Lusitania disaster: The survivor’s tale

File photo dated 25/12/1911 of the Lusitania moored in the Mersey as a memorial service on Thursday will mark the 100th anniversary of an event shocking even by First World War standards - the sinking of the Cunard British liner Lusitania with the loss of 1,200 lives. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Sunday May 3, 2015. Attended by passengers from the present-day Cunard liner Queen Victoria, the service will take place at the Irish port of Cobh (formerly Queenstown) in County Cork. At 2.10pm on Thursday, Queen Victoria's whistle will blow. It was at that moment on May 7 1915 that the 31,000-tonne Cunard liner Lusitania was torpedoed by German U-Boat, U-20, about 14 miles off the southern Irish coast. The Queen Victoria whistle will be sounded again at 2.28pm - the time the Lusitania sank. Among the 1,266 passengers on board were 129 children of whom 94 perished as the ship, sailing from New York to Liverpool, sank in just 18 minutes. See PA story ANNIVERSARY Lusitania. Photo credit should read: PA/PA Wire
File photo dated 25/12/1911 of the Lusitania moored in the Mersey as a memorial service on Thursday will mark the 100th anniversary of an event shocking even by First World War standards - the sinking of the Cunard British liner Lusitania with the loss of 1,200 lives. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Sunday May 3, 2015. Attended by passengers from the present-day Cunard liner Queen Victoria, the service will take place at the Irish port of Cobh (formerly Queenstown) in County Cork. At 2.10pm on Thursday, Queen Victoria's whistle will blow. It was at that moment on May 7 1915 that the 31,000-tonne Cunard liner Lusitania was torpedoed by German U-Boat, U-20, about 14 miles off the southern Irish coast. The Queen Victoria whistle will be sounded again at 2.28pm - the time the Lusitania sank. Among the 1,266 passengers on board were 129 children of whom 94 perished as the ship, sailing from New York to Liverpool, sank in just 18 minutes. See PA story ANNIVERSARY Lusitania. Photo credit should read: PA/PA Wire

Thursday May 7 marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Cunard liner Lusitania with the loss of 1,200 lives.

Here is a survivor’s account that will be read out at a centenary memorial service at the Irish port of Cobh.

It was written a few weeks after the sinking by Thomas Snowden, a 30-year-old third-class passenger. He was British but was living in the United States and working as a foreman at a shoe factory in Lynn, Massachusetts.

He wrote: “God forbid I ever pass through such an experience again. I have not recovered from the shock yet. I have consulted a physician and he said that it will probably be a long time before I can wipe from my memory those terrible hours among the dead and dying men, women, and children.

“Since that day, my dreams have been haunted by the terrible scene enacted before my eyes. Mrs Finch of this city, who was one of the victims of the disaster, has been buried on English soil with hundreds of other persons who lost their lives that day. I saw Mr Finch before I sailed for home and he had recovered all the jewellery worn by his wife at the time of the accident.”

Mr Snowden went on: “When the shock came aboard the Lusitania, women and children began to scream. The men were cool and collected. Lifeboats were lowered and women and children were loaded onto them.

“‘Be British, boys, be British’ was the cry that rang up and down the decks. Each man straightened his shoulders and there seemed to be a mutual understanding that we should all be men to the last.

“Just before the ship sank, I jumped overboard. I saw men and women doing the same thing all about me. Some women had on life preservers and others did not have any. After drifting some distance away from the ship, I turned and looked at it. About this time, there came a terrible explosion, and I saw the funnels falling. Soon the ship disappeared from view.”

He went on: “As far as I could see, there were men, women, and children floating in the water. Some were dead and some were living. The women were screaming for help. Some men were badly mangled.

“I saw a young man with whom I had become well acquainted on the trip go floating by me. He looked up at me and exclaimed ‘God, help me, Tommy.’ His appeal went straight to my heart. I hope I shall never witness such a scene again.”

The last-known survivor was Audrey Lawson-Johnston from Melchbourne in Bedfordshire who was three months old at the time of the sinking and died aged 95 in January 2011.

She lost two sisters in the disaster but her parents and brother Stuart, aged five at the time, survived, with the two youngsters being saved thanks to the efforts of their nursemaid Alice Lines to whom Audrey stayed close until Miss Lines death, aged 100, in 1997.

At the time of Mrs Lawson-Johnston’s death one of her daughters, Margie Clarke, said: “She always said ‘I was put on this earth for some reason, I was saved for some reason’ and she jolly well was – she made everyone laugh.”