'My father rarely talked about what happened the day the Lusitania went down' - Families remember 1915 tragedy
Frank Holman could feel the little arms around his neck loosen. The eight-year-old boy he’d been carrying on his back in the icy cold waters off the Cork Coast had lost his fight for life.
“My father rarely talked about what happened the day the Lusitania went down,” explains his daughter Barbara, adding “he’d wake up in the middle of the night screaming and shouting, the disaster never left him.”
Barbara is just one of the relatives of those involved in the 1915 Lusitania tragedy on board the Cunard Lines’ ‘Lusitania Remembered’ voyage which set sail from Southampton yesterday afternoon.
Travelling on the 964 feet long Queen Victoria vessel she and almost 2,000 other passengers will sail into Cobh on Thursday morning – exactly 100 years to the day that a German U-boat torpedoed the Lusitania killing 1,198 passengers and crew.
Barbara’s father survived the disaster after spending five hours in the freezing Atlantic waters – the little boy’s body was never found.
Locals along the Cork coast helped nurse survivors back to health and bury the dead.
On entrance to Cobh the relatives will throw flowers overboard at the site where the RMS Lusitania sank - its wreckage still rests on the sea floor today.
“Between 1915 and 1918 the Cunard Line lost 20 ships to enemy attack. The biggest loss was the Lusitania. We felt that this year we needed to remember the tragedy and so devised the ‘Lusitania Remembered’ voyage,” explains the cruise company’s historian Michael Gallagher.
A Lusitania exhibition featuring life jackets used to telegrams sent informing families that their loved ones had perished was officially opened on board yesterday.
During the voyage guest speakers, including former broadcaster Martin Bell, will give lectures about the sinking and its impact.
“Many believe the age of ‘total war’ began off the south coast of Ireland that yesterday 100 years ago,” Martin Bell told the Irish Independent.
Other relatives include George Harrison. His Great grandfather George Little managed to survive the attack with the help of local people in Cobh but a long lasting condition caused by hours spent in the water led to his premature death a few years later.
“Stopping just above the wreck and paying our respects to those who died will be a very moving occasion,” he said.
Further tributes will be paid at the Lusitania graves in the Old Churchyard outside Cobh on Thursday prior to a special commemorative service. And the Queen Victoria will sound her whistle at 2.10pm, the moment the torpedo hit the Lusitania and at 2.28pm the time it sank.
President Michael D Higgins will lead the commemoration events in Cobh to mark the centenary of the disaster. The British, German and US ambassadors to Ireland will also be in attendance.
Captain Michael McCarthy, Commercial Manager of the Port of Cork who are lead organizers for the event said: “we expect that up to 10,000 people from across Ireland and beyond, many of whom have personal connections to the Lusitania disaster, will descend on the town of Cobh this Thursday to remember all those who lost their lives.