EAST BELFAST EXPERIENCES OF THE LUSITANIA DISASTER

RMS Lusitania was a British ocean liner, and briefly the world’s largest passenger ship. She was launched by the Cunard Line in 1906, at a time of fierce competition for the North Atlantic trade. In May 1915, she was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat, causing the deaths of 1,198 passengers and crew.

However there were some survivors – some of which, I was surprised to learn came from East Belfast.

Mr Patrick McGinley was a passenger on the Lusitania and was on a visit home to his mother who resided at 233 Albertbridge Road.  Mr McGinley was formerly a teacher at a school in Clonard, but later gained a position in New York in 1910.  He was interviewed by the Belfast News Letter and he said that this was his first visit to his native country since leaving.

Describing the terrible events Mr McGinley said: “I had luncheon at the first table at one o’clock and then went on deck and chatted with a gentleman friend. Shortly after two o’clock as I was talking to my friend. I noticed a white object about 400 yards off on the landside. It was directly at right angles to the liner. I called my friend’s attention to it, and he said: “That appears to me to be a periscope.” No sooner had he uttered those words than a submarine turret appeared on the surface. It remained above water for around a minute and then disappeared again. He saw a white streak coming towards the ship and heard a hissing noise. “My God, there’s a torpedo” exclaimed the friend. McGinley saw it come quickly through the water until it struck the ship, which shook like a reed in the wind and heaved on to one side.

McGinley described the scene as the passengers rushed to the lifeboats and said they were ordered to get out again as the ship (apparently) seemed to be in no immediate danger. The vessel was turned in the direction of Queenstown and just then a second torpedo struck the ship. He went down to his room and secured two life belts, he put one on his sister Mrs Murray, who was already in a lifeboat, and then put the other vest on himself.

He entered the boat which contained around 100 people. Orders were given to lower all the boats quickly, as the ship was sinking very fast. Something went wrong with a pulley on the boat in which they were, and a young man cut the ropes thinking that the boat would fall on its keel in the water. Instead it turned upside down and they were all precipitated headlong into the water. When he rose to the surface he felt something on the top of his head, and upon putting up his hand discovered that it was the upturned boat from which we had fallen. With great difficulty he managed to get from under it, and  then started swimming around in the hope of finding his sister.

The scene as the Lusitania went down, just about 50 yards from me was awful. There was a deafening explosion and all the 4 funnels flew out of the ship. In fact she seemed to burst to pieces as she sank.

There was a lifeboat 150 yards from me, upside down, and with about 40 people standing on her. I swam over and was dragged aboard. We were on the boat for almost an hour – 7 women and the rest all men. One of the men had an arm torn almost completely off, and a young fellow severed it for him with a pocketknife.

As we were floating about I saw a lady and gentleman clinging to a piece of raft and coming in our direction. When they came near the boat the lady lifted one hand, and in a piteous voice said “For God’s sake, save me”. One man on the boat said “If we bring any more on the boat will go down”, McGinley said “I cant see people drown. Lets get them on.” Mr Wylie (a steward) and I helped the lady on and also the man. The lady, it afterwards transpired, was Lady Allan.

McGinley continued: “We saw 3 torpedo destroyers coming along at great speed 5 miles off and start to pick up the survivors within a radius of 2-3 miles. Then a trawler came over from Kinsale Head and sighted our little white signal and they came towards us. The ship was the Katarina flying a Greek flag. They took us all off inside 10 minutes and we arrived at Queenstown at midnight. I was taken to a clothing store and secured clothes and afterwards I went to Mr Cavanagh’s Hotel, Cott’s Square where I spent the night.”

Early in the morning I went to 7 different morgues seeking my sister. I failed to find her and I went back to the store to get some more clothes. On going into the street I met my sister a few yards away she became quite hysteric on seeing me and I was overwhelmed.

 

Another East Belfast survivor of the terrible tragedy was Miss Margaret McClintock who left Belfast three and a half years ago for New York, she was making a trip home to see her sister who was living at 3 Georges Terrace, Castlereagh Street.

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Miss McClintock stated that the effect of the first torpedo was to cause the ship to heel over to such an extent that the water came over the 3rd deck of the 2nd cabin, just above the dining room where she was sitting at the time.

Accompanied by a friend, Mrs Gilhooly, who lives in the West of Ireland and was also saved. Miss McClintock went at once to the starboard side of the vessel to get into a lifeboat but they saw the first of the boats to be lowered break apart, many people being thrown into the water. She was advised to go to the port side, and this she did, though not without much difficulty owing to the extent of the list on the vessel. She managed to get into a boat and they got clear just in time, thanks to the plucky work of a pantry man who pushed them off with an oar. One of the ladies in the lifeboat drew the attention of a male passenger to the liner as it was sinking, but he refused to turn his head declaring that he could not look at such a horrible spectacle.

There were about 65 people in the lifeboat, and after cruising around for two and a half hours they were picked up by a trawler, the transferring of the survivors being in many cases a matter of extreme difficult, owing to the exhausted condition and serious injuries of the people. Later the party were picked up by a government boat, and landed at Queenstown about 8:30pm on Friday evening.

The scenes ashore were intensely pathetic. Large numbers of people were wandering about the streets and quays looking for friends. The officials of the Cunard Line gave every possible assistance and telegrams were sent to relatives and friends to relieve their minds in cases where information was available concerning survivors.

Miss McClintock believes that many of the deaths were due to shock and excitement. The stewardesses were splendid and the men did everything they could.

Some, however, were not quite as fortunate.  Amongst the many victims of the Lusitania disaster was Mr Henry William Stanley, son of Mr R.O. Stanley of ‘Hillview’, Knockbreda Road.

