Every great calamity produces its great heroes. Particularly is this
true of marine disasters, where the opportunities of escape are limited,
and where the heroism of the strong often impels them to stand back and
give place to the weak. One cannot think of the Titanic disaster without
remembering Major Archibald Butt, Colonel John Jacob Astor, Henry B.
Harris, William T. Stead and others, nor of the sinking of the Empress
of Ireland without calling to mind Dr. James F. Grant, the ship’s
surgeon; Sir Henry Seton-Karr, Lawrence Irving, H. R. O’Hara of Toronto,
and the rest of the noble company of heroes. So the destruction of the
Lusitania brought uppermost in the breasts of many those qualities of
fortitude and self-sacrifice which will forever mark them in the
calendar of the world’s martyrs.
ALFRED G. VANDERBILT GAVE LIFE FOR A WOMAN
Among the Lusitania’s heroes, one of the foremost was Alfred Gwynne
Vanderbilt, one of America’s wealthiest men. With everything to live
for, Mr. Vanderbilt sacrificed his one chance for escape from the doomed
Lusitania, in order that a woman might live. Details of the chivalry he
displayed in those last moments when he tore off a life-belt as he was
about to leap into the sea, and strapped it around a young woman, were
told by three of the survivors.
Mr. Vanderbilt could not swim, and when he gave up his life-belt it was
with the virtual certainty that he was surrendering his only chance for
Thomas Slidell, of New York, said he saw Mr. Vanderbilt on the deck as
the Lusitania was sinking. He was equipped with a life-belt and was
climbing over the rail, when a young woman rushed onto the deck. Mr.
Vanderbilt saw her as he stood poised to leap into the sea. Without
hesitating a moment he jumped back to the deck, tore off the life-belt,
strapped it around the young woman and dropped her overboard.
The Lusitania plunged under the waves a few minutes later and Mr.
Vanderbilt was seen to be drawn into the vortex.
Norman Ratcliffe, of Gillingham, Kent, and Wallace B. Phillips, a
newspaper man, also saw Mr. Vanderbilt sink with the Lusitania. The
coolness and heroism he showed were marvelous, they said.
Oliver P. Bernard, scenic artist at Covent Garden, saw Mr. Vanderbilt
standing near the entrance to the grand saloon soon after the vessel was
“He was the personification of sportsmanlike coolness,” Mr. Bernard
said. “In his right hand was grasped what looked to me like a large
purple leather jewel case. It may have belonged to Lady Mackworth, as
Mr. Vanderbilt had been much in the company of the Thomas party during
the trip and evidently had volunteered to do Lady Mackworth the service
of saving her gems for her.”
Another touching incident was told of Mr. Vanderbilt by Mrs. Stanley L.
B. Lines, a Canadian, who said: “Mr. Vanderbilt will in the future be
remembered as the ‘children’s hero.’ I saw him standing outside the palm
saloon on the starboard side, with Ronald Denit. He looked upon the
scene before him, and then, turning to his valet, said:
“‘Find all the kiddies you can and bring them here.’ The servant rushed
off and soon reappeared, herding a flock of little ones. Mr. Vanderbilt,
catching a child under each arm, ran with them to a life-boat and dumped
them in. He then threw in two more, and continued at his task until all
the young ones were in the boat. Then he turned his attention to aiding
the women into boats.”
CHARLES FROHMAN DIED WITHOUT FEAR
“Why fear death? It is the most beautiful adventure in life,” were the
last words of Charles Frohman before he went down with the Lusitania,
according to Miss Rita Jolivet, an American actress, with whom he talked
calmly just before the end came.
Miss Jolivet, who was among the survivors taken to Queenstown, said she
and Mr. Frohman were standing on deck as the Lusitania heeled over. They
decided not to trust themselves to life-boats, although Mr. Frohman
believed the ship was doomed. It was after reaching this decision that
he declared he had no fear of death.
[Illustration: ESCAPING A TORPEDO BY RAPID MANEUVERING.
This British destroyer escaped a torpedo from a hunted submarine by
quick turning. This incident took place at the naval fight off the
island of Heligoland, in October. (_Copyright, The Sun News Service._)]
[Illustration: A NEW WEAPON IN WARFARE.
One of the Belgian armored motor cars surprising a party of Uhlans.
Several of the enemy were killed by the rapid fire from swivel machine
gun and rifle, but the car driven at a furious pace was wrecked on a
[Illustration: GERMANY’S OFFICIAL PAID ADVERTISEMENT FOREWARNING
AMERICANS AGAINST DISASTER; MAP SHOWING WHERE IT TOOK PLACE.
This advertisement was wired to forty American newspapers by Count von
Bernstorff, German Ambassador at Washington. It was ordered inserted on
the morning of the day the Lusitania sailed.]
