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The Sinking of the Lusitania page 3


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"Neutral ship will also incur danger in the war region where, in view of the misuse of neutral flags ordered by the British Government, and incidents inevitable in sea warfare, attacks intended for hostile ships may affect neutral ships also."

A few days later the Lusitania arrived at Liverpool from New York flying the American flag. There was a fuss, and the Foreign Office issued a statement that the use of the neutral flag was, with certain limitations, well established in practice as a ruse de guerre. The statement continued that the British Government always considered the use of the British colours by a foreign vessel legitimate for the purpose of escaping capture.

On March 1 came the British answer to the German "War Region" threat. Mr. Asquith, the Prime Minister, announced to a crowded House of Commons that the British Fleet had instituted a blockade effectively controlling by cruiser cordon all passage to and from Germany by sea.

No merchant vessel which sailed from her port of departure after March 1 was to be allowed to proceed on her voyage to any German port; nor was any vessel sailing from a German port after March 1 to be allowed to proceed on her voyage.

It was an effective blackade. The Germans called it a cruel one. They saw their food supplies running ever shorter; mothers saw their babies wasting in their arms; their children growing prematurely old for want of food. It caused the Germans to call us "Baby-starvers" as later we called their Zeppelins "Baby-killers."

It was a cruel blockade - but war is cruel and the best war is a short war.

By the middle of April German auxiliary cruisers, which had caused great havoc among the British Mercantile Marine, had been swept off the Western seas. The Prinz Eitel Friedrich had put into port at Newport News, and had been promptly interned by the Americans. On April 11, Kronprinz Wilhelm cast anchor in Hampton Roads and also was interned. Nothing had been heard of her since August 3, 1914, when she steamed out of New York Harbour, but in the meantime she had destroyed thirteen British and French merchant ships.

If news of the Lusitania outrage shocked the world the visible evidence of "Frightfulness" sent a thrill of horror through all who had the misfortune to see it.

The dead, as well as the living, were brought to Queens-town. They came in batches, as they were found, or as the tides gave up their dead, and were laid side by side in three improvised mortuaries. The largest of these was the Market Hall, and here, all day and day after day, men and women passed up and down, seeking, yet fearing to find relatives and friends.

A wife had been torn from her husband on the heeling deck - she to go to a boat, he to remain and take his chance. Often it was a chance that ended in death, and the reunion was in this bare hall - -the living and the dead.

The bodies lay as they had been found. They wore the clothes, scanty for the most part, in which they had gone down so gaily to lunch. Some of the dead faces were terrible to behold - terror was stamped there; and anguish. Others were calm and beautiful as though at the last had come the sight of something wonderful beyond the grave.

There were children, too. Here was a young mother still clasping in her arms, protectively, a dead child, no more than a year old.

A sailor's body was found with the body of a young child strapped to it. Two children were found closely clasped in each other's arms - dead. Two tiny children lay side by side. They were twins. One of them seemed to be smiling, the face of the other no longer looked like a face.

Men and women came and saw these things, and wept unashamedly. But there was anger with the tears, and a determination to see that the price of "Frightfulness" was paid. How it was paid we all know. Had it been in the power of those people to deal out justice the reckoning would have been heavy indeed.

The first detailed inquest proceedings were held at: Kinsale, where, in the old Court House, a score of journalists and a handful of the general public heard Captain Turner tell the story of the disaster. Some of the questions he was asked he respectfully declined to answer, referring the Coroner, on grounds of national expediency, to the Admiralty.

For instance, he did not disclose the special instructions he had received. He carried them out, he said, to the best of his ability.

When he came to the danger zone the boats were swung out, and the bulkhead doors closed. The vessel was steaming at 18 knots.

"I was on the port side of the lower bridge," he said, "when I heard the Second Officer, Mr. Hefford, call out: 'There is a torpedo.' I ran over to the other side, and just saw the wake of it. When the torpedo struck the ship I heard an explosion, and smoke and steam went up between the fourth and third funnels, and there was a slight shock of the ship.

