RMS Lusitania Remembered

During the night, the Queen Victoria had paused over the wreck of the RMS Lusitania to allow those people who wished to do so, and who had perhaps lost relatives in the tragedy, to throw floral tributes overboard. She then continued on her way into Cobh (formerly Queenstown), Ireland, where she docked around 7.00am.

We got up about 8 o’clock and went to the Lido buffet as usual, looking with interest out of the window. We had last been to Cobh three years before on the Balmoral, and the Queen Victoria was moored up in the same place. We could see the large mural painted along the dock wall in which the Titanic was commemorated 1912-2012 which had been created especially for our arrival on the Balmoral in April 2012.

Today, however, we would be remembering another great ship that met a tragic end, that of the Lusitania, which was torpedoed by a German U-boat in the First World War, 100 years ago today.

After breakfast we disembarked the Queen Victoria and made our way into town, passing the well-known statue of Annie Moore on the way. Annie Moore was the first Irish emigrant to be processed at Ellis Island in New York on 1st January 1892, and she and her two brothers had set sail from this very port.

Cobh is a pretty little harbour town and one of Ireland’s main cruise ports; a century ago it was a regular stopping point for the grand ocean liners of the era, and the original White Star Line office building is still very much in existence, and is now a museum dedicated to the Titanic.

As we strolled along the streets we couldn’t decide what the weather was going to do today. There were quite a few clouds and here and there the odd spot of rain, but on the other hand the sun kept trying to break through. As long as it kept dry we would be quite happy.

Looking around, we could see preparations in place to close off the main road to any traffic. The town of Cobh was expecting 10,000 visitors here today, to remember RMS Lusitania and pay tribute to the 1196 lives lost. We could see a large stage being set up, and people putting out seats and erecting crowd-control barriers, all in preparation for the open-air service being held commencing at 1.00pm today.

Walking along the seafront, we arrived at the Commodore Hotel, where a slide-show of artefacts from the Lusitania was being shown in a room upstairs. We went up and watched the show, which was accompanied by some lovely, haunting Celtic music. I asked the lady what the music was called; apparently it’s called ‘Lumina’ by Irish musician Eoin Duignan. I made a note of it so I can buy it from Amazon once I get home.

When we came out of the hotel, we were pleased to see that the sun was out at last. 🙂

We continued on our way until we came to the memorial statue erected to remember the lives lost in the Lusitania disaster. A number of floral tributes had already been left; no doubt there’d be many more before the end of the day.

We stopped off for an ice-cream and bought a postcard to send to one of our friends; it was very appropriate as it showed the Queen Victoria moored up in Cobh; the very ship we are on today!

We enjoyed a walk up towards the magnificent St. Colman’s Cathedral, built on a hill and towering over all of Cobh. From here we had fantastic views of the Queen Victoria in the background, over the rooftops of the little colourful houses in their narrow streets. We decided we’d find a pub and enjoy a pint of Guinness (well, we are in Ireland after all!) while writing out the postcard. We went into a place called “Jack Doyle’s” where there was also free wi-fi. The Guinness was lovely; it’s funny how it always tastes much nicer in Ireland!

At about 12.00 noon we thought we’d better walk back down the hill and make our way to the park where the memorial service was going to be held, as we wanted to be sure of a good vantage point. The seating was available only for the VIPs and relatives of those who perished on the Lusitania; the rest of us would have to stand.

When we arrived, we went straight to the front, right up against the barrier; only the seats were in front of us so we had an unimpeded view of the stage. The orchestra was in place, practising some music before the main event. Officers from the Queen Victoria were out and about, all dressed very smartly in their “number one” uniforms with medals where appropriate; some of the other visitors had also dressed in period costume from 1915.

The sun was shining and we could smell freshly cut grass. A large TV screen, erected to the right of the stage, showed us what was happening elsewhere in Cobh, such as a guard of honour of sailors and marines, all waiting in their ranks for the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, to arrive. We were also expecting the chairman of Cunard, David Dingle, and also British Ambassador Dominick Chilcott, US Ambassador Kevin O’Malley and German embassy Charge d’Affaires Wolfram von Heynitz and, of course, the Master of the Queen Victoria, Commodore Christopher Rynd – as you can see, a veritable congregation of dignitaries.

As the park filled up with visitors, everyone was looking around and waiting for the President to arrive to kick off the proceedings; in fact it was after 1.20pm before his car and entourage arrived. He is only a tiny little guy with a shock of white hair, and he took to the stage amidst a smattering of applause. Introduced by John Mullins, the Chairman of the Port of Cork, Mr Higgins began his speech.

