MARCO POLO RETURNS TO MONTREAL FOR 50TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATIONS

A very special welcome awaits CMV’s veteran Marco Polo when she arrives in Montreal next Thursday as the highlight of her 50th anniversary cruise.

The 22,000 ton, 1965 built vessel was a regular caller to the Canadian port during her days as the Alexander Pushkin, sailing for the Russian merchant marine. The ship sailed a frequent transatlantic service between Leningrad  (now Saint Petersburg once more) and Montreal from 1966 onwards.

However, this is the first time that the storied cruise liner has been back since her renaissance as the Marco Polo and, in honour of the occasion, the Canadian authorities are rolling out the red carpet for what promises to be a very special occasion.

The Marco Polo is expected to receive the full, ceremonial fire float and siren welcome when she makes her way up the Saint Lawrence into port on the morning of Thursday, August 13th. Once she has docked, the ship will then host a special, on board lunch for representatives from both Port of Montreal and Tourism Montreal, as well as some sixty local dignitaries and media people.

Following the lunch, a special film detailing the ship’s long and unique history will be screened on board.

For the 800 passengers already on board Marco Polo for the long since sold out sailing- around 500 of whom are members of CMV’s regular Compass Club repeat cruisers- the festivities will begin the night before, with a special Gala Dinner on board, prior to the spectacular fireboat serenade on arrival the next day.

So popular has this commemorative voyage proved that a second special, round trip sailing to Canada has been arranged for September. And the exercise will also be repeated during the 2016 season.

These nostalgic, round trip crossings offer almost the only opportunities anywhere to cross the Atlantic on a real, purpose built ocean liner. With a combination of long, lazy sea days and the sheer, stunning beauty of a voyage along the famous Saint Lawrence seaway, it is hardly surprising that they have sold so well.

And, in related news, CMV has also announced that their popular Astor will make a fourth, consecutive round trip liner voyage to and from in Australia in November 2016, after a trio of sell out sailings with the ship.

Marco Polo, still stylish at fifty, will receive a traditional fire float and siren welcome in Montreal next Thursday

Marco Polo, still stylish at fifty, will receive a traditional fire float and siren welcome in Montreal next Thursday

THE TITANIC- WHY DID IT TAKE SO LONG TO LOWER THE BOATS?

If any one thing is guaranteed to raise hackles in the whole, sorry saga of the Titanic, it is the subject of the loading and lowering of the boats.

Consider this; there were twenty boats in all. There were some fourteen regular, five ton lifeboats, and an additional pair of cutters, as well as four emergency boats on board. Their total capacity was something in the region of 1180 people. Yet only 705 would actually make it into those boats.

The Titanic hit the iceberg at 11.40 on the evening on Sunday, April 14th. But not until 12.45 on the morning of the 15th was the first boat- number 7- lowered from the sinking ship. With a capacity for some sixty five people, it left the Titanic carrying just twenty eight.

In many instances, the pattern was repeated. Boat number one, capacity forty, left carrying just twelve.

How could it happen? How could those boats- insufficient for around half of the 2200 plus people on board the sinking liner- leave with something like 475 empty seats? And how did it take so long to begin an evacuation that soon thereafter became almost ruthless in its desperate haste?

Some of the answers lie in the way that the Titanic was conceived and run in the first place.

When the writer Joseph Conrad derisively referred to Titanic as ‘a kind of maritime version of the Ritz’ not long before she set sail, he was closer to the truth than many then realised. The ship was staffed and run- in first class at least- like a top end, five star plus hotel.

There were literally hundreds of stewards, stewardesses, bell boys, chefs, musicians, postal clerks, and even a gardener on board the Titanic. They were there to deliver a level of service and catering excellence that would leave most land based hotels reeling in her wake.

But, for all of her finery and panache, the Titanic was not a hotel; she was a ship.

Of a total crew in excess of nine hundred, there were only something like sixty five trained seamen on the entire ship. That is to say, men who could be expected to carry out emergency duties in the unlikely event of an accident. Including, say, the loading, lowering and, indeed, the manning, of all the lifeboats.

Sixty five men out of a crew of nine hundred….

But the owners had thought of that. They had fitted the Titanic with a wonderful, new advanced system of launch gear for the boats. Known as the Welin davit system, it allowed for each lifeboat to be lowered smoothly to the sea by small, electrical engines. No need for a large amount of manual labour, and time saving to boot.

Of course, the boats could still be lowered manually, in the old fashioned way. This was all well and fine, if only one or two boats needed to be lowered that way.

But what happened if all of them needed to be lowered by hand, and quickly? That was the nightmare scenario that no-one could ever have envisioned. But that is exactly what came to pass on the night of April 14-15, 1912.

After the Titanic glanced against the iceberg at around 11.40, Captain Smith brought the ship to a standstill, and sent both his carpenter and Fourth Officer Boxhall down below to make an inspection tour of the damage. The carpenter’s report indicated that the ship was making water very quickly indeed.

Instead of ordering that the lifeboats be uncovered there and then, Smith himself then set off on a tour of inspection with Thomas Andrews, the chief builder of the ship. Their increasingly baleful progress through the damaged areas convinced both men that the Titanic was, indeed, going to sink. Here, valuable time was lost while the captain confirmed for himself what a perfectly qualified carpenter had already told him.

Now, Smith swung into action, and started swinging out the boats. He ordered that each boat be uncovered, filled with women and children, and then lowered away. On the port side, Second Officer Lightoller would be in charge. First Officer Bill Murdoch would officiate over on the starboard side.

Stunned, half asleep and disbelieving, the seaman of the Titanic began to gradually report to the boat deck. What followed was a black comedy, played out across the sloping decks of the sinking liner.

The normal, scheduled boat drill which should have taken place that Sunday morning had been cancelled at the last moment- by Captain Smith. There was nothing unusual in that back in 1912. Cancellations were as regular as Atlantic storms, just part of the increasingly cavalier mind set that had taken over even the best and most formerly prudent of ocean liner captains by the second decade of the new century.

Thus, the men had no actual boat assignments; everything they did that night was by instinct, rather than routine. And that work was far from easy.

Every single boat had to be stripped of it’s canvas cover- no small job in itself. Then they had to be swung out on brand new davits, lowered flush with the boat deck, filled with women and children, and then lowered a full seventy feet down the side of the Titanic.

Once afloat, they had to be disconnected from the ropes that had lowered them, and then rowed to the assumed safety of some nearby rescue ship. Each boat weighed five tons empty, and they would take the additional weight of sixty five frightened souls on board. In those days, each boat had to be rowed manually. There were no electric motors for the lifeboats.

