Lusitania 100th anniversary service

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Published: Sunday 3rd May 2015 by The News Editor

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A memorial service on Thursday will mark the 100th anniversary of an event shocking even by First World War standards – the sinking of the Cunard British liner Lusitania with the loss of 1,200 lives.

Attended by passengers from the present-day Cunard liner Queen Victoria, the service will take place at the Irish port of Cobh (formerly Queenstown) in County Cork.

At 2.10pm on Thursday, Queen Victoria’s whistle will blow. It was at that moment on May 7 1915 that the 31,000-tonne Cunard liner Lusitania was torpedoed by German U-Boat, U-20, about 14 miles off the southern Irish coast.

The Queen Victoria whistle will be sounded again at 2.28pm – the time the Lusitania sank.

Among the 1,266 passengers on board were 129 children of whom 94 perished as the ship, sailing from New York to Liverpool, sank in just 18 minutes.

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, captained by Walther Schwieger, spotted the Lusitania 14 miles off the Old Head of Kinsale in Ireland and fired a torpedo that hit the vessel which quickly sank.

T here 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.

The Wanderer, a fishing boat from the Isle of Wight, managed to pick up about 200 survivors.

A formal investigation, headed by Wreck Commissioner Lord Mersey, started in Westminster in June 1915.

The Germans were blamed, and Captain Turner cleared, with the action described as having been undertaken “not merely with the intention of sinking the ship, but also with the intention of destroying the lives of the people on board”.

The outrage sparked international fury, with demands that America should immediately come into the war, although it was not until 1917 that the US finally entered the conflict.

One hundred years on, controversy still surrounds the sinking.

“It seems likely that the arguments will rage on for another 100 years,” Cunard historian Michael Gallagher said.

“There was controversy over the messages sent to Captain Turner on the morning of the sinking and there were determined attempts to blame him at the inquiry.

“Lord Mersey was so outraged that he refused to accept any fee for his work and asked to be excused from any similar inquiries in the future.

“The Lusitania was carrying arms and it could be argued that it was a legitimate target.

“The British government seized on the sinking for war propaganda purposes with posters appearing saying ‘Avenge the Lusitania’.”

Published: Sunday 3rd May 2015 by The News Editor

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