He spoke very eloquently in both English and Gaelic of the horrors of war, and the tragedy of the Lusitania that sent shockwaves around the world; the outrage that a civilian vessel should be attacked with the loss of nearly 1200 lives; the ship only took a mere 18 minutes to sink, so there was barely time to launch the lifeboats; in fact, as the ship was listing so heavily to starboard, the lifeboats could only be launched on that side, as they wouldn’t have been able to be swung out on the port side.

Mr Higgins’ speech was then followed by an address by the Chairman of Cunard, who spoke of the role that Cunard ships played in the First World War; he listed the names of the 20 Cunard ships that were lost.

This was then followed by a hymn sung by a solo tenor; as he finished the last note of the song, the Queen Victoria behind us gave a long, loud blast of her foghorn to mark 2.10pm, the exact minute 100 years ago that the torpedo from U-boat U-20 struck the side of the Lusitania. A Royal Naval ship at anchor in the port responded, and we all took the cue for one minute’s silence in respect and remembrance of the dead.

After the minute’s silence, there was another blessing by the priest and the bishop, before a number of hymns including Abide with Me, Pie Jesu and Hail, Queen of Heaven.

Commodore Rynd then read from a survivor’s account which noted the speed at which this mighty ship sank; in fact another blast sounded from the Queen Victoria at 2.28pm to indicate how little time there was between the first hit and the ship’s sinking. It was all very poignant and really brought a lump to the throat.

The service concluded with the famous and beautiful Ode of Remembrance:

They shall not grow old
As we who are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them
Nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun
And in the morning
We will remember them.

All the dignitaries and the three Ambassadors then left the stage to go to the Lusitania monument to lay their respective wreaths.

All in all, the whole remembrance service was a dignified, emotional and fitting way to remember those lost in this tragedy one hundred years ago today.

By now it was about 3 o’clock so we decided to go back on board the Queen Victoria for a cup of tea and something light to eat. We intended to come ashore again after dinner, as an open air musical concert was going to be held in the town.

A special dinner was laid on for us in the Britannia Restaurant tonight. The specially-printed menu booklets had details of the Lusitania sinking, as well as many photographs of the inside and outside of this luxurious liner.

After dinner we changed out of our smart clothing (don’t forget you have to dress for dinner on board Cunard ships!) and disembarked the Queen Victoria once again to walk back into town. We made our way back to the open-air stage, where an all-female choir was in full voice. A lot of people were about, and the hot-dog, burger and ice-cream stalls were all doing a roaring trade.

We stayed for about an hour, but as it was now getting a little cold, we decided to go to the nearest pub for a… you’ve guessed it… pint of Guinness. But first we wanted to go to the Lusitania memorial and have a look at the wreaths.

When we got there, the memorial was lit up, and there were four large wreaths, each carrying ribbons in the colours of the flag from the country they represented. There were two with red, white and blue ribbons (for Britain and the USA) as well as the green, orange and white of Ireland and the black, red and yellow of Germany. Other floral tributes had also been added.

We ended up in a pub along the sea-front, which was nautical themed and was loud and lively. We enjoyed our Guinness and sat talking and reflecting on the day’s events, but it wasn’t over yet. We wanted to make sure we were back on board Queen Victoria for tonight’s Grande Finale, a candlelight procession of boats which would be sailing past the Queen Victoria starting at 9.30pm.

Back on board we wrapped up well, got our cameras and went down to the promenade deck to await the flotilla of boats. The procession was to signify the life boats returning to the port of Cobh 100 years ago. In the distance, in the gathering darkness, we could see the lights of dozens of small craft as they grew nearer.

What an amazing experience! The flotilla of boats, each carrying candles and other subdued lights, drew level with the Queen Victoria as the bells of Cobh Cathedral rang out across the harbour, competing with the hoots and whistles from the boats as they gave the QV a salute on their way past. We decided to go up to the top deck to get a different view and, as we got there, the Queen Victoria gave an almighty blast from her foghorn, nearly making me jump out of my skin, it was so loud and unexpected. 🙂

The decks were crowded with people, and despite a few of us complaining of the cold, no-one wanted to go inside. How often were we going to experience something like this? It was truly a stunning sight, seeing all these boats, all lit up, gliding past us. Among them was the Cobh lifeboat; it kept going so far up the river then turning and coming back again, with other little boats in its wake.

Eventually the flotilla thinned out, and we went back inside to the warmth of the Queen Victoria and made our way to the Golden Lion in time for tonight’s quiz, which took the form of the old TV game show “Blanketty Blank”. It was all good entertainment, but we didn’t win. We just enjoyed a couple of drinks before returning to stateroom 4119 for the night.

What an amazing and memorable day it had been. God rest RMS Lusitania – she will never be forgotten.

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