Lusitania losses

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napkin with image of a ship and text

Image courtesy of the Liverpool Daily Post and Echo.

I find the words on the napkin, produced to commemorate one of the worst maritime disasters of the First World War, very moving.

To many people at the time the loss of the Lusitania came to symbolise Liverpool’s suffering, as she was the city’s favourite passenger liner.

The spectacular coloured glass war memorial at one of my local churches, St James’s in West Derby, uniquely uses an image of the doomed ship to silently express that grief.

He was just 31 years old, a much-loved husband and the father of a daughter he would never see – John Henry Hayes was one of the 1,200 innocent victims of the Lusitania disaster.

On a sunny day in May, in calm seas off the coast of Ireland, she was sunk in a surprise attack by a German U-boat submarine.

The Lusitania sank in just 18 minutes amid chaotic scenes as frantic passengers and crew tried to reach the lifeboats.

John, the ship’s junior fifth engineer, had left his pregnant wife Jeanette at their home in Bootle while he took another voyage across the Atlantic. It was 1915 and the First World War had started the previous summer.

The Lusitania, which had sailed regularly on Cunard’s Liverpool to New York run since 1907, carried on despite warnings from Germany that British ships would be attacked.

Poignant Hayes family photos are on display in the Merseyside Maritime Museum’s Titanic, Lusitania and the Forgotten Empress (of Ireland) gallery. We see John in uniform, his wife in a studio portrait and baby Jeanette born after her father’s death.

There are many items on display linked to the Lusitania. The sinking prompted a huge rush of commemorative items.

The memorial paper napkin was printed by the Palatine Press, Wigan. It has the headline: The Lusitania The World’s Most Popular Steamship.

Under a photo of the ship it says: "The Lusitania was one of the most sumptuous ships that ever ploughed the seas. Luxurious was her first class accommodation, but not one iota of possible comfort was sacrificed …

"In any direction the view was charming from the central hall. This spacious hall was 24 ft long, the full breadth of the ship. There were two electrically worked passenger lifts situated in the centre of the staircase."

The napkin includes other facts about the Lusitania and records: At the inquest held at Kinsale (Ireland) the verdict was "Wilful and wholesale murder against the Kaiser and Government of Germany."

A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo. A paperback – Mersey Maritime Tales (£3.99) – is available from the museum, newsagents or bookshops.