Mr Stanley went to Canada between 4 and 5 years ago and he had since been employed in the Bank of Montreal. He was coming home on a short holiday and was a passenger on the Lusitania. Mr Stanley was previously in the service of the Belfast Banking Company.

Of a bright and cheerful disposition he was a great favorite in the social circles in which he moved and was welcomed all the more because of his outstanding gifts as a musician. He was a very capable pianist and also excelled as a vocalist. Although only 23 years old he had won the respect and esteem of the heads of the very important banking company that he served in the Dominion, his prospects were exceedingly promising. His two brothers are doing their duty for King & Country. The elder Mr R.O. Stanley holds a commission in the 10th Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers, and is at present stationed in the south of England whilst the younger Mr C Stanley is in the 8th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles. The news of Mr Stanley’s tragic death naturally came as a terrible shock to his parents.

Another East Belfast victim of the Lusitania disaster was the wife of Mr George Anderson, she was the daughter of Mr & Mrs Thomas Scott of Dundela Park, Strandtown.

If you are related to any of the aforementioned people, or can provide further images and documents relating to them we would be pleased to hear from you at: info@eastbelfastww1.com

WW1 Roadshow Event: Willowfield & The Great War

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Following the launch of the project at Stormont in August, East Belfast & The Great War are preparing to host the first in a series of First World War Military Antiques Roadshows. The Roadshow will take place between 3:00 pm and 6:00 pm at Willowfield Parish Church on Friday 3rd October, as part of a day-long commemorative event ‘Willowfield and the Great War’. The event will also feature a display of artefacts from War Years Remembered, and an evening programme including a talk from East Belfast & The Great War Project Co-ordinator Jason Burke, as well as music and drama.

Encouraging people from the community to come forward to share their stories and artefacts, project volunteer Jonathan Evershed said,

“A vital part of this project is seeking to understand how the Great War was experienced by the men and women of East Belfast, and central to this are family heirlooms like letters, diaries, photographs and medals. These can help us to tell the very human story of the War.

“Researchers from the Living Legacies 1914-1918 Engagement Centre and the Centre for Data Digitisation and Analysis at Queen’s University Belfast will be on hand to help individuals to interpret wartime objects and artefacts. Using the Centre’s state-of-the-art scanning equipment we will also be able to digitally sample and record objects and artefacts such as photographs, letters, diaries, for those who wish to share in the future preservation of these personal legacies and reminders of the war.

“Once they have been captured digitally, artefacts and stories will be hosted on our website at www.eastbelfastww1.com. We are looking forward to hearing from members of the community, and are grateful to the Heritage Lottery Fund for their support, and to Willowfield Parish Church for inviting us to participate in their day of commemoration.”

Heritage Lottery Fund Awards £10,000 to East Belfast & The Great War to mark First World War Centenary

 

East Belfast & The Great War has received £10,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund for a two-year project to digitally record and share East Belfast’s First World War heritage. Awarded through the HLF’s First World War: then and now programme, the project will aim to compile an online database containing the details of every serviceman and woman from East Belfast who served in the First World War.

The five project volunteers have identified a range of sources – including over 190 months’ worth of archived material from local newspapers – which will be consulted over coming months to bring the database together. The completed database will be available online and will be free to access. Commenting on the project’s plans, project co-ordinator Jason Burke said,

We have certainly got our work cut out for us. We will be very busy consulting a number of sources over the next two years across Northern Ireland, Ireland and Great Britain, including service and pensions records. We are aiming to build what we hope will be the most comprehensive public record of East Belfast’s contribution to the First World War. We think the numbers of men and women that served will run in to the thousands. We are very grateful to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for their support.”

Another key aim of the project is to broaden community engagement with and understanding of East Belfast’s First World War heritage. Commenting on working with the local community, project volunteer Jonathan Evershed said,

We are aiming to create a digital catalogue of artefacts – including diaries, letters and photographs – which tell the very human story of the Great War across East Belfast. These artefacts and the stories behind them will be shared on our website: www.EastBelfastWW1.com. We will be encouraging people to come forward to share their families’ stories of the Great War with us.

Explaining the importance of the project for heritage in East Belfast Mark Glover, Heritage Lottery Fund NI Committee Member commented, “HLF was delighted to fund this FWW project which seeks to explore and share not only the FWW stories of individual men and women from East Belfast but also delves into the legacy of the FWW on the local community. Across the UK HLF has awarded more than £4million to 500 community projects through our dedicated First World War: then and now programme. The FWW had a lasting impact on communities across the UK and we have been astounded at the sheer breadth of stories people have been uncovering. East Belfast and the Great War project will not only enrich the local understanding of the FWW but will add East Belfast stories into the UK’s collective understanding of FWW.”

 

About East Belfast & The Great War

Bringing together experienced researchers and historians on a voluntary basis, East Belfast & The Great War’s principle objective is to facilitate its members in pursuing collaborative historical research with a view to developing awareness and understanding of the social and political history of the First World War within East Belfast.

East Belfast & The Great War currently consists of five volunteers, each with a background in historical or social research. The primary activities currently being undertaken by the members of the group correspond to fulfilling the two strands of the East Belfast & The Great War project.

The first core activity is archival research, with a view to compiling both an accessible on-line database of all those from East Belfast who served in the First World War. This research is done on voluntary basis.

The second core activity involves engaging with members of the community to both gather and share information. To this end, members of the group are involved in developing relationships with community organisations in East Belfast to develop and deliver community workshops.

 

About the Heritage Lottery Fund

Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) aims to make a lasting difference for heritage, people and communities across the UK and help build a resilient heritage economy. From museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions, we invest in every part of our diverse heritage. HLF has supported over 1000 projects with more than £192M across Northern Ireland.  www.hlf.org.uk. Twitter @HLFNI #understanding WW1

East Belfast & The Great War Research Project