It was the fortunes of war that brought U-Boat Commander Walter Schweiger and former cotton weaver Elizabeth Duckworth together in one of the world's great sea catastrophes. It was Friday 7th of May 1915 when the Lusitania emerged from the fog and sighted the coast of Ireland. At the same time Schweiger was gently rotating his periscope, scanning the waves.
The 785 foot liner had been built by John Brown's at Clydebank and launched in 1906. It had a top speed of 21 knots and could accommodate over 2000 passengers. Her maiden voyage was to New York, but bad weather had prevented her reaching her maximum speed.
Elizabeth Duckworth had been born in Blackburn in 1863. Her father John Smith was a blacksmith from Ribchester. When her first husband died she emigrated to America where she met Alfred Duckworth, her second husband. She was returning to visit friends and family. It was shortly after dinner and Elizabeth was on deck watching the Irish coast.
Schweiger couldn't believe his luck. He'd thought the Lusitania would escape him and here it was, a vast target filling his sights. He couldn't miss. He gave the order:
"Torpedo los!" the torpedo officer confirmed.
The starboard look-out on the Lusitania saw the torpedo racing towards them through the waves. He informed the officer on the bridge who alerted Captain Turner. Nothing could be done. The torpedo struck ten feet below the water-line, slightly behind the bridge. There was a muffled explosion, followed within seconds by a much greater one that sent clouds of dust and debris shooting skywards. The ship began to list.
Captain Turner knew at once the ship was lost. It sank in less than 18 minutes. 1,201 people were drowned.
Elizabeth had gained the safety of a lifeboat and was rowing hard trying to reach people in the water. Peel 12 was a fishing boat that had come out to pick up survivors. Elizabeth begged the crew to help her pick up more. When they refused she leapt back into the lifeboat and continued the search.
Walter Schweiger was killed in 1917. Captain Turner was made a scapegoat for the disaster by the Admiralty. He died in 1933. Elizabeth Duckworth returned to America and died in 1955 at the age of 92.
By Alan Duckworth
The Lost Liner.
Blackburn People On The Lusitania.
Lady's Story Of A Thrilling Rescue.
Mrs. Alfred Duckworth, a Blackburn lady, whose home is in New York and who was on a visit to friends in Blackburn, was a passenger by the ill-fated Cunard liner, the Lusitania, and she had a thrilling escape.
She will be better known locally as Mrs. Rushworth, and she resided for several years at 56, Bastwell-road. She was employed at Oozebooth Mill, and upon her husband's death she emigrated to America. Here she met, and married, Mr. Alfred Duckworth. She was on a visit to Mrs. Sowerbutts, of Bastwell-road, and though she lost all her belongings by the sinking of the vessel she considers herself extremely fortunate to have been rescued. Mrs. Duckworth had as a fellow passenger, a Nelson lady named Mrs. Scott, and she was taking care of the latter's young son when the liner received her death blow.
Interviewed by our representative, Mrs. Duckworth said they had just finished dinner as they were nearing the Irish coast, when she expressed a desire to go up on deck and get a glimpse of land. Mrs. Scott complained she had a headache, and said she would lie down for a few minutes. Consequently she proceeded to the deck, followed by little Arthur, and, on looking over the side, saw something in the water which to her appeared like a fish. Being anxious the boy should see the "fish", she lifted him up, and in a second or so the boat was hit with the torpedo. Water shot up in the air for several feet, and it was then that the huge mass of passengers became aware of the barbarity of the Germans. Seeing the peril, Mrs. Duckworth jumped onto the capstan, held the boy above her head, and cried out for somebody to save the little boy. The passengers by this time were all full of excitement and terror, and added to this was the confusion everywhere. People were climbing over one another in their efforts to get to the boats, and the whole scene was awful. Eventually the lad was lowered into a boat, and when Mrs. Duckworth tried to get in the same boat the cry met her, "There is no more room in here; if any more get in the boat will capsize". She gave every assistance in hlping to save the children and women, and eventually she got into another boat. No sooner had she done this then the great vessel dived into the ocean. The little boat was swept out to sea, and the occupants remained in their perilous position until dusk. They were then picked up by a fishing vessel and landed at Queenstown. Mrs. Duckworth did not then know how Mrs. Scott or her son had fared, but the following mroning she was out for a walk, and she came across a little boy seated on a bundle, looking at a paper. She approached him, and was filled with delight at recognising the boy. Prior to then the boy had been in the care of another person, but Mrs. Duckworth explained to the authorities that she had travelled from New York with the lad and his mother, and she at once assumed charge of him.
