As was the case with the Titanic, the "what ifs" associated with the sinking of the Lusitania are haunting. Perhaps the biggest question centers around the transfer of passengers in New York from the SS Cameronia to the Lusitania.
The transfer of people and baggage delayed the Lusitania's departure from New York by more than two hours. Had the big ship departed on time it is quite likely that it would not have crossed paths with German U-Boat U-20, thus averting disaster. Instead, the transfer not only added to the casualty list, but it also guaranteed the ship's ill-fated rendezvous with U-20—an encounter that cost the lives of three Connecticut residents, as detailed in .
This week we'll take a look at some of the survivors whose stories are interesting and, in one notable instance, heroic.
Among the ten Connecticut survivors were Emily Anderson and her young daughter, Barbara, 2, of Bridgeport. Emily, pregnant and afflicted with tuberculosis, was traveling back to England with her daughter to see her family. Her husband, Rowland, had to remain at his job in New Haven working at the Winchester Repeating Arms factory there.
While the Andersons were at lunch onboard the Lusitania on May 7, 1915, the German torpedo struck. Emily hurried with Barbara to find a lifeboat. Helped by an assistant purser named William Harkness, Emily and Barbara managed to fall into Lifeboat 15 as it was being lowered into the water. Covered by soot blown out of the smokestacks of the Lusitania as it sunk, the two managed to survive and were picked up by a fishing trawler called the Wanderer (also known as Peel 12) and taken to Queenstown.
The Andersons soon made their way back to England and to their relatives. There, a reporter noted, "It would be difficult to imagine from Mrs. Anderson's pleasant chat that she had passed through such a terrible experience. She is possessed of strong nerves and a cheerful temperament and is supremely grateful for her narrow escape."
Emily's cheerful demeanor, however, belied the true nature of her health. Afflicted with tuberculosis and undoubtedly traumatized by her experience on the Lusitania, Emily's health worsened. She gave birth to a son, Frank, in September 1915. The baby only lived for five months, and Emily survived for only another 18 months, dying on March 11, 1917.
Barbara eventually found her way back to the United States at age seven on the Mauretania. Enroute to America, young Barbara befriended the ship's captain, Arthur Rostron. Rostron, who was the captain of the rescue ship Carpathia following the Titanic disaster, had dinner with Barbara on the voyage.
Barbara Anderson arrived in New York on Christmas day in 1919. She lived with her dad and his new wife, Helen, in East Haven, attending the Nathan Hale School and then graduating from East Haven High School. According to Patch reader and Lusitania enthusiast, Michael Poirier, Barbara enjoyed appearing in plays. She later met George McDermott on a blind date and married him. The couple raised two children.
Having befriended Barbara in 1998, Michael Poirier, a historian of the Lusitania disaster, had this to say about her: "Once you had met her, you felt like you had known her all your life." By all accounts, Barbara McDermott was an affable, warm individual. As she aged she first moved in with her daughter, Liz, in Wallingford and then spent the last year of her life in a nursing home. Barbara died on April 12, 2008, just two months shy of her 96th birthday.
Another Lusitania survivor of note from Connecticut was Elizabeth Duckworth of Taftville. An independent-minded woman, Elizabeth ignored the warnings of her son-in-law about traveling on the ocean during wartime. Elizabeth boarded a trolley in New London and made her way to New York City to board the Lusitania.
Shortly after lunch on May 7, Elizabeth saw what she thought was a fish near the ship; in fact, it was a torpedo. It quickly became clear to her that the ship would sink, so she began searching for a lifeboat. Elizabeth was able to enter Lifeboat 17 with her friend, Alice Scott; however, she didn't feel safe with the way the boat was being lowered, so she got out. That proved to be a wise decision, as the boat overturned before reaching the water and dumped everyone out, including her friend, Alice.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth entered Lifeboat 21 and got away safely. Seeing a man swimming in the water, Elizabeth insisted that the rowers pause and rescue him. He was saved. Elizabeth then boarded another lifeboat against the objections of others and proceeded to return to the area of the catastrophe, and with the help of four other people, proceeded to rescue 40 more passengers! She returned to a fishing rescue boat to the cheers of many. Her heroic insistence on saving others saved many lives.
Having been returned to Queenstown, Elizabeth identified the dead body of her friend, Alice, and then located Alice's young son, Arthur, and saw to it that he was safely taken to his relatives. Alice then proceeded to England where she worked at the Royal Arsenal Ammunition Factory during the war. She subsequently returned to Taftville, CT — a part of Norwich. She died in her sleep in 1955 at age 92.
Notes, Sources, and Links:
1. My thanks to Patch reader Michael Poirier, for providing valuable material and photos for this article. Michael remained friends with Barbara (Anderson) McDermott for over a decade.
2. Eight other Connecticut residents survived the Lusitania catastrophe: Danil Oginski, 27, of Hartford; John Thurston of Bridgeport (age unknown); George and Emily Sullivan of Groton (ages unknown); Mrs. John MacFarquhar, 52, and her daughter, Grace, 16, of Stratford; Mrs. John Hamilton of New Haven (age unknown); and Mary Delaney, 34, of Hartford.
3. www.rmslusitania.info is a great source for information.
4. The Lusitania made 202 Atlantic crossings before it sank.
5. "Lusitania" is Latin for the country of Portugal.
6. Gallery photos courtesy of Michael Poirier and Shelley Dziedzic.