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'WILFUL MURDER' : THE SINKING OF THE LUSITANIA - MAY 7th 1915

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The departure of the Lusitania on her last fateful voyage, New York, New York, May 1915. (Photo by PhotoQuest/Getty Images) Photo: Library of Congress


It was with a considerable frisson of excitement that I chanced, when looking at unrelated family headstones, upon the overgrown lettering at the foot of a family grave in Brockley cemetery (close to the former Catholic section) which identified two victims of the 1,198 (of 1,959 passengers and crew) who perished in one of the twentieth centuries greatest maritime disasters, the sinking of the Luxury Cunard Passenger Ship RMS Lusitania eastbound from New York to Liverpool off the coast of South East Ireland 11 miles from the Old Head of Kinsale on the afternoon of Friday 7 th May 1915. 

Launched in 1906 she was briefly the worlds largest and fastest passenger ship and was sunk by a torpedo(a controversial claim that a second torpedo was fired remains one of the many enduring conspiracy myths surrounding the sinking) when she crossed the path of the German submarine U-20 commanded by Kapitan-Leutnant Walther Schwieger,  at a point in the Great War when a U Boat exclusion zone was operational around Great Britain and Ireland meant that she was deemed to be a ' legitimate target'. 

The ship had sailed under Captain William Turner, in spite of advanced warnings in the American press from the German Embassy of the potentially deadly threat of U-Boat action and sank in the staggeringly fast time of just 18 minutes. Amongst the victims there were a 128 Americans including the tycoon Alfred Vanderbilt (whose body was never recovered). The international outrage that the loss of the Lusitania precipitated, resulted in a sequence of diplomatic and political events that would eventually lead to the USA entering the war on the allied side in 1917. At the hastily convened Inquest in Kinsale on May 10 th the Jury recorded a verdict of 'Wilful and Wholesale Murder'  for what was considered ' An appalling crime contrary to international law and the conventions of civilized nations'

OH MONTY' LAST WORDS OF VICTIM - CHASTINA AND MONTAGUE GRANT WHO ARE REMEMBERED IN BROCKLEY CEMETERY.
OH MONTY' LAST WORDS OF VICTIM - CHASTINA AND MONTAGUE GRANT WHO ARE REMEMBERED IN BROCKLEY CEMETERY.
Chastina Grant aged 43 was travelling aboard the Lusitania with her husband Montague, to visit his three sisters in Liverpool, whom they had not seen in years.  The Grants were British citizens living in Chicago, Illinois, United States. She and Montagu lived at 1412 Hyde Park Boulevard in Chicago. The Grants were in cabin D-39 for the last voyage of the Lusitania.

On the day of the Lusitania disaster, 7 May 1915, Chastina and Montague Grant were on the sun deck , when they saw James Brooks on the boat deck below and called out to him. Brooks climbed the companionway to join the Grants.  They made plans to play shuffleboard and were waiting for a fourth to join them when Brooks noticed a white streak approaching diagonally from the starboard side.  Brooks said flatly, “That’s a torpedo.”
A solid shock went through Lusitania and, in Brooks’ words, “instantly up through the decks went coal, debris of all kinds . . . in a cloud, up in the air and mushroomed up 150 feet above the Marconi wires.”  This was accompanied by “a volume of water thrown with violent force” that knocked the Grants and Brooks flat on the ground.
Chastina weakly called for her husband, “Oh Monty.”

Brooks got up and ran between the second and third funnels to find Montague and Chastina lying on the deck on the starboard side.  Then came “a slight second shock” that enveloped him in steam.  He felt that he was going to suffocate.  When the steam cleared, the Grants were gone.  Both Chastina and Montague Grant were lost in the Lusitania sinking. Chastina’s body was also recovered, identified as “age 36 years, 1st Class passenger,” interred in Common Grave, Queenstown (Cobh) Old Church cemetery.  Montague’s body was also recovered as of Thursday, 20 May 1915. Following a funeral service at St Paul's Deptford he was interred in Brockley cemetery.

The centenary of the sinking on May 7th will be marked by a number ofseparate events.


Appreciation extended to Mike Poirier for information on Montague and Chastina Grant - he is the co-author of 'Into the Danger zone : Sea crossings of the First World War' http://www.amazon.co.uk/Into-Danger-Zone-Crossings-First/dp/0752497111

Mike Guilfoyle