A Steward among the Victims.
Mr. John Almond, son of Mr. and Mrs. John Almond, of 66, Cherry-street, was on board the Lusitania when the giant Cunarder was sunk by submarine. Mr. Almond, who was 26 years of age, was employed as a steward in the first-class portion of the vessel. He was previously engaged on the Caronia, but when that ship was taken over by the Government he was transferred to the Lusitania. He had been on the sea about four or five years, and prior to joining the Cunard Company he was employed by the Blue Funnel Line. When they heard of the disaster his parents were naturally very much perturbed, and enquiries were at once instituted as to whether he was among the saved. His name did not appear in the list of survivors, and the worst is feared. A friend of the family has been making enquiries in Liverpool, and in conversation with some of the survivors he learned that when last seen Mr. Almond was in the water. He had a life-belt around him, and was keeping himself afloat with the aid of a deck chair. Further than that no news could be learned respecting his fate. Photographs of Mrs. Duckworth and Mr. Almond appear on page 7.
Did Not Sail.
Mr, William Bolton, of Church, who has several relatives in Blackburn and district, and who was reported to be on the ill-fated Lusitania, cabled to his wife on Monday from Toronto saying he did not sail.
Mr. Snowden and the Blackest Crime of the War.
The sinking of the "Lusitania", writes Mr. Snowden, M. P., in the "Christian Commonwealth", puts the crowning touch on the infamy of the conduct of this war. Writing under the influence of the first feelings of indignation and horror which this act has naturally aroused, it may be difficult to take a judicial and all-round view of the crime, or even to put this awful incident in its proper relation to the general conduct of the war. War has no redeeming features. It is itself the sum of all atrocities. Such a crime as the torpedoing of this great vessel, with its cargo of innocent non-combatants, shocks and appals the whole world, which would have been less moved by the news of the loss of ten times the number of human beings destroyed by the instruments of death, but under what civilisation has recognised as proper methods of warfare. The most serious effect of war is that it brutalises human beings; it cheapens the value of and regard for human life; if stirs up the most hateful passions; it breeds malice and revenge; it leaves behind, after the belligerents have exhausted their fighting powers and resources, all the material for a continuance of ill-will and hatred.
Germany, continues Mr. Snowden, began the war by violating its treaty obligations in regard to Belgium. That act was defended on the score of military necessity. Every sunsequent act in violation of conventions and agreements is defended on the same ground. "Military necessity", we were told in the House of Commons recently by the Under-Secretary for War, "knows no law". The Germans are acting on that policy. Such a policy tempts to reprisals. War is itself the failure of law and restraint; and when the nations have entered upon war they find it difficult to follow any rules or conventions. But there is one broad distinction which ought to be respected. There is, as I said above, something to be said in support of the contention of those who maintain that war between combatants may be waged without rules, and laws, that any means which will attain the object may be used between combatants. But nothing can justify attacks on innocent non-combatants who are not able to defend themsleves. As between combatants the conditions may be fairly equal. Each side has a fighting chance. But when armed force is used against unarmed persons, including women and children, and when these are given no chance to save themselves the act is removed out of the category of warfare, and can only be described as cool and described as cool and deliberate murder.
In conclusion, Mr. Snowden says, "This is not the moment to make the appeal for a calm and dispassionate consideration of the situation. It is enough to say now that I hope the British nation will, under this unequalled provocation remember its own honour and dignity and not be betrayed by passion and indignation into adopting reprisals which would stain our own national record. Let us remember almost the last words Lord Roberts said to his countrymen, namely, "Whatever the enemy do, let us keep our own hands clean".
A print from the 'London Illustrated News' showing the Lusitania.
The caption reads; "The lost Cunarder: The Lusitania, A floating palace".