You can see that all of this was a pretty tall order, in and of itself. It would have presented a huge challenge to a perfectly trained crew; even one that had grown used to working together over a long period of time.

But for the crew of the Titanic, untried and unused to working as a team, it was about to get a whole lot worse.

With the electrical supply available to the ship slowly failing, Chief Engineer Joseph Bell had to decide on priorities, and quickly at that. He decided to concentrate on keeping power going to the lights and the wireless room on board.

To facilitate that, he shut down the power to a whole raft of redundant, now pretty much superfluous power outlets. As the situation worsened, Bell and his heroic engineers ruthlessly culled every bit of machinery that they could in order to keep those other, more vital elements alive and in play.

One of the first casualties was the lifeboats’ winches. After all, the boats could be lowered by hand, couldn’t they?

So now, the small band of sixty five seamen set about the loading and lowering of something like twenty lifeboats. There were two groups of four boats on the forward deck, and another group of four located aft, on both port and starboard sides. The four collapsible boats were on top of the officer’s mess right forward, and were somehow supposed to be manhandled down and fitted into the forward davits, once those were empty. It was an utterly farcical placement.

Both Murdoch and Lightoller knew that the Titanic was sinking by the head. As her bow sagged down, the water would inevitably rise to the forward end of the boat deck first. Which made getting those first, forward boats away something of a necessity, if anyone was to be saved at all.

Now this woefully inadequate band of sixty five men embarked on a herculean task for which they had not been trained or prepared, in circumstances that could hardly have been more dire. They knew almost from the start that they were truly up against it.

The passengers, alas, did not.

While the all too alarmed passengers in third class were kept below by the series of locked gates mandated by US Customs to keep the classes segregated on ocean liners, their counterparts in first and second class were reluctant to even come out on deck, never mind enter the lifeboats. And, after all, why would they?

The only coherent thought that seemed to occupy Captain Smith’s mind that night was the need to prevent a panic. Simple maths informed his thinking on that front.

Some 2200 souls had been entrusted to his care, and he had lifeboats for less than 1200. The nearest responsive rescue ship was some four hours’ steaming away. And the Titanic had just over half that time to live.

Smith knew that over a thousand of his passengers and crew had nowhere to go but down. And he also knew that, as the ship sank further, awareness of their truly desperate plight could trigger an unstoppable panic, one that might result in even more fatalities.

There was no public address system available to the Titanic, so no general alarm was ever sounded. This largely explains why there was a lack of any initial panic; it was the end product of people’s largely complete lack of awareness of the true nature of the ship’s plight. And, up to a point, that fed into Smith’s hand.

So, instead of opening up the gates to third class, Smith tried to play an unwinnable poker game; passengers in first class were lulled with lively ragtime and other upbeat tunes in the warm, well lit interior of the ship. Outside, the night air was freezing, and the sound of the ship’s boilers, venting off steam through the whistles, was akin to a deeply unpleasant roar that made conversation- and, indeed, hearing any shouted orders- all but impossible. No, better by far to stay inside in the warm, comfortable surroundings that they had enjoyed so much over the last five days.

At the same time, the under resourced, over worked handful of officers and men on the boat deck were desperately trying to coerce passengers into the boats. But even the few passengers that did come out into the frigid night air were reluctant; wives did not want to leave their husbands. Extended families were reluctant to be parted.  And the idea of climbing into those little boats, there to endure a potentially terrifying, seventy foot drop down into the darkness to drift about on the sea, seemed ridiculous. After all, they would only have to come back up the same way in a little while. After all, wasn’t the Titanic unsinkable anyway?

So, in that first, desperate hour, we find a fatal cocktail of events taking shape; overworked seamen, unused to working together, carrying out backbreaking work- so backbreaking that many of them were sweating in the freezing cold air- working frantically to manhandle these large, five ton boats out over the ship’s side, only to find that the handful of passengers that were about were extremely reluctant to enter them. Combined with an understandable desire to get those boats most threatened by the rising water away first, it is little wonder that things went to pieces.

Urgent, often haphazard work by a desperate crew was met with the utter complacency of many passengers in first and even second class that night, at least in that first hour. The result was the loss of almost five hundred more lives than were necessary; a shocking indictment. On the Titanic, almost everything possible was done for the comfort and leisure of the passengers, and almost nothing at all for their safety.

And, inevitably, as the tilt of the deck grew greater, the fear and panic did spread like sleeping sickness right through the foundering ship. When a wave of terrified third class passengers did come pouring up from down below, they had to be physically pushed back in some cases. For sure, shots were fired in the air.

For by now the boat deck was crowded, but the boats were mostly gone. And, as a few able seamen were sent away in each successive boat, so the numbers available to launch those last boats dwindled, even as their work load grew ever greater and more desperate.

What could they have thought themselves, as they worked like manic automatons to load and lower those boats, knowing full well that they had scant chance of finding a place in one for themselves?

Perhaps the one, true mercy accorded to those men is that they could at least lose themselves in a job of work. But those brave men would never be lauded like Wallace Hartley and his immortal musicians, or be showered with the kind of praise rightly directed at the likes of the wireless operators, the stewardesses, or even the hapless Captain Smith himself.

Complacency was the chief catalyst for this ocean going catastrophe without an equal. People will continue to cite the freakish weather conditions of that incredible night as a prime contributor to what followed, and that may well be so. The iceberg wasn’t seen until it was far too late.

But, in truth, nothing was a greater danger to the huddled masses on the Titanic than the ingrained mind set and mentality of those that conceived, commissioned, and then sailed her. That collision of overconfidence and nature was fatally compounded by a kind of complacent, Olympian blind faith in technology; one that eventually found its comeuppance on that cold April night back in 1912.

Titanic sinking. April 14-15, 1912.

Titanic sinking. April 14-15, 1912.

THE TITANIC- QUESTIONS I’D LIKE TO ASK…..

When RMS Titanic plunged beneath the starlit Atlantic on the early morning of April 15th, 1912, she left more than fifteen hundred souls behind her, thrashing and gasping desperately for their lives in the freezing cold water.

She also left a whole raft of unanswered questions behind her. Questions that need answers now as much as they did back then. And, because of the shocking roster of lives lost among the senior staff on board, they are answers that we will never, ever get.

And, of course, that is part of her appalling, compelling mystique; what we actually know is just the tip of the iceberg- pun wholly intentional. But the real conundrum is in what lies beneath.

