The Lusitania was the jewel in Liverpool’s crown and her sinking sent shockwaves throughout the world and yesterday wreaths were cast into the sea at the spot where the Cunard British cruise liner sank a hundred years ago.
Alan Gibson, who lost his great-uncle when the Lusitania was torpedoed by a German U-boat off the coast of southern Ireland on May 7 1915, with the loss of 1,201 lives, was among those throwing wreaths to mark yesterday’s centenary of the disaster.
Around 50 passengers or crew were from Yorkshire.
Another who cast a wreath was George Harrison, whose great-grandfather George Little, a crewman on the Lusitania, was among the survivors.
The wreath-casting was part of a ceremony on board modern-day Cunard liner Queen Victoria and came as the ship, on which Mr Harrison served as a second engineer, paused over the site of the wreck of the Lusitania.
Queen Victoria’s Master, Commodore Christopher Rynd, and Cunard chairman David Dingle also cast wreaths. Other relatives of those who died or survived threw flowers into the sea and the Queen Victoria’s whistle sounded.
It sounded again when passengers from Queen Victoria were among those attending a Lusitania memorial service at the Irish port of Cobh led by Irish President Michael D Higgins.
The whistle blew at 2.10pm - the moment the Liverpool-bound Lusitania was torpedoed, and again at 2.28pm, the time the 31,000-tonne vessel sank.
There was a memorial service at Our Lady and St Nicholas Parish Church in Liverpool, followed by a walk of remembrance to the Lusitania propeller – located on the quayside near Merseyside Maritime Museum.
Among the 1,266 passengers and around 696 crew, there were 129 children, of whom 94 perished as the ship, sailing from New York, sank in just 18 minutes.
Peter Kelly, author and researcher, said: “...the sinking of the Lusitania was a dramatic change in how wars were fought in that this was a deliberate attack on a commercial liner that was known to be carrying civilians. Prior to this, battles were usually ‘arranged’ so as to be fought in open areas and fields, and away from villages, towns, and civilian area in general.”
Built at the John Brown shipyard on the River Clyde in Scotland, the Lusitania was also carrying 159 Americans, of whom 128 were killed.
The ship’s captain, William Turner, who survived after the ship went down, had received messages on the morning of the disaster that there were German submarines in the area and he altered course. But a German sub, U-20, spotted the Lusitania 14 miles off the Old Head of Kinsale in Ireland and fired a torpedo that hit the vessel.
There had been time to send out an SOS and the Courtmacsherry lifeboat launched at 3pm.
By the time they arrived, other rescue craft were on the scene and they were only able to pick up dead bodies.
A formal investigation, headed by Wreck Commissioner Lord Mersey, started in Westminster in June 1915.
The Germans were blamed, and Captain Turner cleared. The disaster sparked international fury.