Mayhem awaits fireman emerging from belly of ship

Some of the survivors are pictured at Cobh railway station shortly after the sinking. Ref 44

A fireman from Robert’s Cove in Co Cork had finished a four-hour shift in the coal bunkers deep in the Lusitania as she travelled along the calm sea that May morning, writes Ray Ryan

It was 25-year-old Charlie Scannell’s second trip on the great liner, but even after a refreshing wash and a tasty meal he still had a strange foreboding of disaster.

He returned to his bunk in a room which he occupied with 16 others but could not sleep properly. He had a feeling something was going to happen.

Charlie later told this newspaper how he dozed into a light sleep, but a terrific noise brought him to his feet in an instant. The others in the room were all awake as he opened his eyes: “I saw them making for the door. ‘What’s up,’ I asked one of my mates. And his answer was — ‘she’s torpedoed’.”

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

Wearing only a shirt and underpants, he ran from the room and as he did so the Lusitania listed heavily and he was flung against the side.

“I had hardly recovered myself when there was an inrush of water from both sides which nearly swept me off my feet. With difficulty I made my way to the top deck and there I saw the people crowding to the boats. It was all confusion. I managed however to get into one boat but it was too crowded and I got out again.

“Then I got into another but that also was full up and I left. It struck me then that I had better hunt around for a lifebelt and I did so.

“But almost immediately I met a man with two cork jackets in his hands and asked him for one but he said it was for his poor wife and he couldn’t find her.

“After a bit I succeded in getting a lifebelt from a passenger who had two. He tried to fasten it on to me. But the tapes gave way — it was apparently an old one but between us we fixed it somehow.

“Seeing the way the ship had now listed and the difficulty in getting at the boats, I made for the stern and skid down the log line tearing the flesh badly off my hands.

“Just as I was tipping the water a man coming down the line after me bounced into me and my lifebelt came off. It fell into the sea. I went after it, got it and replaced it around me as well as I could and in that way it proved useful. I saw a boat some distance from me. I made for it but I suppose those in it didn’t see me for it pulled away from me and I was unable to overtake it.

“I saw another a few minutes later but I failed to reach that too. Near me was the chap who knocked off my lifebelt coming down the rope. And he said ‘never mind, we’ll get into the track of some of them’.”

Hearing a tremendous noise, Charlie Scannell turned around and saw fire and smoke bursting out of the Lusitania and with that the ship went down. Around him were scores of people shouting and screaming and all struggling.

“It was simply fearful. I still swam on and suddenly found myself in a current that was dragging me back in the direction of where the vessel disappeared. After an effort I got out of this and soon after saw an upturned boat with about 20 people on it.

“Amongst them were the Second Enginer, Duncan, and a fireman. I reached it all right and they pulled me up and there with the others I saw my friend again who slid down the rope behind me. He had got to the boat a few minutes before I did. To the best of my belief I was about an hour in the water before I found this piece of safety. And while drifting about on it I saw any number of people being carried past — some actually drowning.

“No sound from them. Others still crying feebily while more were yelling. I heard several invoking curses on Germany and that sort of thing. It was a dreadful sight.

“We were four hours on the boat and the scenes that I saw during the greater part of the time I shall never forget.

“Eventually a trawler came along, took us on board and brought us into Queenstown where I was provided with a suit of clothes,” he said.

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

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