Monday 5 December 2016

"I went back to where I had left the Hubbards, but they had gone, and I never saw them again"

Eyewitness account: Charles E Lauriat, American bookseller

Published 25/04/2015 | 02:00

11 miles off the coast of Kinsale in the Irish sea: A Newtsuit at sea floor examining the Lusitania wreckage.
11 miles off the coast of Kinsale in the Irish sea: A Newtsuit at sea floor examining the Lusitania wreckage.

Charles E Lauriat survived the sinking of the Lusitania. He was a bookseller in Boston and had been travelling to London on business. On the day of the attack, he went up on the deck for a walk following lunch. He saw Mr and Mrs Hubbard standing by the rail, and the three talked. It was at that moment the torpedo struck. Lauriat described the impact as not severe: "It was a heavy, rather muffled sound, but the good ship trembled for a moment under the force of the blow..."

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He saw a shower of coal and steam and some debris hurled into the air between the second and third funnels, then heard the fall of gratings and other wreckage. "I went straight down to my stateroom. The boat had taken a list to starboard, but was not acute, and so I had no difficulty in making my way to and from my cabin."

Lauriat tied on a life belt and went up on deck to the port side. "I went back to the spot where I had left the Hubbards, but they had gone, and I never saw them again." Sensing the ship would sink he made his way back to his room: "I remembered one or two personal things which I very much wanted, and I figured that I had time to go down and get them. If I didn't come through the final plunge, I wanted to feel I had them with me..."

Realising that the nearest life boat might not be launched in time, he jumped into the water and swam away from the ship. "The sea was wonderfully smooth, and it seemed to me that if one could keep clear of the wreck and pick up a lifeboat, that it could be manned and that we could go back and get many survivors. I was able to work this out quite as I planned."

He swam to a lifeboat and climbed aboard and helped stabilise it. By this time 14 others were on board. They headed "back into the wreckage and picked up those who seemed most urgently in need". Then they rowed toward the shore. "I steered for a lighthouse on the coast. It was a good long row ashore and I knew we could not get there until after dark".

The lighthouse was the Head of Old Kinsale. After about two miles they came across a small fishing boat, which took them on board. "The old fishermen did everything in their power for us; they pulled up all the blankets from their bunks, they started the fire and made us tea. There were over 80 people on that small boat."

They transferred to a steamer, The Flying Fish, and it took them to the pier in Queenstown. "When we went up the street in Queenstown it was filled with people willing to help and do anything in their power to relieve our sufferings. I never saw anything more spontaneous or genuine or more freely given than the Irish hospitality of Queenstown."

Irish Independent

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