In the Wake of The Lusitania

May 1st, 2015

In the early days of the War, suspicion developed around German residents and anyone of German extraction. Many had lived and worked in Britain for years, married into British families and were well respected in their pre-war communities. Things got much worse on 7th May 1915. The German submarine U-20 fired a torpedo into the hull of the ocean liner Lusitania. The ship sank within 18 minutes with the loss of nearly 2,000 lives.

The event led to riots across the country and ill feeling around the world, but Liverpool felt the impact more than most. Many of the crew were from Liverpool, the majority from close knit Irish communities in the north end of the city, the streets of the area lost many men.

Pat O’Mara, 14 years old at the time, recorded his memories in a book; An autobiography of a Liverpool Slummy.

“We walked around Scotland Road listening to the cries of women whose husbands and sons had gone down with the ‘Lucy’ and we heard the bitter threats made against Germany and anything with a German name. We walked down Bostock Street, where practically every blind was drawn in token of a death. All these little houses were occupied by Irish coal-trimmers and firemen and sailormen on the Lusitania…”

“…ominous gangs were gathering, men and women, very drunk and very angry, suddenly something crashed up the road near Ben Johnson Street. A pork butcher’s had had its front window knocked in with a brick and a crowd of men and women were wrecking the place…everything suggestive of Germany was being smashed to pieces.”

Annie Monnigan, the Irish wife of an interned German sailor was attacked in her home, nothing more than a shack. O’Mara recalls: “…with the six young children screaming and Annie, like a good colleen, fighting back and asking no quarter.” Liverpool council later offered to rebuild her shack.

The Liverpool Echo reported on 10th May that 67 people were arrested for stealing, looting, wilful damage to stock and premises and assaulting police officers, at the trial the prosecution said that this was “…arising naturally but unfortunately out of the terrible case of murder due to the torpedoing and sinking of the Lusitania. Many of the drowned sailors and others had their homes in Liverpool and when their relatives heard of the murder it was almost inevitable that they should show some resentment.”

Lord Derby saw an opportunity to channel the anger, suggesting that so many people wanted revenge that a Lusitania Battalion could be formed, although this never happened the moment was seized for propaganda.

Ironically, the two Liver Bird statues atop the Liver Building, so much a symbol of Liverpool, were designed by a German sculptor, Carl Bernard Bartels, who came to England in 1877. Bartels was a wood carver and won an international competition to design the copper sculptures. When war broke out Bartels was arrested and imprisoned on the Isle of Man then forcibly repatriated at the end of the war, despite being a British national for 20 years with a wife in London. It took Bartles years to gain permission to return. During the Second World War, he made artificial limbs for injured British servicemen. He died in England in 1955.