Dr. F. Warren Pearl, of New York, who was saved, with his wife and two
of their four children, corroborated Miss Jolivet’s statement, saying:
“After the first shock, as I made my way to the deck, I saw Charles
Frohman distributing life-belts. Mr. Frohman evidently did not expect to
escape, as he said to a woman passenger, ‘Why should we fear death? It
is the greatest adventure man can have.’”
Sir James M. Barrie, in a tribute to Charles Frohman, published in the
London Daily Mail, describes him as “the man who never broke his word.
“His companies were as children to him. He chided them as children,
soothed them as children and forgave them and certainly loved them as
children. He exulted in those who became great in that world, and gave
them beautiful toys to play with; but great as was their devotion to
him, it is not they who will miss him most, but rather the far greater
number who never made a hit, but set off like all the rest, and fell by
the way. He was of so sympathetic a nature; he understood so well the
dismalness to them of being failures, that he saw them as children, with
their knuckles to their eyes, and then he sat back cross-legged on his
chair, with his knuckles, as it were, to his eyes, and life had lost its
flavor for him until he invented a scheme for giving them another
“Perhaps it is fitting that all those who only made for honest mirth and
happiness should now go out of the world; because it is too wicked for
them. It is strange to think that in America, Dernburg and Bernstorff,
who we must believe were once good men, too, have an extra smile with
their breakfast roll because they and theirs have drowned Charles
SAVING THE BABIES
The presence of so many babies on board the Lusitania was due to the
influx from Canada of the English-born wives of Canadians at the battle
front, who were coming to England to live with their own or their
husband’s parents during the war.
No more pathetic loss has been recorded than that of F. G. Webster, a
Toronto contractor, who was traveling second class with his wife, their
six-year-old son Frederick and year-old twin sons William and Henry.
They reached the deck with others who were in the dining saloon when the
torpedo struck. Webster took his son by the hand and darted away to
bring life-belts. When he returned his wife and babies were not to be
seen, nor have they been since.
W. Harkless, an assistant purser, busied himself helping others until
the Lusitania was about to founder. Then, seeing a life-boat striking
the water that was not overcrowded, he made a rush for it. The only
person he encountered was little Barbara Anderson, of Bridgeport, Conn.,
who was standing alone, clinging to the rail. Gathering her up in his
arms he leaped over the rail and into the boat, doing this without
injuring the child.
Francis J. Luker, a British subject, who had worked six years in the
United States as a postal clerk, and was going home to enlist, saved two
babies. He found the little passengers, bereft of their mother, in the
shelter of a deck-house. The Lusitania was nearing her last plunge. A
life-boat was swaying to the water below. Grabbing the babies he ran to
the rail and made a flying leap into the craft, and those babies did not
leave his arms until they were set safely ashore hours later.
One woman, a passenger on the Lusitania, lost all three of her children
in the disaster, and gave the bodies of two of them to the sea herself.
When the ship went down she held up the three children in the water,
shrieking for help. When rescued two were dead. Their room was required
and the mother was brave enough to realize it.
“Give them to me!” she shrieked. “Give them to me, my bonnie wee things.
I will bury them. They are mine to bury as they were mine to keep.”
With her form shaking with sorrow she took hold of each little one from
the rescuers and reverently placed it in the water again, and the people
in the boat wept with her as she murmured a little sobbing prayer.
Just as the rescuers were landing her third and only remaining child
TORONTO GIRL OF FOURTEEN PROVES HEROINE
Even the young girls and women on the Lusitania proved themselves
heroines during the last few moments and met their fate calmly or rose
to emergencies which called for great bravery and presence of mind.
Fourteen-year-old Kathleen Kaye was returning from Toronto, where she
had been visiting relatives. With a merry smile on her lips and with a
steady patter of reassurance, she aided the stewards who were filling
one of the life-boats.
Soon after the girl took her own place in the boat one of the sailors
fainted under the strain of the efforts to get the boat clear of the
maelstrom that marked where the liner went down. Miss Kaye took the
abandoned oar and rowed until the boat was out of danger. None among the
survivors bore fewer signs of their terrible experiences than Miss
Kaye, who spent most of her time comforting and assisting her sisters in
HEROISM OF CAPTAIN TURNER AND HIS CREW
Ernest Cowper, a Toronto newspaper man, praised the work of the
Lusitania’s crew in their efforts to get the passengers into the boats.
Mr. Cowper told of having observed the ship watches keeping a strict
lookout for submarines as soon as the ship began to near the coast.
“The crew proceeded to get the passengers into boats in an orderly,
prompt and efficient manner. Helen Smith, a child, begged me to save
her. I placed her in a boat and saw her safely away. I got into one of
the last boats to leave.
“Some of the boats could not be launched, as the vessel was sinking.
There was a large number of women and children in the second cabin.
Forty of the children were less than a year old.”
