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Wreaths cast on Lusitania centenary

Published 07/05/2015

The Lusitania was targeted by a U-Boat
The Lusitania was targeted by a U-Boat

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

Among those throwing wreaths was 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 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 serves 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 was due to sound again later today when passengers from Queen Victoria will be among those attending a Lusitania memorial service at the Irish port of Cobh led by Irish President Michael D Higgins.

The whistle will blow 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 will also be a memorial service at Our Lady and St Nicholas Parish Church in Liverpool. This will be followed by a walk of remembrance to the Lusitania propeller - located on the quayside near Merseyside Maritime Museum - at 2.10pm.

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.

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 (22.5km) 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.

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. The Lusitania had been carrying ammunition so could be described as a legitimate target. Also, the Germans had earlier warned that they would attack any Allied ships.

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