If some cosmic force could somehow grant me the means, what I would really like to know is what was said between three key players in the tragedy during those last few hours, as the Titanic sagged helplessly into the abyss. The slowly unfolding tragedy would have brought all three to within a close, enforced proximity during those last, ghastly hours.

Those three men were Edward Smith, the captain; J. Bruce Ismay, the owner, and Thomas Andrews, the chief architect for both the Titanic and her almost identical sister ship, the Olympic. Andrews had taken over this role from Alexander Carlisle to be fair, but his input into the design and construction of both ships was still pivotal.

Two of these men would perish in the disaster; a third would survive. For reasons of his own, he would prove to be somewhat less than forthcoming on any conversations he may have had with the other two men. But, in truth, he was never pressed by the largely deferential courts of inquiry held into the sinking on both sides of the Atlantic.

Conjecture on the subject is fascinating, but in the absence of definitive answers, conjecture is all it will ever be. Still, let us look at what all three men did know for certain, not long after midnight on Sunday, April 14th, 1912;

1) They knew that the Titanic was going to sink within three hours, and that the nearest responsive rescue ship was more than four hours’ steaming time away.

2) They knew that there were lifeboats for just 1180 of the 2200 plus passengers and crew on board.

3) They knew that the water temperature was well below freezing, and that no one could be expected to survive immersion in it for more than a few minutes.

And, the inescapable logic to be deduced from those three facts was that at least a thousand people were going to die before even a slight chance of rescue could reach them.

Of course, most of this shortfall hinges on the lifeboat capacity. The British Board of Trade regulations required that the Titanic carry only sixteen lifeboats. The White Star Line had provided her with twenty in all.

As the overall architect, Thomas Andrews had specified no less than forty-eight lifeboats each for the Olympic and Titanic. He even installed a special kind of lifeboat launching gear, called the Welin davit system, that was capable of launching three boats in succession from the same spot.

But Andrews was over ruled. By Bruce Ismay no less, in his capacity as managing director of the White Star Line.

Why? Each of those five ton lifeboats would have cost relatively little to build. And, because of the revolutionary Welin system, those twenty eight extra boats would have taken up no more floor space on the boat deck.

It has been argued in recent years that shipping line owners like Ismay saw lifeboats simply as rescue ferries, to be used to evacuate a ship in the event of fire or collision. That he did not conceive that they would actually have to be used as fully fledged survival craft in their own right.

Ismay’s supposed thinking was based on the experience of losing another, much smaller White Star liner, the Republic, back in 1909.

The Republic had been rammed in thick fog, off the coast of Nantucket, by a much smaller Italian immigrant ship, the Florida. The Republic immediately sent out a distress call as she began to sink very slowly but surely.

Luckily, the Republic was very close to land; right near the spot where most ocean liners begin their final run in to New York. As a result, she was soon surrounded by a small, rapidly growing rescue fleet, and  in quite short order.

The boats on the Republic were then used to simply ferry all of her passengers and crew over to the ships standing nearby, waiting to pick them up. Thus, every life on board was saved after the initial collision. It was, indeed, a text book operation, and it gained world wide attention at the time.

But Ismay either drew the wrong conclusions from the loss of the Republic, or simply went into denial. Either way, it proved fatal to the huddled throng on the sloping boat deck of the Titanic, just over three years later.

For Titanic was not near any land; she was four hundred miles out in the Atlantic. All the ships in the general vicinity that did answer her desperate wireless messages were too far distant to respond in time. And, from the outset, the Titanic was far more seriously wounded than the Republic had ever been. So Ismay’s argument that lifeboats were only necessary as short distance ferries was turned completely on its head, and with disastrous consequences.

The pathetic handful of lifeboats on board the Titanic would all have to serve as fully fledged survival craft, and quite possibly for hours on end. What was worse was that there was room in those boats for less than half the people on board.

Ismay knew that. And so did both Captain Smith and Thomas Andrews.

I will always wonder if Ismay used the Republic near escape as an excuse not to provide more boats- the same boats that the experienced, hugely dedicated Thomas Andrews clearly did feel were necessary. What could his motivation have been in such a case?

I don’t think it was necessarily about the boats per se, but rather, accommodating the larger extra numbers of crewmen that would have been needed to lower and man them properly. Even on ships as huge as Olympic and Titanic, space was not infinite. Providing more crew for more boats would have meant creating extra cabins for them. And that could only be done at the expense of giving something else up- like valuable cargo space, for instance.

Of course, this larger crew would also have resulted in a larger wage bill. Did Ismay use his fatuous optimism over the Republic rescue as a shield to cover his reluctance to increase the total number of boats and crew, simply as a cost saving expedient?

I’d love to know what Thomas Andrews had to say about it on the night of April 14th-15th, 1912. Because if anyone was entitled to feel aggrieved with Ismay, it was surely him.

As it was, the evacuation of the sinking ship was very badly botched. Only 705 people were saved in boats capable of carrying 1180- an appalling shortfall of some 475 souls.

This, largely, can be laid at the door of the popular, hugely experienced Captain Edward Smith. He ordered that the boats be swung out, and filled with ‘women and children first’ before being lowered.

On the port and starboard sides of the sinking liner, that same order was interpreted very differently by the respective supervising officers. On the starboard side, First Officer Murdoch read it as ‘women and children first’, and then subsequently allowed men into the boats when no more ladies were in evidence.

On the port side, Second Officer Lightoller read it as ‘women and children only’- end of. No men at all. Even when there were just twenty-seven souls aboard a lifeboat built to hold seventy people.

This resulted in something like three quarters of those saved leaving in the starboard side boats. Andrews, his world already crumbling around him, was struck numb with horror when he realised that Lightoller was lowering boats at nothing like their full rated capacity.

According to his own account, Lightoller told Andrews that he was worried about filling the boats at deck level, in case the full weight load of seventy people caused them to buckle under the strain. An incredulous Andrews told Lightoller that two of the boats had been tested in Belfast, fully loaded, and that there had been no problems at all. After this, Lightoller did step up the number of people in each successive boat that he lowered.

Andrews, of course, was by this time unable to comment.

That said, one man could have cut straight through this appalling dichotomy; where your actual chances of survival were much better, or worse, depending on which side of the deck you happened to be standing on. That man was Captain Edward J. Smith.

Smith could- and should- have overruled his feisty second officer. But he did not.

Again, why?

