Percy Rogers, assistant manager and secretary of the Canadian National
Exhibition, who went to England in connection with the Toronto Fair,
told a graphic story of his experiences after the Lusitania was struck.
He undoubtedly owed his life to the fact that he was a good swimmer.
“It had been a splendid crossing,” he said, “with a calm sea and fine
weather contributing to a delightful trip. The Lusitania made nothing
like her maximum pace. Her speed probably was about five hundred miles
daily, which, as travelers know, is below her average.
“Early Friday morning we sighted the Irish coast. Then we entered a
slight fog, and speed was reduced, but we soon came into a clear
atmosphere again, and the pace of the boat increased. The morning passed
and we went as usual down to lunch, although some were a little later
than others in taking the meal. I should think it would be about ten
minutes past two when I came from lunch. I immediately proceeded to my
stateroom, close to the dining-room, to get a letter which I had
written. While in there I heard a tremendous thud, and I came out
PASSENGERS WERE AGHAST
“There was no panic where I was, but the people were aghast. It was
realized that the boat had been struck, apparently on the side nearest
the land. The passengers hastened to the boat deck above. The life-boats
were hanging out, having been put into that position on the previous
day. The Lusitania soon began to list badly with the result that the
side on which I and several others were standing went up as the other
side dropped. This seemed to cause difficulty in launching the boats,
which seemed to get bound against the side of the liner.
“It was impossible, of course, for me to see what was happening in other
places, but among the group where I was stationed there was no panic.
The order was given, ‘Women and children first,’ and was followed
implicitly. The first life-boat lowered with people at the spot where I
stood smacked upon the water, and as it did so the stern of this
life-boat seemed to part and the people were thrown into the sea. The
other boats were lowered more successfully.
“We heard somebody say, ‘Get out of the boats; there is no danger,’ and
some people actually did get out, but the direction was not generally
acted upon. I entered a boat in which there were men, women and
children, I should say between twenty and twenty-five. There were no
other women or children standing on the liner where we were, our
position, I should think, being about the last boat but one from the
stern of the ship.
OCCUPANTS OF LIFE-BOATS THROWN INTO SEA
“Our boat dropped into the water, and for a few minutes we were all
right. Then the liner went over. We were not far from her. Whatever the
cause may have been–perhaps the effect of suction–I don’t know, but we
were thrown into the sea. Some of the occupants were wearing life-belts,
but I was not. The only life-belts I knew about were in the cabins, and
it had not appeared to me that there was time to risk going there. It
must have been about 2.30 when I was thrown into the water. The watch I
was wearing stopped at that time.
“What a terrible scene there was around me! It is harrowing to think
about the men, women and children struggling in the water. I had the
presence of mind to swim away from the boat and made towards a
collapsible boat, upon which was the captain and a number of others. For
this purpose I had to swim quite a distance.
“I noticed three children among the group. Our collapsible boat began
rocking. Every moment it seemed we should be thrown again into the sea.
The captain appealed to the people in it to be careful, but the boat
continued to rock, and I came to the conclusion that it would be
dangerous to remain in it if all were to have a chance. I said,
‘Good-by, Captain; I’m going to swim,’ and jumped into the water. I
believe the captain did the same thing after me, although I did not see
him, but I understand he was picked up.
[Illustration: “GOD IS WITH US”]
A HEART-BREAKING SCENE
“The scene was now terrible. Particularly do I remember a young child
with a life-belt around her calling, ‘Mamma!’ She was not saved. I had
seen her on the liner, and her sister was on the collapsible boat, but I
could not reach her. I saw a cold-storage box or cupboard. I swam
towards it and clung to it. This supported me for a long time. At last I
saw a boat coming towards me and shouted. I was heard and taken in. From
this I was transferred to what I think was a trawler, which also picked
up three or four others. Eventually I was placed upon a ferry boat known
as the Flying Fish, in which, with others, I was taken to Queenstown.
“It was quite possible that some people went down while in their cabins,
because after lunch it was the custom with some to go for a rest. A
friend of mine on the liner has told me he saw Alfred G. Vanderbilt on
deck with a life-belt and observed him give it to a lady. It seemed to
me the seriousness of the situation scarcely was realized when the boat
was torpedoed. It was all so sudden and so unexpected, and the
recollection of it all is terrible.”