After an excellent lunch at the Links Hotel in West Runton, we enjoyed an equally excellent talk by Mr James Stebbings, about the RMS Lusitania. This ship belonged to the Cunard line, and was launched in 1906. It was the pride of the Cunard fleet and in 1908 received the Blue Riband accolade for making the fastest transatlantic crossing at the time.
In 1915, although the UK (including Ireland) was at war with Germany, the US was neutral, and some passenger ships were still travelling across the Atlantic. The German Embassy in the US published an advertisement warning that the waters around the British Isles were a war zone but, nonetheless, on 1 May 1915 Lusitania set sail for Liverpool. It was believed that a combination of speed and zigzagging would protect the ship from attack. On its approach to the southern coast of Ireland, there was a short period when the captain steered a straight course, to take a bearing from the Kinsale lighthouse. Alas, at this point the ship was struck by a torpedo. There was chaos amongst the passengers – no lifeboat drill had been undertaken and not enough lifeboats could be launched because of the listing of the ship. After a second explosion, the Lusitania took less than 20 minutes to sink. Various vessels came up to rescue survivors, and took them to Queenstown. In the end, 767 people had survived the sinking but 1,193 people had lost their lives. James’ excellent talk concluded with some of the questions still remaining about this disaster, e.g.: should the Lusitania have sailed in the first place? Was the captain negligent? Were the Germans entitled to attack?
The chairman and members thanked James for telling us so much about a story which deserves to be better known.