Ever since the collision, no one had been more acutely aware than Smith of how desperate the situation was. He was the first to see any wireless messages coming through to the sinking ship .He knew all too well that the lifeboat capacity was woefully insufficient. And, just like Andrews, he knew exactly who was responsible for that shortfall.

No matter how you view his actions leading up to the actual collision, it is impossible not to feel some sympathy for Smith; he knew that at least a thousand people were going to die. And he knew that, as the captain of the Titanic, the ultimate responsibility for that loss would be laid to his charge, and not that of Bruce Ismay. If he felt that to be both unjust and inevitable, then who can blame him?

So, what was said between captain and owner? They were in very close proximity for at least the first fifty minutes or so after the collision. Again, Ismay was not forthcoming on the subject. Again, Smith was unavailable to provide any kind of possible counter narrative.

For sure, many of the deck officers on the Titanic would have been privy to any exchanges between those two men. But most of them went down with the ship. There may have been some ‘in the know’- and Lightoller comes to mind- but he maintained a discreet silence. The Second Officer retained an extraordinary devotion to his late captain right up to the last days of his own, quite extraordinary life.

Quite simply, Smith seems to have quietly imploded, going to pieces even as the cold ocean devoured the innards of his ship. The shock of inevitable disaster, coupled with that massive, unavoidable loss of life, probably overwhelmed him. Almost everything was left to the isolated efforts of his deck officers- Wilde, Murdoch, Lightoller, Lowe and Moody- in a nightmare situation that completely tore up the rule book.

This handful of essentially leaderless, desperately over worked men were constantly trying to improvise short term solutions for a situation that grew increasingly desperate with each new minute. If they were over stressed and made some impulsive mistakes, it is hardly to be wondered at under the circumstances.

But it is Thomas Andrews that I feel truly sorry for. For his story is nothing short of heart breaking.

I would love to sit down and ask him how he felt, as the ship he had laboured to bring to life over three long years, died slowly beneath his feet. How he felt about Bruce Ismay leaving the ship in one of the last lifeboats (if, indeed, he knew at all). Knowing that his recommendations about lifeboats had been ignored by the same owner that left in one of the few boats on board, while at least a thousand people were about to die as a result- that would have broken most men.

I cannot get them out of my head even now. The thought of Smith, stunned and ruined, watching helplessly as the water rose slowly but unstoppably towards him, about to obliterate both his life, and the enviable track record he had built up among the travelling public over some thirty-eight long years. Andrews, still trying desperately to save others even at the end, with no intention of ever doing anything to help himself. And yes, even Ismay, shivering in a little wooden lifeboat as his credibility sank with the dying leviathan that he could not bring himself to look at as she plunged under that stark, starlit ocean.

I would love to have been party to those anguished exchanges between these three, central figures as their worlds fell apart all around them. Because it is their story that is the kernel, the very epicentre, of the entire, needless tragedy of the Titanic. No one knew the truth in the way that they did.

All we have instead are questions that can never, ever be answered.

Final twilight of the Titanic. As she races into the sunset and the passengers savour fine food and wine, the iceberg lies in wait...

Final twilight of the Titanic. As she races into the sunset and the passengers savour fine food and wine, the iceberg lies in wait…

DISASTERS AT SEA, AND HOW WE SEE THEM……..

When you think of disasters at sea, what are the first names that trip off your tongue?

I’m betting that, almost without exception, it is the same two ships; Titanic and Lusitania.

I would also guess that the names Dona Paz, Wilhelm Gustloff and even perhaps the Empress Of Ireland mean little to most.

And that is quite incredible; because the Dona Paz remains, quite simply, the biggest peacetime maritime disaster ever. The total loss of life was some 4,386 people. There were just 24 survivors.

So, why have so few people heard of this tragedy, with it’s death toll almost three times as great as that of the Titanic? A lot of it has to do with perceptions of how we view shipwrecks, and the stature of the ship itself.

The Dona Paz was a simple, working ferry that sailed around the islands of the Philippines. She was criminally overloaded by an appalling two thousand passengers when she was rammed by an oil tanker, the Vector, on December 20th, 1987.

Her passenger list consisted entirely of local working people, commuting to and from their daily jobs, or perhaps just intent on visiting family and friends.

It had none of the platinum chip drama of the floodlit Titanic, sagging helplessly into the starlit Atlantic as Wallace Hartley and his bandsmen sawed desperately away at dance music.

There were no millionaires, film stars or railroad owners lining the decks of the Dona Paz. In fact, the story- ghastly, horrifying and absolutely beyond belief- created hardly even a ripple in the international press. It was something that happened a long way away, in a strange land.

By contrast, when the car ferry Herald of Free Enterprise had capsized and sank off Zeebrugge that same March, with the loss of 188 lives, the story made headlines right around the world. In media speak, some lives obviously have much more value than others.

As for the other ship mentioned, the Wilhelm Gustloff took perhaps as many as 9,000 people down with her in January, 1945. She was a commandeered German liner carrying civilians, wounded troops and Red Cross personnel away from the advancing Russian army, when a Soviet submarine slammed a trio of torpedoes into her on the night of January 30th.

Again, the ship was massively overloaded with terrified people. And yet, her destruction and horrific death toll has raised none of the righteous horror and indignation that the torpedoing of the Lusitania by a U boat did in May, 1915. 1,201 men. women and children went to the bottom with the famous Cunarder. That story garnered a tidal wave of horror and infamy so vast that it eventually played a huge part in bringing America into the Great War on the Allied side.

So why one, and not the other?

Perhaps part of it is down to the fact that the Wilhlem Gustloff was packed to the gills with wartime Germans, fleeing potential revenge for the string of unspeakable atrocities initiated in their name by Hitler and his SS. Even the most innocent of nurses and children were irredeemably tainted by association with such an evil regime. Besides which, the Gustloff was carrying wounded personnel from the German armed forces. In the Russian view, that made her a perfectly legitimate target. In that war, there were few real civilians- a view shared by both sides.

And what about the Empress Of Ireland? She capsized in the freezing Saint Lawrence on a foggy May evening in 1914 and sank in just fourteen minutes, leaving over 1,000 of her passengers and crew to expire within screaming distance of land. It caused horror and outrage that was as brief lived as the ship itself.

Again, the Empress Of Ireland was full of mostly ordinary, blue collar workers and their families, heading over to Europe and beyond. The ship, while comfortable, was a modest and unassuming liner, rather than a floating palace like the Titanic.

When the Titanic ship sank, she dragged half of the New York stock exchange down with her. Most of her famous first class passengers were names known the world over, and most of them went down with her. It triggered a media tsunami without equal perhaps to this day.

