When the British liner Lusitania was torpedoed by a German U-boat and sank in the Atlantic on Friday 7 May 1915 with the loss of 1,201 lives, 159 of them Americans, it created a diplomatic crisis between the USA and Germany – and an incredulous escape for non-swimmer Miss Queenie Benjamin, 30-year-old daughter of the licensee of the Cross Keys, London Road, Newark.
She recollected: “I had just gone to my cabin when the boat was struck. I heard a terrible commotion and ran up on deck, and went to the high side of the vessel. When the order was given we all got into the boats, and somebody yelled to cut the boats away. It was a good job this was not done or the wooden boats would have dropped thirty feet into the water and we would all have been smashed up.
“The vessel seemed to be floating all right and we all got out of the lifeboat again. No doubt she would have been all right, but then another torpedo struck us. In a second I scrambled back into the lifeboat and others came on the top of me.
“In a very little while the vessel went down with the lifeboat fastened to it. I went down in the lifeboat with somebody holding me down and I wondered if I should be drowned. Yet presently I came to the top of the water.
“Chairs and trunks and all manner of things had been thrown overboard and I clung tosomething which kept me afloat. I would see a boat – but between us were numerous packing cases, trunks and things floating.
“I shouted to a man in the boat, ‘Do you mind picking me up? I can’t swim.’
“He replied, ‘Hold on, girlie, you’re not dead yet!’
“Eventually they got to me and pulled me into the boat. The American in the boat said, ‘You are a brick. Can’t you swim?’
“I said I could not and he replied, ‘You’re more than lucky’ and I really I think I was.”
After two hours, they were picked up by a fishing smack and landed at Queenstown on the coast of Ireland at 11pm. In the chaos on the small quayside, there were far too few ambulances for the sick and no help at all for those merely suffering from shock. Queenie was left to her own devices and it took her another three hours to find a hotel room. Then she underwent the nightmare of embarking on another boat to cross the Irish Sea before she reached the haven of home.
The RMS Lusitania was an ocean liner of the Cunard Line, which worked the Liverpool – New York route across the Atlantic.
She was launched in 1907.
On 7th May 1915 she was on a return journey from New York, when, close to the south coast of Ireland, she was struck by a torpedo fired from the German submarine U-20.
The Lusitania sank 11 miles off Old Head of Kinsale with the loss of over 1,100 civilians, military personnel and merchant seamen.
Researched by Trevor Frecknall
“Saved from the Lusitania” Daughter of Mr & Mrs Benjamin, Cross Keys, London Road. – NA 12 May 1915 & NH 15 May 1915