Vol. 13


Lucky on the Lusitania

1914, off the southern coast of Ireland; 1915, Washington, D.C., USA

On May 8, 1915, my great-great-grandmother Laura Powell despaired when she sat down to drink her steaming morning tea and read The Washington Post’s headline: “Steamer Lusitania Torpedoed and Sunk off Irish Coast.”

Seven months earlier, on October 3, 1914, Laura Powell had boarded that same ship near her birthplace in Liverpool, England, to make the weeklong transatlantic journey to New York to be with her soon-to-wed fiancé, Arthur. World War I had begun two months earlier, and German U-boats1 had just started to patrol the treacherous water around England. Laura surely didn’t know what was to come on her voyage across the Atlantic Ocean.

Not long after her journey began, Captain Daniel Dow made a terrifying statement over the ship’s loudspeaker while Laura was getting dressed. There was, in fact, a German submarine chasing them! All of the passengers, including Laura, were petrified. Immediately everyone started to cover the portholes with cloth so that it would be more difficult for the submarine to determine the ship’s exact location. When it came time for dinner, all of the fine china was gone! The crew had stored it away so that passengers wouldn’t accidentally drop something and make a horrific sound. All of the cooking supplies were put away, so passengers had to eat sandwiches and colder fare off of paper plates. On the way back to their staterooms, the men, women, and children had to walk very quietly, as if they were mice, because the captain didn’t want the German submarine to hear them.

Eventually — on October 9, 1914 — the Lusitania safely reached the American shoreline at Ellis Island, near New York City. My great-great-grandmother was greeted by her family, and they went home to Washington, D.C.

They were all devastated just a few months later to learn that the Lusitania had been sunk by a German torpedo. Several family members had sailed on the Lusitania over the years as they traveled between their homeland of England and the United States.

The passengers and crew of the Lusitania had almost made it back to England on the voyage! The ship was sunk off the coast of Ireland, just before reaching her final destination of Liverpool. Maybe the torpedo had been fired from the same German submarine that had been following the Lusitania when my great-great-grandmother was aboard. Approximately 1,198 people died on that fateful day in May. It was then that my great-great-grandmother realized that her voyage on the Lusitania had been a lucky one!

Claire Lewis; North Carolina, USA


1. “U-boat” is short for Unterseeboot, German for “undersea boat.” The term refers especially to submarines used by the German military during World Wars I and II.



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