As for the Empress Of Ireland, she sank just three months before a global conflict of unimaginable horror erupted right across Europe and beyond. Soon, the daily death tolls coming in from the Western Front made the loss of a thousand souls, thrashing and gasping for breath in an icy Canadian waterway, seem almost quaint.

In received wisdom, the deliberate targeting of the Lusitania seems somehow more ghastly and unacceptable than that of the Wilhelm Gustloff, though each sinking was undeniably as carefully targeted and ruthlessly carried through as the other.

Awful beyond words, the Dona Paz disaster will never be immortalised in film. The story, like so many others, has been allowed to founder with indecent haste, and very scant recognition and remembrance.

Are some lives really perceived to be more or less valuable than others? Viewed through the skewed lens of our current historical prism, it certainly seems so. Nothing else explains the lurid acres of grisly coverage accorded to the Herald of Free Enterprise, while news of a ship that killed more than twenty times as many just nine moths later, created nary a ripple.

The ocean remains an equal opportunities killer; she will take her victims regardless of colour, age, wealth or any self assumed notions of social status. And, at the end of the day, every single soul lost across that infamous glut of maritime tragedies- passengers and crew alike- was a simple, terrified person. Most had families; all were loved, mourned and missed to a lesser or greater degree. No doubt they all prayed to the same idea of what we call ‘God’ for a salvation that, ultimately, never came.

I think that the least we can do is to acknowledge that sad fact.

The Lusitania.

The Lusitania.

QUEEN MARY 2 TO CELEBRATE 250TH TRANSATLANTIC CROSSING IN NOVEMBER

The Queen Mary 2 will celebrate yet another historic milestone this year when she sails on what will be her 250th crossing of the Atlantic in November.

The giant Cunarder- the largest ocean liner ever built- will sail from New York on November 25th on an eight night, eastbound voyage, scheduled to arrive in Southampton on December 3rd.

Fares for an inside stateroom start at £999.

It’s been something of a banner headline year for Cunard.Tthe company celebrated it’s 175th anniversary this year and, on a more sombre note, there was a pretty emotional voyage of remembrance to mark the centenary of the sinking of the Lusitania off the south coast of Ireland in May.

Having just completed her first, full decade of service, the Queen Mary 2 is also slated for a major refit, which will see the replacement of the mid ship, centrally located Kings’ Court buffet area among other things. The Kings’ Court has been a bone of contention for many QM2 regulars ever since the ship made her debut, back in 2004.

While it is heart warming to see the great liner passing yet another service milestone, I can’t help but point out that the original Queen Mary – half the size of the current one- used to make the same Atlantic crossing in half as many days.

Still, this really is a cause for celebration, and no doubt the event will be marked on board in suitable style. It should be quite a memorable crossing.

The great QM2 will embark on her 250th Atlantic crossing in November this year

The great QM2 will embark on her 250th Atlantic crossing in November this year

WHAT DISTINGUISHES CUNARD FROM OTHER BRITISH CRUISE LINES?

On the face of it, the very question might seem risible to some. Many savvy, well informed and even better travelled people peruse this blog. You know who you are, and you know your stuff.

But what if you’re a neophyte, dipping your toe into the cruising arena for the first time, and not really cognisant with the nuts and bolts of maritime history? A premise which, if we’re honest, covers by far the greater number of people in the cruising stream these days. That’s not meant as a snide dig- it’s just a fact.

How would you explain the concept- and the reality- of Cunard as it is, to them? How would you rank the line to other UK operators, such as P&O cruises, Fred. Olsen, and Cruise and Maritime Voyages?

For what it’s worth, here’s my take;

The main difference comes in the form of cabin accommodation, graded to different dining areas. The Grills- Queens’ and Princess Grills- create a separate enclave within each of the three Cunard ships- Queen Elizabeth, Queen Victoria and Queen Mary 2, tied to the most exclusive (and expensive) accommodation on board each ship.

Many people do not like either the theory or the actuality of this, as it creates what they perceive to be a ‘class conscious’ ship, harking back to the old, three class North Atlantic heyday. But, in fact, it’s a scenario also beginning to resurface even on supposedly more egalitarian lines, such as MSC and Norwegian- the ‘ship within a ship’ where those who can afford to pay for more privacy, space and exclusivity, complete with more polished, personalised service, are happy to do so.

On Cunard, the Grills are open seating, whereas the main dining rooms operate on a two sitting basis for dinner.

If your tastes and bank balance stretch to the Grills, then you will enjoy fine dining. gracious service, and a very elegant, elevated overall voyage experience. And, if you are spending all that money, you are frankly entitled to nothing less. But still, the entire notion creates resentment in some quarters. If that’s the case, you need to look at a different product. There are plenty of options out there.

The dress codes on Cunard are unquestionably more formal than on any of the other British lines, and especially so on the Atlantic crossings of the Queen Mary 2. But stripping Cunard completely of its formality and elegance would be like gutting the Ritz, and turning it into a fast food outlet.

The whole notion of timeless elegance at sea is endemic to the experience of Cunard; without it, the voyage would, indeed, be a much poorer experience. An anaemic aberration that would dilute everyone’s sense of pleasure and anticipation.

Truth be told, there has been a slight unbuttoning of the dress codes in the last few years, though it is still probably too formal for the ‘sun and fun’ brigade. And, if you really don’t want to dress up for dinner after a hard day’s carousing in the Caribbean- and I fully get that- then there are other, more causal lines out there.

But, my word, the sheer fun of getting done up in your evening glad rags for a night of Cunard- style dining and dancing is a fabulous, giddy fairground ride in it’s own right. And nobody- and I do mean nobody- does formal events, such as the Captain’s Cocktail Party, better than Cunard.

More than anything, however, Cunard’s 175 year history and priceless heritage renders it as a thing apart to the rivals (honourable exception: P&O, which is even older at a sprightly 178). As much as anything, Cunard has always been an idea in the public eye; an ocean liner sailing under a sky full of glittering stars, where millionaires and movie stars in full evening dress dance on deck to the music of a big band.

For some, the idea of being part of that storied history is compelling, and reason enough alone to book. But, of course, you need to be aware of that history to really ‘get’ it in the first place.

That’s where the ‘heritage trails’ laid out through all three ships of the current Cunard fleet form such a fascinating backdrop; evocative and informative by turn, they wind through each ship like some kind of timeline; a line of seamless, golden thread that really links the past to the present. A kind of easy to absorb maritime primer, if you will, the somehow seamlessly absorbs itself into your psyche over the course of a voyage.

