"We took the oars and pushed off about fifty feet. The boat was so crowded and low that water was slipping in rapidly over the side. We tried to bale her out, some of us using our hats, but we did not make much progress.

"As the boat was being slowly submerged I threw out a keg which was lying in the bottom of the boat, and jumped out after it. A steward named Freeman, who was clinging to a deck chair, came and joined me. Looking over my shoulder I saw a number of people scrambling out of the boat I had just left, and in a short time it turned completely over.

"There was another boat, very heavily laden, some distance away, and a number of contrivances which appeared to be small rafts. Altogether I should think there were about ten or a dozen boats or rafts afloat."

Eventually the doctor and the steward, after floating with their cask for about an hour, reached a raft made of canvas with iron rowlocks.

"There were," the doctor goes on, "about twenty-five people on board, two of them women. We took a lighthouse as our objective, and rowed desperately; taking turns. Then we were cheered by the sight of a patrol boat. She took us on board, and then went to the scene of the disaster, where we were able to pick up other survivors. Not a few of them were injured. One little boy of not more than ten or eleven had his thigh fractured. I improvised splints and dressings, and after a while we were delighted to hear him ask: 'Is there a funny paper on board?'"

The doctor goes on to describe the last moments of the torpedoed liner. He was floating in the sea, clinging to his keg when the end came, and he describes it:

"As she went down I saw a number of people jump from the topmost part of the deck into the sea. One of them, I think, was a woman. I heard no screaming at the last; but a long, wailing, mournful, despairing, beseeching cry."

Then there is the tragic story of Mr. Franklin, of Birmingham. He put his wife and family - two boys and a girl - into a boat, and then got a lifebelt for himself. The boat capsized. He managed to get hold of two of the children, but when the ship sank they were drawn under, and the children were wrenched from his grasp. He came up alone. Francis, aged nine, clung to the upturned boat and was rescued.

Mr. Isaac Lehmann, of New York, told of a revolver incident. One of the boats was swinging, but not launched.

"I drew my revolver," he said, "and shouted: 'I'll shoot the first man who doesn't launch that boat.' The boat was launched with about sixty people in it and got away all right but the Lusitania lurched and the boat came back and struck the side, about twenty people being killed or injured.... When the ship went down I was thrown clear of the wreckage but went under twice. Then my lifebelt brought me up, and by placing two oars under my arms I kept myself afloat for four and a half hours and was then rescued."

Now listen to another story; that of Mr. D. A. Thomas.

"There was a boat about ten feet away. A woman on the deck was exclaiming excitedly, 'Let me jump,' but she did not offer to do so. I asked if there would be room for me, as there were no more women about, and they replied that there would. Still the woman did not jump, but continued to cry 'Let me jump.'

"'For God's sake, jump,' I said, for I could feel the ship was on the point of sinking. I gave her a push forward, and she jumped safely into the boat, and, stepping on a taut rope, I also jumped into the boat."

But even then their troubles were not over, as the boat was attached by davit ropes to the ship, which was now obviously about to sink. They managed to cut them just in time, but it seemed now as though one of the funnels would collapse upon them, but either the ship or the boat must have moved and the danger was averted.

"Then," he went on, "the ship went down only ten or twelve feet away. They say her bow went down first and her stern came up, but my observation was that she rolled gently over and sank." When they saw her sinking the party in the boat thought they were certainly doomed because of the suction, but there seemed to be no suction at all, and though they were only a dozen yards away they felt only the slightest motion of the water.

A daughter of Mr. Thomas, Lady Mackworth, was another survivor, and she had an experience that few people could endure and survive. Actually, she went down with the ship and lived to tell her story. She was on the top deck. There were many people there, she said afterwards, but there was no panic. She was unable to obtain a place in a boat and when the ship went down she was drawn down with it.

"I suddenly felt the water all about me," she said, "and was terrified lest I should be caught in something and held under.

"I went right under - a long way - and when I came to the surface I had swallowed a lot of water before I remembered to close my mouth tight. I was half unconscious, but I managed to seize a boat which I saw in front of me, and hang on to it. The water was crowded with wreckage... and people swimming.... There were some boats not far away, and we all called to them, but the people in them could not hear us. I became unconscious, and the next thing I remember is lying on the deck of the Bluebell, with a sailor bending over me saying, 'You are better now.'"

