Lusitania Centenary: Emotional ceremony at offshore wreck site

The most unique connection between the modern ships of the Cunard line’s history and the ill-fated Lusitania is Queen Victoria’s second engineer, George Harrison.

His great-grandfather, George Little, was the Lusitania’s senior third engineer and survived the torpedo attack.

The younger George was present for the commemorations which he described “as very emotional,” especially the wreath-laying which took place over the wreck site just after 3am as Queen Victoria was on her way into harbour.

“My great grandfather survived, but he was exposed to the water for so long that he later got pleurisy and died 14 years after at the age of 54,” Mr Harrison said.

He said it was very interesting sharing stories with many passengers onboard who had relatives who died or survived the 1915 sinking, adding it was good to know those involved on that fateful day hadn’t been forgotten.

VIDEO: Courtmacsherry remembers Lusitania victims with touching tribute at sea

Barbara Wiffen, from Blandford, Dorset had come on the cruise with her daughter, Sarah, to remember her father, Frank Holman, who was a steward on the vessel.

He was lucky to survive after five hours in the water, but she recalled how he would often wake at night suffering from nightmares over what happened.

“He tried to rescue a little boy who was around eight or nine. He found the boy alone in the water and put his arm around him and swam on his back to keep the child’s head out of the water. But the boy succumbed to the cold and died. My father had to let him slip away,” she said.

“My father lived to 78, but he never spoke to me about what happened. My mother said never to ask him about what happened as it was obviously a traumatic experience.”

She said that she and around two dozen relatives of others who died in the Lusitania threw roses into the sea over the wreck.

“We were all crying a lot,” her daughter added.

Cunard commodore Christopher Rynd was also on deck for that ceremony.

“The Cunard Line keeps very much in touch with its history. The relatives cast in roses and as the last wreaths were being laid on the water the moon came out. The ship was just 60ft below us. People who were involved in the rescue have also earned their place in history,” he said.

Jill Power-Foward, from Poole, Dorset was travelling to Cobh to remember her grandfather, William Affleck, who drowned.

He was also an engineer and is believed to have been trapped in the engine room when the torpedo struck.

However, his body was recovered and he was buried in Liverpool.

“It must have been horrendous for the family. My mother was only four at the time and her sister two. But Cunard paid for a private education for them,” she said. “We found a lot of his memorabilia amongst the papers my mother had kept. It was very emotional during the wreath-laying at sea,” Ms Power-Foward said.

For other passengers not connected with the Lusitania it was a history- exploring trip.

However, there was a local connection for Ronald Bryan and his wife, Susan, who live in Brisbane, Australia.

Ronald had traced his oldest known ancestor, William Frazer, back to Cobh.

“He went out to settle in New South Wales in the early 1800s. He went in one of the coffin ships,” Mr Bryan said.

The couple are on a trip of a lifetime, “doing the three Queens.” Next Monday they’re transferring to the Queen Elizabeth for a 16-day European cruise and straight after onto the Queen Mary for a transatlantic voyage.

Find more content related to the sinking of RMS Lusitania in our special report

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