The Lusitania survivor I knew best was Edith Wachtel (née Williams). Edith was traveling to England on the fateful voyage with her mother Annie, two sisters Florence and Ethel, and her three brothers Edward, George, and David. Of the family, only Edith and Edward survived.
This collar was part of a dress that was purchased for Edith the day after the disaster. Over the years, the dress became tattered and eventually fell apart, but Edith kept the collar as a reminder of that day. Shortly before she passed away in 1992, Edith gave me all of her Lusitania-related memorabilia, including the collar. The inset photo is of Edith (wearing the collar) and Edward shortly after the sinking.
Several years ago, I added this replacement discharge book for Lusitania crew member George Griffiths to my collection. George signed on to Lusitania as a second-class saloon steward (waiter) on 17 April 1915 for the round-trip crossing. The date of discharge is listed as 7 May 1915, and the reason is “sunk by enemy action.”
All crew discharge books were lost during the sinking; so every crew member was issued a replacement.
I am now the very proud owner of the mercantile marine medal for Percy Hefford, Second Officer of Lusitania when she sank. Hefford, aged 34, was on watch on the ship’s bridge when the torpedo struck, and he was lost in the sinking. His body was not recovered. This medal was presented to his widow Elsie in thanks for his service to King and Country.
In 1990, I purchased a number of artifacts that had been salvaged from Lusitania in 1982. Most of the items were easily identifiable, but there were three or four pieces that escaped identification. Although I had not given up on figuring out what they are, it seemed unlikely that I would ever find any of them in an archival photo. Several years ago, I purchased a large number of original builder’s photos of Lusitania that showed rarely seen interior and exteriors of the liner. While carefully examining one of these, something jumped out at me. It was one of the artifacts that I had purchased in 1990—the remains of an oil lamp from a crew area.
Although Lusitania and Mauretania were fully electrified, electricity on liners at the time was still not trusted 100%; so oil lamps were installed throughout the passenger and crew areas. Most of the items salvaged in 1982 were brought up from the area surrounding the forecastle and bridge. The archival photo below shows the Officers’ Smoking Room behind the bridge, and perhaps my oil lamp is the exact same one shown in the photo. It was extremely gratifying to finally be able to put an identification to this amazing artifact.
A new addition to my growing Lusitania passenger/crew autograph collection — a typed certificate that would have been given to a passenger after visiting Berengaria’s engine room, signed by her Chief Engineer Alex Duncan. In May, 1915, Duncan was a junior second engineer on board Lusitania when she sank.
Back in 2015, one of the most interesting Lusitania-sinking-related items I have seen came up for auction, and I was fortunate to be able to add it to my collection. It is a third-class passage ticket for Lusitania’s final voyage that was issued to the Coughlin family, who were traveling from Butte, Montana, to Ireland.
Some of you eagle-eyed readers may have noticed that the stub on the far right is dated April 29, 1917. The reason for this is that the original ticket issued in 1915 went down with Lusitania when she sank. The stub on the far left is all that remains of the original ticket from 1915, and it survived because it had been detached from the rest of the ticket and was kept by the issuing agent.
Where did the rest of this ticket come from? Mrs. Coughlin, who survived the sinking with her two sons, brought a lawsuit against Cunard for the loss of Mr. Coughlin and their daughter in the disaster. This passage ticket is the one that was reissued and entered into evidence in that lawsuit, having been recreated by the original agent who sold the Coughlins their ticket in 1915.
On the back of the original 1915 stub is a sworn, signed statement that reads:
“I hereby certify that this is the original stub record of the ticket sold by me to John J. Coughlin, April 29, 1915. [signed] Jeffrey E. Sullivan”
This statement was then notarized, and the stub was entered into evidence at the trial, where it was reunited with the reissued ticket from 1917. The court eventually ruled against the Coughlins in February, 1920, but the two surviving Coughlin children, who were American citizens, did receive $2,500 each in compensation in 1925 from a separate suit filed against the German government.
This is the only ticket that I know of that survives for her fatal voyage.
A few weeks ago, a single-sided telegraph head was recovered from the wreck of Lusitania. It has been listed in various news articles as being an engine telegraph. Unfortunately, the identification is not correct.
As I wrote in my book The Unseen Lusitania: “Because of their potential use as auxiliary cruisers, the [engine telegraphs] on Lusitania and Mauretania [were] of a higher standard than on most other liners of the day. …rather than use a pulley-and-chain-type telegraph system which was preferred by Cunard because it was less expensive, the Admiralty insisted under the terms of the government loan that the more reliable type operated by rods and miter wheels be used.“
It has been reported that the telegraph head was brought up from the bridge area. Since it can’t be an engine telegraph because the engine telegraphs were a completely different design to the one that was recovered (see photo below), it must, by process of elimination, be identified as either a docking telegraph or a steering telegraph. Closer examination by someone familiar with Lusitania and her telegraphs will be able to determine exactly what type of telegraph it is (docking or steering) even though the original glass face of the telegraph is missing.
I have sent this information to Heather Humphreys, the current Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs in Ireland.