Thursday 21 September 2017

"In they came, dripping pale exhausted, some unconscious, others on stretchers..."

Eyewitness account: Amy Fitzgerald

Survivors from the 'Lusitania', which was hit by a U-boat torpedo, standing outside the town hall in Cobh, County Cork
Survivors from the 'Lusitania', which was hit by a U-boat torpedo, standing outside the town hall in Cobh, County Cork
A woman and two children, survivors from the Lusitania.
Lusitania survivors on the streets of Cobh following the disaster on May 7th, 1915.
Woman and children were among the Lusitania survivors.
Survivors from the Lusitania in Queenstown, now Cobh, in May 1915.
Survivors from the Lusitania.

Amy Fitzgerald, who was staying at a hotel in Cobh with her parents recovering from illness, helped to treat the survivors. Her testimony is now at the National Maritime Museum, Dun Laoghaire.

'For several days we had been hearing of a submarine just outside the Harbour and everyone talked of it as waiting for the Lusitania, but some of the Naval Officers living in the Hotel calmed our fears and assured us she had been warned not to come near Queenstown.

"Such a glorious day, with nothing to indicate the awful tragedy about to be enacted within a few short miles of the shore. That morning I felt so much better that I went with my sister to see the Wayfarer, a very large transport ship that had been torpedoed a few weeks before and had only got in after great difficulty and the loss of seven men.

"On our return to the Hotel we were at once greeted with the dreadful news. The Lusitania had been torpedoed about 10 miles from Queenstown. Everyone had a different story. Some said she was coming in under her own steam and all safe. Others said she had gone to the bottom, but all too soon we knew the truth.

"Adjt General Col. Du Croix told us we might expect 50 of the survivors into our Hotel. So my sister and myself at once offered to help to get things ready for them, and set to work with a will. We had got ready the 50 beds when we were told to prepare for 100 more, but though all the other ladies in the Hotel joined us and helped we had not them finished when they began to arrive.

"In they came, dripping pale exhausted, some unconscious, others on stretchers, injured in every possible way. Children crying for their mothers; husbands looking with anxious eyes for their wives and families; wives looking for their husbands who they would probably never see again.

"And almost every nationality was represented there - Jews, Greeks, Americans, Belgians, French, a Cuban, they all came under my notice, and many others. As quickly as we could we got their names registered in the Hotel book and hurried them up to their rooms.

"Once there we tore or cut their dripping clothes off them (most of them had been in the water from two to four hours and then on the fishing boats for four hours more so were in a deplorable condition), rolled them in blankets and put them in bed with hot water jars, while my mother ran round with a bottle of brandy and gave every one she came across a little, and I think this was the means of saving a good many lives."

Irish Independent

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