WOMAN RESCUED WITH DEAD BABY AT HER BREAST
R. J. Timmis, of Gainesville, Tex., a cotton buyer, who was saved after
he had given his life-belt to a woman steerage passenger who carried a
baby, told of the loss of his friend, R. T. Moodie, also of Gainesville.
Moodie could not swim, but he took off his life-belt also and put it on
a woman who had a six-months-old child in her arms. Timmis tried to help
Moodie, and they both clung to some wreckage for a while, but presently
Moodie could hold out no longer and sank. When Timmis was dragged into a
boat which he helped to right–it had been overturned in the suction of
the sinking vessel–one of the first persons he assisted into the boat
was the steerage woman to whom he had given his belt. She still carried
her baby at her breast, but it was dead from exposure.
HEROIC WIRELESS OPERATORS
Oliver P. Brainard told of the bravery of the wireless operators who
stuck to their work of summoning help even after it was evident that
only a few minutes could elapse before the vessel must go down. He said:
“The wireless operators were working the emergency outfit, the main
installation having been put out of gear instantaneously after the
torpedo exploded. They were still awaiting a reply and were sending out
the S. O. S. call.
“I looked out to sea and saw a man, undressed, floating quietly on his
back in the water, evidently waiting to be picked up rather than to take
the chance of getting away in a boat. He gave me an idea and I took off
my jacket and waistcoat, put my money in my trousers pocket, unlaced my
boots and then returned to the Marconi men.
“The assistant operator said, ‘Hush! we are still hoping for an answer.
We don’t know yet whether the S. O. S. calls have been picked up or
“At that moment the chief operator turned around, saying, ‘They’ve got
“At that very second the emergency apparatus also broke down. The
operator had left the room, but he dashed back and brought out a kodak.
He knelt on the deck, now listing at an angle of thirty-five degrees,
and took a photograph looking forward.
“The assistant, a big, cheerful chap, lugged out the operator’s swivel
chair and offered it to me with a laugh, saying: ‘Take a seat and make
yourself comfortable.’ He let go the chair and it careened down the deck
and over into the sea.”
F. J. Gauntlet, of New York and Washington, traveling in company with A.
L. Hopkins, president of the Newport News Shipbuilding Company, and S.
M. Knox, president of the New York Shipbuilding Company, of
Philadelphia, unconsciously told the story of his own heroism. He said:
“I was lingering in the dining saloon chatting with friends when the
first explosion occurred. Some of us went to our staterooms and put on
life-belts. Going on deck we were informed that there was no danger, but
the bow of the vessel was gradually sinking. The work of launching the
boats was done in a few minutes. Fifty or sixty people entered the first
boat. As it swung from the davits it fell suddenly and I think most of
the occupants perished. The other boats were launched with the greatest
“Swinging free from one of these as it descended, I grabbed what I
supposed was a piece of wreckage. I found it to be a collapsible boat,
however. I had great difficulty in getting it open, finally having to
rip the canvas with my knife. Soon another passenger came alongside and
entered the collapsible with me. We paddled around and between us we
rescued thirty people from the water.”
SAVED HIS WIFE AND HELPED IN RESCUE WORK
George A. Kessler, of New York, said:
“A list to starboard had set in as we were climbing the stairs and it
had so rapidly increased by the time we reached the deck, that we were
falling against the taffrail. I managed to get my wife onto the
first-class deck and there three boats were being got out.
“I placed her in the third, kissed her good-by and saw the boat lowered
safely. Then I turned to look for a life-belt for myself. The ship now
started to go down. I fell into the water, some kind soul throwing me a
life-belt at the same time. Ten minutes later I found myself beside a
raft on which were some survivors, who pulled me onto it. We cruised
around looking for others and managed to pick up a few, making in all
perhaps sixteen or seventeen persons who were on the raft. In all
directions were scattered persons struggling for their lives and the
boats gave what help they could.”
“SAVED ALL THE WOMEN AND CHILDREN WE COULD”
W. G. E. Meyers, of Stratford, Ont., a lad of sixteen years, who was on
his way to join the British navy as a cadet, told this story:
“I went below to get a life-belt and met a woman who was frenzied with
fear. I tried to calm her and helped her into a boat. Then I saw a boat
which was nearly swamped. I got into it with other men and baled it out.
Then a crowd of men clambered into it and nearly swamped it.
“We had got only two hundred yards away when the Lusitania sank, bow
first. Many persons sank with her, drawn down by the suction. Their
shrieks were appalling. We had to pull hard to get away, and, as it was,
we were almost dragged down. We saved all the women and children we
could, but a great many of them went down.”
H. Smethhurst, a steerage passenger, put his wife into a life-boat, and
in spite of her urging refused to accompany her, saying the women and
children must go first. After the boat with his wife in it had pulled
away Smethhurst put on a life-belt, slipped down a rope into the water
and floated until he was picked up.