"Immediately after the explosion there was another report, but possibly that may have been an indirect explosion. I gave orders to lower the boats down to the rails, and to get the women and children into them, and I also gave the order to stop the ship, but we could not as the engines were out of commission. It was not, therefore, possible to lower the boats into the water as the speed was too great."

Even up to the time the vessel went down, added the Captain, there was perceptible headway. She listed to starboard directly she was struck. She sank in about eighteen minutes.

"It was a quarter-past two by my watch when she was struck, and it stopped at 2.36^. It may, of course, possibly have gone on for two or three minutes while I was in the water."

He produced the watch to show the time it had stopped, and a juryman commented on the fact that it had stopped at the exact time that another watch found on one of the drowned men had stopped.

He was in the water for over two and three-quarter hours, and was picked up from the wreckage and put on board a trawler.

"Were there many other people in the water round you when you were picked up?" he was asked.

"No one living," was the reply.

He was travelling at 18 knots. The vessel could do 25 knots, but during the war the speed was reduced to 21.

He was travelling at this speed because he wished to arrive at Liverpool Bar when the state of the tide was such as would enable him to steam straight in without having to stop and wait for a pilot.

There was a double look-out. The boats could not be launched for two reasons, said the Captain. Primarily because of the speed at which the ship was travelling - a speed they were unable to check - and also because of the list. Several, however, did get away.

"Were your orders with regard to these things promptly carried out, or was there any panic?"

"There was very little panic. All was calm, and all my orders were promptly obeyed. ... I cannot find that they were broken in any way."

In answer to a juror as to whether the owners had made any application for escort, he said:

"I know nothing whatever about it. I simply received my orders to go, and I went. I would do so again."

The Coroner: "I am glad to hear you say that."

He had ordered the watertight doors to be closed actually before the vessel was struck, but the explosion must have reopened some of them. He headed straight for land. All his passengers were provided with lifebelts.

The Coroner: "I want this clearly established, Captain. Was there any warning of any kind given to you by the submarine before the torpedo was fired?"

"None whatever. Straight done and finished; they got the lot."

The Coroher expressed appreciation of the Captain's high courage, worthy of the high traditions of the Merchant Service to which tie belonged.

The jury returned a verdict that the "appalling crime" was contrary to International Law, and "we, therefore, charge the officers of the submarine and the Emperor and Government of Germany, under whose orders they acted, with the crime of wilful murder before the tribunal of the civilised world."

Monday came, and question time in the House of Commons; a shocked Hoiise, with Honourable Members quiet, sad, but-dangerously-angry. Mr. Winston Churchil, First Lord of the? Admiralty, was in his place early to answer the questions that must be answered. All England was waiting for the answers.

"We, sent a warning to the Lusitania," he said, "and directions for her course. Both messages were acknowledged"—and then came the dramatic phrase - "the second message shortly before the attack. No special escort was sent."

Lord Charles Beresford asked whether there was a patrol. He asked, too, about the speed of the ship.

But Mr. Houston, one of the Liverpool members, asked questions more pointed. Was the Government aware, he inquired, that a day previous to the disaster two other liners, the Candidate and the Centurion, had been sunk by a submarine, when outward bound, off the Irish coast, and in view of that fact what steps had the Admiralty taken to ensure the safety of the Lusitania?

Mr. Churchill: "We do attempt to provide an escort, sometimes for vessels carrying troops, munitions of war and cargoes which are vitally needed by the Government.... Our principle is that a merchant vessel must look after itself, subject to the general arrangements made. A shocking exception like this of the Lusitania ought not at all to divert the attention of the House, or the world, from the main fact that the entire sea-borne trade of this country is being carried without appreciable loss or injury."

Lord Charles Beresford: "Is it within the memory of the Prime Minister that I wrote him a letter on April 15, giving warnings of the perils that met the Lusitania, and making certain proposals to avoid them, and may I ask why these warnings were unheeded?"

Mr. Asquith: "They were not unheeded."

