About 20 kilometres off The Old Head of Kinsale, on the 7th May 1915, the Royal Mail Ship RMS Lusiutania was torpedoed by a German submarine, in what was possibly one of the worst attacks carried out by the German Navy against American,European and British civilians. Some 1198 passangers and crew lost their lives in this tragic event, and the coastline of Southern Ireland around Queenstown was inundated with dead bodies and other detrius being washed ashore from this awful and unexpected attack. The Germans had tried to dissuade passangers from embarking on the ship as their intellegence machine were of the view that a considerable amount of explosives were being transported from America to Britain, in an attempt to help the British War effort. Indeed, initially the Germans were quite delighted to have prevented these war materials reaching the British Isles and they struck a special medal to mark the event.
However, the British were quick to understand the Propoganda value of this medal, against their version of events in that this had in fact been an attack by an alien power against a Royal Mail Ship carrying civilian passangers including non combatant Americans and ordinary freight, such as foodstuffs, incoming fancy goods from America and other non military materials. So the British produced thousands of these German medals and used them to great effect to alienate American support for the Kaiser, and eventually bring American Forces into the War on the side of the British. It is worth remembering that some 128 American civilians including one of the United States richest men – Mr Albert Vanderbilt lost their lives as a result of this ruthless German attack.
Ireland were not to get off scott free, with the loss of some 140 Irish passangers and crewmen. Our most significent loss was Sir Hugh Lane, the famous Cork born art collector, who left most of his art collections to the people od Dublin, and to this day, his collection of Artworks can be viewed in The Hugh Lane Gallery at the top of O’Connell Street in Dublin. Another well known Irish arts figure to lose his life was the composer Thomas O’Brien Butler. Amongst the international crew employed by Cunard, on the ship were the Ship’s surgeon – James McDermott, another Cork man, and his assistant, a Dr Joseph Garry from County Clare, to name but a couple of the Irish contingent of victims.
As you can see from the selection of Propoganda materials illustrated above the British were able to use these events locally in Ireland to encourage men from all over the Island of Ireland to come forward and join the various Irish Regiments of the British Army and play their part in defeating the Hun. But it was to be in the International Arena, that the British were to be most successful by generating worldwide outrage and odium against the German forces for their perceived wrongdoing.
We have only managed to identify one Freemason on the Lusitania. He was called Peter Smith, and was one of the Master-at-Arms on the ship. Peter Smith was born in Liverpool, Lancashire, England, in 1856, the son of Thomas and Ann Smith. The family owned the firm of Potter’s Shipbuilding in Blackston Street, Liverpool, Lancashire. In 1915, he was living with his wife Faith Eaton Smith (née Marlow), whom he married in Liverpool on 24 July 1879, at the family home, 48, Monfa Street, Bootle, Liverpool, Lancashire. He was a prominent Freemason and a member of Trafalgar Lodge, No. 225 based in Liverpool.
He joined the Cunard Steamship Company in the 1880s and at the time of his death, had completed over 30 years of service with the company. By 1915, he was employed as a master at arms in the Deck Department on board the Lusitania, a position which was to all intents and purposes, that of ship’s policeman. On the 12th April 1915, at the Cunard offices at Water Street, Liverpool, he engaged in this rank for the Lusitania’s voyage to New York which was scheduled to leave Princes Landing Stage on the morning of 17 April. His rate of pay was £5-10s-0d., (£5.50p.), £1-10s-0d., (£1.50p.), of which was advanced to him at the time. There were two masters at arms engaged for this voyage, the other one being 46 year old William Williams.
Having successfully completed the liner’s westward voyage, Master at Arms Smith was still serving in the same capacity when the Cunarder left New York after a delayed start just after mid-day on 1st May, to begin her return to Liverpool. Then, on the afternoon of 7th May 1915, the Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine U-20, off the southern coast of Ireland and only about twelve to fourteen hours away from the safety of her home port.Peter Smith sadly and unfortunately lost his life as a result of this action and as his body was not recovered and identified afterwards, he has no known grave. Consequently, he is commemorated on the Mercantile Marine Memorial to the Missing at Tower Hill, London. He was aged 59 years. Despite being a Freemason, however, his name is not embossed on the bronze roll of honor dedicated to Mersey-side Freemasons lost in the Great War, at the Masonic Hall in Hope Street, Liverpool.
Brethren the tale of the Lusitania is a tragic story with many twists and turns, and was the cause of much heartbreak among’st the families of the passengers and crew. Great confusion still exists over the actual manifest of the ship before she sailed, and the official records of this great ship are still not released, even at today’s date, some one hundred years after the event. There have been commemorations in Cove Harbour, County Cork, and divers have been down at the ship leaving a wreath and a casket with the names of all 1198 dead passanger’s and crew. Our thoughts and Prayers go out to all these troubled souls, as we recall the terrible death that they had to endure.