There is nothing else quite like this at sea on any other fleet; for the very simple reason that no other company has a history like that of Cunard. And, more than anything, that is the real deal about sailing on this most illustrious and storied of British lines.

Whether that makes Cunard the best choice for your own personal tastes is, of course, for you to decide. But, as an experience overall, the Cunard brand- even today- continues to put clear, blue water between itself and its competitors.

And there are many people out there still more than happy to pay for distinctiveness, whatever from that may take.

QM2's ballroom; the very essence of formal flair and finery afloat.

QM2’s ballroom; the very essence of formal flair and finery afloat.

UNDER NORTHERN SKIES- MARCO POLO IN THE BALTIC

Sharp as  a butter knife, the slender, raked prow of the Marco Polo cut an elegant swathe through the grey, rolling swells of the summertime Baltic. To port, the last, lingering remnants of the setting sun cast a surreal, golden slant across the top of the thin membrane that separated sky and sea. Inside, soft light glowed on beautiful marble and etched glass, bathing the entire ship in a warm, cosy glow. From somewhere up forward, the sound of a moody, throaty saxophone caught my ears for a moment.

We were less than two hundred miles from Saint Petersburg, and a million more from reality.

Celebrating her incredible, fiftieth anniversary in 2015, the Marco Polo- a ship that first set sail in the same year as the first keel plates of the QE2 were laid on Clydebank- was returning to the waters that had actually given birth to her. With a sell out capacity of just under eight hundred passengers, the adults only, awesomely anachronistic ship provided the perfect platform for the adventure of a lifetime.

And what an adventure it proved to be. A string of stunning sea cities throng the edges of this ancient, alluring sea like so many gems, danging from an ornate necklace. Taut, compelling Tallinn, that amazing medieval theme park; cool, classy Stockholm and bustling, beautiful Helsinki. Warnemunde, the gorgeous, stunningly vibrant German beach resort used as a jumping off point for Berlin….

As for Copenhagen, even Danny Kaye underestimated how ‘wonderful’ Copenhagen truly is. Day or night, this rollicking, largely pedestrian city is the fun capital of Scandinavia; a compact city of green copper spires, long, winding streets and vast, open squares. Canals full of fishing boats and one of the world’s most amazing theme parks are suffused by the warmest and most welcoming vibe anywhere in the region in this shimmering, ethereal summertime playground.

Saint Petersburg is, of course, different. More remote, a city with so many different facets. One part Faberge egg, one part Russian matroshka doll, this fabulous, turbulent city merited the two days we spent there, and would have merited many more as well.

Grand, imposing and full of almost relentlessly European architecture, the great city wears the scars of it’s turbulent, three hundred year plus past like a series of battle honors. Revolution and suppression; war and famine. siege and a seat of government; Saint Petersburg has seen it all. A city where Tsars, assassins and men like Rasuptin, Trotsky and Lenin once strolled, plotted, and set into motion the events that defined an entire new world order. As destinations go, it has compulsion and attraction on a scale perhaps unmatched anywhere else in the world.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll visit all of these amazing places in more depth. And, even more importantly, we’ll get under the skin of the relatively small, massively alluring ship that carried us to and from this amazing series of fairground rides.

Make no mistake; the Marco Polo is truly unique. And she gets more so as the years pass, because nothing like her will ever be built again. Part time capsule, part antidote to the fleets of mega ships breaking out across the world’s oceans like some vast, incurable rash, the Marco Polo is a voyage of discovery all by herself.

So, I’d like to cordially invite you on board. May I recommend that you check out the expansive, aft facing outdoor terrace of Scott’s Bar, and perhaps treat yourself to a cold Vodka and Cranberry? Grab a seat, kick off your shoes, and just breathe.

We have three thousand or so miles to go. The ropes are off, and a slowly widening gap is opening between the quayside and that gorgeous, flaring blue flank.

Let’s see what’s out there, eh?

Marco Polo, at fifty still sailing in style

Marco Polo, at fifty still sailing in style

BACK TO THE FUTURE; THE RETURN OF STOCKHOLM’S BELL

Fact, as they say, is often stranger than fiction. But this one really takes some beating….

After more than five decades of immersion some two hundred and fifty feet below the Atlantic ocean off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, the original ship’s bell from the MV Stockholm has now been returned to the vessel, now trading as the Azores of Cruise and Maritime Voyages.

You literally could not make this one up….

The ship was originally built as the Stockholm, a small, 12,000 ton Swedish ocean liner that went into service in 1948. As was traditional back then, the brand new, bronze ship’s bell was duly installed on the liner’s forward bow.

Late on the foggy evening of July 26th, 1956, the ice stengthened bow of the Stockhom skewered into the forward, starboard side of the 29,000 ton Andrea Doria. The Italian liner was just hours from docking in Manhattan after a thus far routine crossing from Genoa.

The bow of the Stockholm acted like a dagger; crumpled and ruined, and with five dead crewmen trapped inside it, it still held and the smaller, Swedish ship was never in any real danger of sinking.

Fifty six passengers and crew died in the gaping wound inflicted on the Andrea Doria. But the Italian liner’s brave, lonely struggle against the encroaching ocean bought enough time to evacuate more than 1600 passengers and crew to the rapidly gathering fleet of rescue ships.

The Andrea Doria, wounded beyond salvation, sagged unde the ocean some eleven hours later. And, with her went the bell from the Stockholm, somehow trapped in the gaping wound in the hull of the Italian beauty. No one ever thought to see it again.

As the years went by, the wreck of the Andrea Doria became one of the most appealing of all dive sites, as well as one of the most inherently dangerous. More than one life has been lost by overly careless divers, caught by vicious currents in and around the wreck.

But slowly, a conga line of mostly small, yet highly evocative artefacts of everday life aboard the legendary fifties liner began to see daylight once more, brought aloft by triumphant divers. But no one ever expected that one of them would be the actual bell from the Stockholm herself.

After it’s improbable recovery, the bell was passed around in the USA, in exchange for a series of different boat parts.

But when it went back on the market again recently, Cruise and Maritime Voyages got in first. And now, after all this time, the bell has been reunited with the ship that it left so abruptly on the night of July 26th, 1956.

Go see it aboard the Azores while you can; in due course it will leave the ship again, to go on display at the Swedish maritime museum in Gothenburg.

And, while no one can doubt that it is amazing that the bell has been rediscovered after all these years, what is truly astounding is that the ship originally built to carry it is still sailing, as well.

Worth a thought, no?