Mr. Churchill: "The Prime Minister gave me the letter of the noble Lord, and it was carefully studied at the Admiralty, as all his suggestions are, and so far from the warning being unheeded a great many of the measures he advocated and already been applied on the largest possible scale."

Mr. Churchill declared that, pending the Board of Trade inquiry which had been ordered, under the presidency of Lord Mersey, he would make no further statement at the moment.

During the next few days anti-German feeling in England was intensified.

German-born naturalized subjects who were members of the London Stock Exchange, the Baltic Exchange, and other markets were suspended or advised to absent themselves. Provincial Exchanges followed the example of the Metropolis.

Smithfield Market declined to deal with enemy aliens. There were scenes in the Market when German dealers appeared.

It was in Liverpool - the home of the torpedoed ship - that the trouble first came to a head. Relatives of the crew and their friends, by way of reprisal - a word that was rapidly corning into the currency - attacked the shops of Germans, principally pork butchers. Many premises were completely wrecked, and goods and furniture thrown into the street.

The attacks began on the Sunday following the sinking, and continued on the following day. As a consequence public-houses in the City of Liverpool were closed at 6 p.m. - an unheard-of proceeding, which did little to placate the rioters. Many arrests were made.

It was announced in Liverpool that all German and Austrian subjects who were not naturalized British subjects were to be interned, and those who were naturalized were warned to leave the city and go to inland districts. At Birkenhead similar riotous scenes were seen.

In London things were even worse. For several days after the news of the Lusitania disaster was made known the alien population was subjected to a reign of terror. On Tuesday raids - apparently arranged - took place in Poplar, Lime-house, Stepney, Walthamstow, and Bethnal Green. Large forces of police, assisted by Territorials, tried to stem the tide, but popular feeling ran too strong, and in many cases windows were broken, furniture and stock thrown into the street, and a bonfire made of the lot.

Shops were plundered and wrecked, and in one day in the Camden Town and Kentish Town districts alone 150 shops were attacked.

At Southend the military garrison was called out to quell a riot and protect German residents against whom the crowd was demonstrating.

"This was England's answer to the outrage at sea, and it had its inevitable sequel. Reprisal had come swiftly, but it must be admitted that the blows fell upon the innocent as well as the guilty.

Many of the dealers on the Exchanges whose absence had been demanded were men who had lived for years in this country, and whose sympathies were entirely pro-British. They employed many clerks at good wages, and many of them at the time when they were barred from 'Change were paying wages to men fighting with the British colours.

But the inevitable had to happen. On May 13, Mr. Asquith announced in the House of Commons that all enemy aliens in this country would be put out of reach of harm by internment or despatch by deportation unless grounds were shown for exceptional treatment. Naturalized persons of enemy origin were to be left at liberty.

The report of the inquiry was read at a special sitting at Caxton House, Westminster, on Saturday, July 17. Lord Mersey, who had conducted the enquiry into the Titanic disaster in 1912, acted as Wreck Commissioner. The report found that:

"The loss of the said ship and lives was due to damage caused to the said ship by torpedoes fired by a submarine of German nationality, whereby the ship sank.

"In the opinion of the Court the act was done not merely with the intention of sinking the ship, but also with the intention of destroying the lives of the people on board."

Lord Mersey went on to say that the condition of the lifeboats and life-saving appliances was satisfactory, and though there were mishaps in such matters as hauling the ropes, there was, in his opinion, no incompetence or neglect.

"I find the conduct of the masters, the officers and crew was satisfactory. They did their best in difficult and perilous circumstances, and their best was good."

In an annex to the main report Lord Mersey said: "The whole blame for the cruel destruction of life in this catastrophe must rest solely with those who plotted, and with those who committed the crime."

Lord Mersey found that the cargo was of the ordinary kind, but included a number of cases of cartridges (about 5,000), which were entered on the manifest. They were stowed well forward on the orlop and lower decks, about fifty yards from where the ship was struck. There was no other explosive on board.

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