In a new book on the 1915 sinking of the ocean liner Lusitania, historian Diana Preston presents fresh findings about the atrocity and draws on recently discovered interviews with survivors to bring the terrible human drama to life

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Lauriat rejoiced to see a 1-year-old baby pulled on board with his grateful mother and father. In all, the Peel 12 took on some 160 survivors. She was so crowded that Brooks was forced to dangle his legs over the side. Realizing that his own boat was now in some danger of sinking, the Peel 12’s captain took two more boats in tow and set out for Queenstown.


Belle Naish, looking anxiously around in her lifeboat, felt overwhelmed to see the rescue force finally appear: “Smoke, then, in several places ahead on the horizon, finally the smokestacks, and then the bows of the vessels seemed suddenly to come to view. . . . The sea was so smooth we could see the spray on the bows and swells behind each boat coming to our rescue.” Belle was taken on board the Julia [a British tug]. The sailors revived her with tea and gave her a hot brick. One man passed around a box of cakes his wife had made for him. Meanwhile, Belle was trying to comfort a despairing 7-year-old boy, Robert Kay, who not only had lost his mother but was feverishly in the throes of measles. Suddenly she saw an unconscious Theodate Pope pulled in from the sea with boat hooks and laid among the dead “like a sack of cement.” Luckily for Theodate, Belle hesitantly touched her stiff body, then pleaded with the sailors to give her artificial respiration. They cut off her fashionable clothing with a carving knife brought up from the galley and went to work. To their amazement, she came around. Gazing confusedly around her, Theodate gradually realized she was lying on the floor wrapped in a blanket and staring into a small open-grate fire.


Captain Turner was taken aboard the fishing boat Bluebell. The trawler’s skipper wrapped a blanket around him and took him down to the mess room, where he sat by the stove “with his head in his arms.” In a “low rather monotonous voice” a woman began to describe the loss of her baby. She berated Turner that her child’s death had been unnecessary, blaming the “lack of organization and discipline on board.” A sailor whispered to Margaret Mackworth, also picked up by the Bluebell that the woman was hysterical; Margaret thought the reverse: the poor bereft mother appeared to her “to be the one person on board who was not.”


The Bluebell reached Queenstown at about 11 p.m. Margaret Mackworth shuffled ashore in a khaki army greatcoat borrowed from a soldier over a blanket tucked around her waist and with the captain’s carpet slippers on her feet. She was too weak to step up onto the gangway and crawled onto it on her hands and knees. Captain Turner disembarked last. One observer thought he looked “terribly broken down.” He apparently remarked, “Well, it is the fortune of war.”


Charles Lauriat finally reached Queenstown at 9:30 p.m. After seeing the injured taken care of, he bought himself some pajamas of the thickest wool he had ever put on, had a drink in the Imperial Hotel bar and found himself a bed. Another survivor, though not a drinking man, tossed down six whiskeys and sodas that a soldier held out to him on a tray as he disembarked. He was convinced the drinks saved his life. Theodate Pope was carried ashore from the Julia by two sailors who made a chair with their hands and lifted her up. She was taken by car to a hotel where she tried to stand but immediately crumpled in a heap. A stream of men kept coming into her room, “snapping on the lights, bringing children for us to identify, taking telegrams, getting our names for the list of survivors.” Each time she scanned their faces, and each time she was disappointed. That night Pope, like some other survivors, found that her hair was beginning to fall out from the effects of shock.

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