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Lusitania centenary: wreaths cast at sea where British ship sank 100 years ago

By Jenny Kirkham

Published 07/05/2015

A passenger throwing a wreath off the Queen Victoria, moored off the Old Head of Kinsale near Cobh in Ireland.
A passenger throwing a wreath off the Queen Victoria, moored off the Old Head of Kinsale near Cobh in Ireland.
Queen Victoria moored off the Old Head of Kinsale near Cobh in Ireland before taking part in a service to mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking of Lusitania.
Lusitania moored in the Mersey in 1911

Wreaths have been cast into the sea at the spot where the Cunard British cruise liner Lusitania sank 100 years ago today.

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

The Queen Victoria's whistle will blow today at 2.10pm to commemorate the moment on May 7th 1915 that the 31,000 tonne liner Lusitania was struck by a German torpedo, about 14 miles off the Southern Irish coast.

The whistle will be sounded again at 2.28pm - the time the Lusitania sank.

Among the 1,266 passengers on board were 129 children, 94 of whom perished on the ship, sailing from New York to Liverpool.

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.

The ship was identified by a German sub, U-20, 14 miles off the coast of the Old Head of Kinsale in Ireland. German captain Walther Schwieger gave the order to fire a torpedo at the vessel which sank within 18 minutes.

An SOS was sent out and the Courtmacsherry lifeboat launched at 3pm. By the time they arrived, other rescue crafts were on the scene but 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.

Among those throwing wreaths will be Alan Gibson, who lost his great-uncle when 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.

Another to cast a wreath is George Harrison, whose great-grandfather George Little, a crewman on the Lusitania, was among the survivors.

The wreath-casting is part of a ceremony on board modern-day Cunard liner Queen Victoria and came as the ship, on which Mr Harrison serves as a second engineer, paused over the site of the wreck of the Lusitania.

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