MV Azores, seen in her Athena livery in 2010, is going French in 2016

MV Azores, seen in her Athena livery in 2010, is going French in 2016

LINERS AT WAR; HMS JERVIS BAY

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The Jervis Bay in action against the Admiral Scheer. Image credit; hmsjervisbay.com

The early November light was already fading in the mid ocean sky when the lookout on the Jervis Bay became suddenly aware of the fighting top of a lone warship, splintering the horizon. As it headed towards them, the Jervis Bay- the sole escort for the thirty seven merchantmen of convoy HX 84- sent out a challenge to the stranger to identify herself.

The reply came in the form of six giant water geysers that erupted all around the converted liner almost at once. Without a second’s hesitation, Captain Edward Fegen gave the order to attack the stranger while the convoy scattered for cover like so many startled chickens.

The intruder was the German pocket battleship, Admiral Scheer. She had sailed from Germany at the end of October, intent on breaking into the Atlantic to savage convoys such as HX 84. Rounding the northern coast of Iceland in sea conditions so severe that it had swept two of her crew overboard, she had used that same foul weather to cover her tracks. When her fighting top was sighted from the Jervis Bay on the afternoon of November 5th, 1940, it was the first indication that this powerful raider was loose on the open ocean.

The Scheer presented an immediate, terrible lhreat to the thirty seven slow, wallowing merchantmen. The raider was much faster than any of them and, armed with a battery of six eleven inch guns, she was a squat, heavily armoured, death dealing menace. Only the Jervis Bay now stood between the pocket battleship and an unspeakable slaughter.

Built for the Aberdeen and Commonwealth Line in 1922, the Jervis Bay was a simple, no nonsense passenger liner of 14,000 tons, designed to sail between England and Australia. With a straight stem and a single funnel, she had none of the glamour or pretension of platinum chip Atlantic legends such as Mauretania or Olympic; instead, she was a stolid, slightly dour workhorse and, for the better part of two decades, she lived a relatively trouble free life.

When war broke out in 1939, the Jervis Bay was requisitioned by the Admiralty to serve as an armed merchant cruiser. Seven old six inch guns- all dating from 1898- were shoe horned into her deck spaces, together with a pair of three inch anti aircraft  guns. She was then painted grey, and given over to the command of the navy. In November of 1940 she was under the command of her third captain, Edward Fegen. Under him, a crew of some two hundred and fifty four Royal Navy reservists worked manfully to adapt the liner to her new role.

Desperately short of convoy escorts, the Admiralty converted a number of these smaller, intermediate liners into the role of armed merchant cruisers. It was an almost suicidal role; such ships could never hope to seriously take on a bona fide warship and survive. They had no real protective armour, and their high sides made them almost unmissable targets. With a maximum speed of 17 knots, there was never a chance that the Jervis Bay could escape from her vastly more powerful foe.

But escape was not on Fegen’s mind on that fateful evening of November 5th, 1940. His ship was the convoy’s sole escort. An awful, inescapable obligation now fell on him, but he did not shirk it for one second.

As the convoy attempted to scatter into the slowly encroaching darkness, Fegen knew with awful certainty that neither his ship, or the bulk of her volunteer crew, would survive the events to follow. But, to the amazement of the Germans, the wallowing liner lunged at the pocket battleship, her battle ensign billowing in the icy November wind, like an ageing sheepdog throwing itself across the path of a rabid fox. As acts of sacrificial gallantry go, it was right up there with the charge of the Light Brigade.

What followed was inevitable. The eleven inch guns of the Admiral Scheer found the range almost at once, and began to methodically demolish the flimsy, high sided liner with a hail of deadly, accurate fire. Yet the old six inch guns of the Jervis Bay flared into defiant, if futile response, even as the decks around them collapsed in piles of flaming, charred scrap metal. Salt water spray from numerous near misses drenched the blazing liner as she slowly disintegrated. But still, she came on at the pocket battleship.

On the Scheer, Captain Theodore Krancke understood all too well what his incredibly valiant foe was attempting to do. It was all about buying time for the convoy. Every minute that the Jervis Bay held the line gave the merchant ships more time to scatter like ninepins into the encroaching darkness. The pocket battleship stepped up her assault with almost ruthless desperation.

It was a full hour before the doomed, gallant Jervis Bay finally gave up the ghost. The uncontrollable fires raging aboard her were finally smothered by the cold embrace of the icy winter Atlantic as she sagged under the waves. With her went Fegen and some one hundred and eighty six of her crew.

Sixty eight survivors were rescued by the Stureholm, a neutral Swedish merchant ship, although three of these died later. For Fegen, there was the posthumous award of the Victoria Cross,

It  was a magnificent, yet hopelessly inadequate tribute to a man whose actions saved literally thousands of lives on that cold November night. Partially thwarted, the Admiral Scheer managed to sink just five of the thirty seven vessels of the convoy, before the rest escaped under the welcome cloak of darkness.

Over the next five months, the Scheer would roam as far south as the Pacific and the Indian Ocean, in an operation that was, in it’s own way every bit as daring and remarkable as the doomed last stand of her late adversary. She returned to Germany unharmed in March 1941, having sunk or captured some 100,000 tons of shipping.

It was a quite remarkable haul, but the devastation wrought by the Scheer would have been even worse if not for the incredible, selfless gallantry of Fegen, and the crew of the hopelessly outgunned Jervis Bay.

The last, incredible moments of the fire spitting, listing liner, lumbering across the rolling Atlantic swell, ablaze from bow to stern and surrounded by towering shell splashes as she charged unflinchingly at her deadly, death dealing foe, is one of the most immortal and undying images in the history of the entire British merchant marine. For that alone, Fegen, his gallant ship and her brave, fallen band of brothers, deserve to be honoured and remembered. Of such stuff are legends made.

Out of the darkening Atlantic, an ominous shape took form and approached the convoy....

Out of the darkening Atlantic, an ominous shape took form and approached the convoy….

THE LUSITANIA; 100 YEARS AGO TODAY…..

It was the original ‘shot that was heard around the world’…

When the stately bulk of RMS Lusitania loomed against the cross hairs of U-20’s periscope on the afternoon of May 7th, 1915, Walther Schweiger did not hesitate for one second. He slammed his last available torpedo into the glistening black flank of the liner. The rest is history, and no more relevant than today, the centenary of the sinking.

She went down in just eighteen minutes, leaving almost two thousand people gasping and thrashing for their lives in the frigid, sunlit waters off the coast of southern Ireland. 1,201 men, women and children were lost altogether. Bodies were still being found draped across Irish beaches some three weeks later.