A terrible experience befell Dr. G. E. Foss, of Montana. He got a lifebelt and jumped over the port side. He fell near the propeller, which was still revolving, though at diminishing speed. Just above him, smashed against the side of the ship, was a boat, still hanging by ropes from its davits. A man was clinging to it; desperately. Women and children were jumping overboard from the port side, which was high above the water.

Dr. Foss swam to one of the boats. On the way he came to a woman clasping a child in her arms. "I held them up," he said, simply, "until a boat came and took them aboard, first the child and then the mother...." But there was no room for him.

He swam towards another boat which was almost filled with women. It was leaking badly, and from the water he shouted to the women to bale out. But they had nothing to bale out with, exceptt their hands.

Presently the boat capsized, flinging the women into the water. Most of them managed to grasp the upturned boat, and, as they were nearly all on one side their combined weight turned it completely over again.

They tried to clamber into it; only to upset it once more, and it was not until the lifeboat had been capsized and righted a dozen times that the women - those who were left - were able to climb in.

He was rescued, eventually, by a raft, on to which he dragged a woman who was floating past. She was apparently drowned, and for forty minutes he applied artificial respiration. She revived and they were taken off by the Indian Empire, a steamboat.

There was no panic, said the doctor, only excitement. "In fact," he said afterwards, "I noticed more excitement among the crew than among the passengers."

Germany struck a medal to commemorate the event. But in English-speaking countries the phrase - "Remember the Lusitania" meant a very different thing. It soon became a slogan; it took more men to the recruiting offices than all the white feathers which misguided patriots had begun to distribute at this time. It ranked with the "Remember Edith Cavell," of another date. It was heard in the pulpit and the public-house; it appeared in the newspapers and on the hoardings; men muttered it in the dawn as they went "over the top."

Probably no other three words during the whole of the war period carried a more poignant message. It was more powerful than the "Gott Strafe England" of the Fatherland, because it carried in those three words the whole futility and cruelty of war. Though it was not until two years later that the United States entered the war, hundreds of American citizens crossed the border and enlisted in the Canadian forces.

Directly after the disaster Germany telegraphed a message of sympathy to Washington. It regretted the loss of American lives, but threw the responsibility upon the British Government for initiating inhuman methods of war - they referred to the blockade, of which more later - and alleged that the Lusitania on previous trips had carried large quantities of war material and that on the present voyage she was carrying 4,500 cases of ammunition.

And so, on the face of it, it seemed as though this act must bring America into the war - the war that had been waiting for it, so cynics said, for a year. But President Woodrow Wilson - a scholar, dreamer, and, long afterwards, author of the famous 14 Points - thought otherwise.

Possibly he was sincere, possibly he viewed the growing, and ever growing, prosperity of his land through the sale of foodstuff to nations which could not grow food; possibly he thought of the Munroe Doctrine, and all that it implied, but, at all events, he refused to take the sinking of the Lusitania as a causus belli.

He lost no time in vain regrets for the drowned, for almost directly afterwards, at Philadelphia, he delivered the "too proud to fight" speech.

The example of America, he said, must be a special example of peace, because peace was the healing, elevating influence of the world - and strife was not. "There was such a thing as a man being too proud to fight; such a thing as a nation being so right that it did not need to convince others by force that it was right."

On August 26, the White Star liner Arabic, with a crew of 248, and carrying 181 passengers, was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine off Queenstown. No warning was given. Of the 39 victims 26 were American citizens, and again President Wilson sent a Note to Germany setting out once more his demands made at the time of the Lusitania tragedy, that warning should be given before a ship was sunk and that the lives of non-combatants should thus be safeguarded.

This time the Germans gave the undertaking, but on September 1, the Allan liner Hesperian was torpedoed and sunk off the Irish coast, 25 persons, including one American, being lost. For this the German Government subsequently apologised to the United States. The attack on the liner, it said, was a mistake and the submarine commander had been censured! Yet America still remained neutral.

And what were these blockades? On February 4, 1915, Von Pohl, Chief of the Marine Staff at Berlin, issued the following, which was by way of being a blockade of Great Britain:

"The waters round Great Britain and Ireland, including the whole of the English Channel, are herewith proclaimed a war region. On and after February 18, every enemy merchant vessel found in this war region will be destroyed, without its always being found possible to warn the crew or passengers of the dangers threatening.

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