Lest We Forget : The Lusitania


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... Gare Maritime Tue, 07 May 2013

On the 98 anniversary of the sinking we present a monumental new article about the Lusitania by Jim Kalafus, Michael Poirier, Cliff Barry and Peter Kelly
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Michael Dow

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It's some time now since I last put anything on the Lusitania forum but seeing the latest messages thought it was, perhaps, time for a quick return. The "Lest We Forget" entries were very interesting as were the various entries from members asking about the Anniversary in 1915. Although I have attended several of these in the past the numbers of people attending have got fewer as each year passes. The Maritime Museum in Liverpool are, I think, hoping to get a reasonable attendance as it follows on with the centenary of the First War in 2014.

I was interested to see the articles and extracts from survivors and it reminded me that grandfather told my father that rumours on board the ship after the outbreak of war were rife and largely ill-informed! Nothing of course has changed. The disquiet about using the ship's wireless was not a mystery as the memory of what happened on the "Titanic" were still fresh in everybody's mind and radio traffic had to be confined to official ships communications.

One thing does please me and that is that at long last many Lusitania afficionados (if that is the right word) have put Simpson and Peeke where they belong! I enjoyed the reference to Elvis and the UFO but another I heard recently was asking if people who still took Simpsonites seriously were also members of the Flat Earth Society.

David Ramsay's book is certainly one of the best although he recounts an event in which grandfather allegedly showed a passenger a gun hidden under some ropes on the shelter deck! This most certainly is an error. My father told me that there never was any naval guns on board (at least during my grandfather's time on the ship) and had there been I don't think he would have been showing anyone! What he might have been looking at would be the mounting ring for a gun as these were installed when the ship was built. I am still puzzled about the stories that although the British Admiralty decided not to requisition the ship they reserved the right to use the ship for carrying cargo for (possibly?) military use. If this was correct then it would have been illegal and I really don't see why this was necessary. Even in the event that passenger accommodation was taken down to make room for such a cargo it would only have been large enough for a relatively small amount so would that have been enough to make it financially viable? I think not. The comment that the ship was carrying a large amount of mysterious metal (secret?) items is, I think, unlikely too. If a ship was not taken into service as an Auxiliary Merchant Cruiser she remained in sole control of the owners and this is clearly stated in the published list - I think Lloyds Register? There were usually no half measures and the fact that grandfather (as an RNR officer) was left in command he would have known about any secret or illegal cargo; he always denied any such cargo. In any event there were plenty of ships with the capacity to carry munitions and other military items and I cannot for the life of me see why either Cunard or the Admiralty would want to put their prize ship in such jeopardy

Two other bits of information my father told me was that his father was certainly unhappy with Admiralty involvement but did not attribute this to the carrying of illegal cargo. Second, and I have missed this point in my earlier items, was that my father was a frequent visitor to the ship when she was in Liverpool. He was working in Cunard Building and would have been able to see the ship almost every day. He was also living at home with his parents and frequently went on board to see his father; they would often travel home together and so he would have been well aware of what was happening on the ship. He told me that (a) he never saw any guns mounted or hidden and (b) he doesn't remember coming across any passenger accommodation that had been removed to make extra cargo space. He does admit that the cabins might have been used but added that at some point in time any 'strange' cargos had to be loaded at one end and unloaded at the other and anything out of the ordinary would have been seen by the dockers. Further, the Mersey Dock Board would charge ship owners for the freight, passengers etc that came into the port and so ships would be inspected on their arrival.

A few years ago I think it was Jim Kalfus who suggested that the National Archives may have Admiralty papers relating to their 'activity' with regard to the ship. As far as I know no papers have turned up and a researcher colleague of mine couldn't ind anything either. Now conspiracy enthusiasts will, no doubt, say "Ah! yes but they would have been destroyed"! must remember that no matter how embarrassing government papers may prove to be they are most unlikely to have been shredded. Recent papers now handed over to the National Archive have resulted on a number of incidents which, I am sure, present governments may rather have wished they had been!

Nice to be back and see some old friends still communicating. Hopefully the "Lusitania" will finally be allowed to rest and the old ship slowly collapse into the mud. It''s a pity that her story has been bedeviled with wild stories and controversy but as the truth starts emerging interest in the ship wanes. My father always said that it was just the fortunes of war if aided by a series of unfortunate events and errors. Captain Turner didn't do himself any favours either but he was a man who was not always ready to take advice and who got rather badly mauled at the Enquiry. This wasn't simply a case of the Admiralty wanting Turner to get the blame but their legal advocate doing his job. Turner hadn't followed advice and when the torpedo struck was where he wasn't supposed to be. When grandfather heard the news of the sinking he remarked "But why was he there? What was he doing?" My father also told me that grandfather wasn't happy about the bulkheads in the boiler rooms. In testing they didn't always work as they should and but it has to be remembered that when the ship was designed the idea of submarine attack by torpedoes had not been in anyone's mind.

Grandfather after a short leave took his turn on the "Aquitania" and then the "Mauretania" on their war service. The "Aquitania" was not, I think, actually on the AMC list but was used instead of the "Lusitania". As an RNR Commander he was able to take command of these ships both of which were crewed with Naval personnel and renamed. The "Mauretania" served as a Hospital ship off the Island of Lemnos and was painted white and displaying large Red Crosses but even so an attempt was made to sink her by torpedo!

I would just like to finish by saying a grateful thank you all of you who have shown interest and expertise in the Lusitania story and, especially, to Kent whose friendly correspondence was most welcome and to Keith Allen for his excellent exposition on the 'controversy'. Hopefully, I will be able to attend the Anniversary service in Liverpool up by the propeller in 2015 and will be able to report back.
 
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I would like to correct a few details regarding Catherine Willey as mentioned in "Gone Forever: The Dead and the Missing...

Catherine Willey graduated from Illinois Female College in 1872 (not Illinois College), which is now MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Illinois not Jackson, IL. The College of Music in Jacksonville was associated with Illinois College. As the archivist for MacMurray College, I was doing some research on Kate, when I came upon this website. Additionally, we hold in our Photograph Collection in the archives an 1869 colorized portrait tintype. Her name is listed on the 1872 commencement program as Kate Detrick. The mental asylum that her father worked at would have been the Illinois State Hospital for the Insane in Jacksonville. Thank you for publishing this information.
Lauretta Scheller, Archivist, MacMurray College Jacksonville, IL.
 

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