The story was a sensation across the world. How could anyone torpedo an unarmed passenger liner, full of women and children, and leave them to such a ghastly fate? The media hyped the sinking into the ultimate act of barbarism; the despicable work of a dastardly enemy that would sink to any depths- in this case quite literally- to impose his cruel world view on humanity.

But, truth be told, the gloves were off from the first days of World War One. Any notion that the contest would be fought in a gentlemanly style between two rival power blocs, one that would do it’s utmost to spare civilians, was shot to pieces when the German army trampled all over the neutral status of petrified little Belgium.

That was followed by the British blockade of German ports, which soon resulted in severe rationing for women and children across Germany proper. In return, Germany introduced unrestricted submarine warfare against British merchant shipping, and announced that foreign nationals should not travel on passenger ships sailing under the British flag, which would now be liable to attack.

By this time, the German navy had already carried out coastal bombardments of towns such as Hartlepool and Scarborough, inflicting civilian casualties in all of them. And in towns across both France and Belgium, hordes of terrified civilians had already discovered for themselves that this would be anything but a ‘gentleman’s war’. No, the cat was out of the bag long before the Lusitania swung clear of New York’s Pier 54 for the last time on May 1st, 1915. It was total war in all but title.

And the Lusitania herself was no innocent party in all this. She was carrying a large amount of small arms munitions and stores, bound for the British army on the western front. The carriage of such stores in a liner loaded with passengers was blatantly illegal, and both the British and the Germans knew it. And it was also true that both sides knew that supposedly impartial US customs officials were turning a blind eye to these illegal shipments. For a nation fighting on two fronts, this was all like a red rag to an already enraged and careless bull.

For this last, fateful crossing, the Lusitania had 1,266 passengers embarked, plus a crew of 696. The biggest passenger load she had carried since the outbreak of hostilities. And, although the weather was fine and sunny as the liner romped across the springtime Atlantic towards Europe, everything else was actually working slowly, yet inexorably, against her.

Not long before the liner reached the coast of Ireland, her intended escort, the old, armoured cruiser Juno, was ordered back into port in Queenstown- for fear of submarines known to be lurking in the area. And, despite this laudable care for navy lives, no message ordering the Lusitania into Queenstown was ever sent. And, by now, the liner was looming massively into the danger zone.

I suspect someone at the Admiralty dropped the ball here; with the disastrous onset of the Gallipoli campaign just two weeks earlier, the navy was now adrift in a nightmare situation of it’s own making, and perhaps more effort was being concentrated there than elsewhere. But it is strange that the Lusitania was deemed safe to proceed where a ship of war like the Juno patently was not.

In the ghastly aftermath, the navy did what any huge public body under adverse public scrutiny does; it kicked the blame down the field, and attempted to make a villain of Captain Turner, the man in command of the lost liner. He had, they said, blatantly disobeyed Admiralty standing instructions about sailing in a war zone.

These stated that ships such as the Lusitania were to steer well clear of headlands, and zig zag at maximum speed, so as to throw any submarine off a good aiming point.

But Turner and the Lusitania spent most of the fateful morning of May 7th, 1915, enveloped in a fog so thick that visibility was almost nil. Lusitania was coming up to the coast of Ireland at a smart clip and, in these pre radar days, Turner was effectively blind in the fog. So, when the weather did mercifully clear, he did what seemed perfectly sensible to him and many others; he brought the Lusitania closer in to the now visible shore in order to get an exact bearing on his position. And this put him on a course towards the lurking U-20.

But Turner did not zig zag, and kept the Lusitania romping along at a steady eighteen knots. Even with one of his four boiler rooms closed down as an economy measure, he could still have powered the Lusitania up to twenty-one. Perhaps he planned to do just that once he was satisfied with his bearings. We will never, ever know.

Once Walther Schweiger fired his torpedo into the path of the oncoming Lusitania, the die was effectively cast. The young U-boat captain knew exactly what he was doing, and he followed his orders with ruthless, tenacious efficiency.

He would have known that he was about to torpedo a very large passenger liner, one carrying many, many, women and children. But he also knew that the same ship was carrying arms and munitions to the British army on the western front, at a time when the British blockade was bringing hardship and even starvation to the streets of Germany. That knowledge probably steeled his determination to hit such a prize target.

Not that he expected this one puny, unreliable torpedo to sink such a huge ship; one built with all the strength and watertight sub division of a Royal Navy cruiser. Ships less than half the size of Lusitania had survived torpedo strikes before. At most, he expected to cripple and delay the liner.

Of course, that’s not how things played out.

Despite his determination to hurt this prestige enemy target, Schweiger was unable to watch the horrific events that unfolded as a result of his strike. It was simply too ghastly, too overwhelming, for any man to actually watch, let alone enjoy.

Such was the loss of the Lusitania, one of the ‘unholy trinity’ of great maritime tragedies on the Atlantic. It is sobering to reflect that the Titanic, the Empress Of Ireland and the Lusitania were all lost in the four years, between 1912 and 1915.

But those first two tragedies were accidents; the sinking of the Lusitania was a deliberate act of war. And it is that stark, simple fact that lends it the particularly grisly cachet that it still has to this day.

And, of course, other Cunarders would sink in the service of their country. In 1940, the Lancastria would take more than six thousand British soldiers down with her when she was dive bombed off the port of Saint Nazaire- a death total that exceeds all three of the above named liners by a mile. But, by then, we had become so immured by the concept of ‘total war’ that the loss of yet another troopship would not have registered so resoundingly as, say, the sinking of a ship that took down half of the New York stock exchange with her in mid Atlantic. Blood has always been a currency of wildly fluctuating value when the fate of nations is at stake.

Still, it is totally apt that, today of all days, we remember the Lusitania and her human cargo of sad, lost souls. They did not ask to be pitched, shuddering and terrified, into the freezing Atlantic on a fine spring afternoon. Certainly, they did not expect it.

They deserved much better, of course. As did the Tommies, the Poilous and the Landsers, cringeing and terrified as they cowered in the trenches of Flanders. You can say the same for the shell shocked civilians of Amiens, Ypres and Brussels and yes, even the scared, twitchy crew of U-20, crouching fearfully in their claustrophobic little tin bolt hole as it beetled along under a sea dominated by its foes.

The Lusitania. Lost 100 years ago today, May 7th, 1915. RIP.

The Lusitania. Lost 100 years ago today, May 7th, 1915. RIP.