Updated: Dec 18, 2019
How one man's decision changed the course of history including that of my family. So far I have only written about my own childhood and experiences. Some family tree digging during the past week or so and a conversation with a family member has led to me writing about my grandmother this week.
As part of my family ancestral research I knew that as a young woman my grandmother's fiancee died during WW1 when he went down with his ship that was torpedoed by the German's. What I didn't know was the name of the ship he was on. After speaking with my uncle I learned that her fiancee went down on the infamous ship the Lusitania. Apparently there had been warnings issued to civilians not to travel on British ships carrying supplies for the war, the ship's captain was also advised to zig zag with his ships course rather than take a straight line as was the usual practice. Unfortunately it seems that he chose to ignore this advice which may have led to the ship being an easy target for the Germans. It is of course possible that the ship would still have been sunk even if zig zagging it's way across the ocean, I guess we will never know. The captain was heard by reporters to scoff at the warning, progressing as he saw fit, to the detriment of the unfortunate people travelling on board. Here is a short video clip I found about the sinking, which led to America joining Britain in WW1. Click HERE to watch.
In another article we can read of Connecticut residents who survived the sinking. HERE
There are many survival stories, tales of how people missed the boat by oversleeping or just decided to change their plans at the last minute. One of them being William Gillette, an actor at the time who changed his travel plans at the last moment. He was apparently the person responsible for giving Sherlock Holmes his famous pipe. He also built the interesting unique castle located not far from where I live in Connecticut. Read about the castle HERE
As you can imagine, after making this discovery and reading some of the material easily available online about the doomed ship it really bought it home to me just how terrible it must have been for my poor grandmother and the many other families that lost loved ones that day. First of all I imagine the news would have taken awhile to reach her, I can only imagine her pain and disbelief as her worst fears of having a fiancee in the British navy were realized. I am relying here on the memories of an older relative and family conversations he remembers, he seemed fairly certain this was the ship that took my grandmother's fiancee down with it to the bottom of the ocean. What a terrible way to go.
There were lifeboats on board but because the ship listed to one side after being torpedoed many of them were not accessible.
My grandmother was reportedly heartbroken and distraught as it is easy to imagine she would have been. For many years she stayed in touch with her fiancee's family and just a few years later they would be the family that welcomed her daughter, my mother into their home as a war refugee at just two years old. My mother was just one of thousands of young children who were relocated from their city homes into the safer countryside. My mother had been living in London, it had been a good decision to move as her home in the city was indeed bombed.
My mother adored her "new" family who loved and cared for her as their own. My mother always wondered if her real father was actually the deceased son of her adopted family and perhaps this was why they loved her so much, or perhaps they were just genuine caring people happy to have a young child to love again. My mother fitted into the family well, I will share her story of that time in the future. She loved her adopted evacuee family so much that she stayed in contact with them and visited them every summer holiday until they passed away. She still talks about them with great affection in her voice.
Once she was married and had her own family my mother would take us all, including my father on yearly vacations to the same village that she lived in during her years as an evacuee, she referred to that time as "the happiest days of my life" it was a small town called Seahouses. My favorite activities there were to play on the beautiful beaches, hide and explore in the sand dunes and visit the Farne Islands.
We always had such a wonderful time. For a few years we stayed in a lovely hotel with huge grounds and a table tennis table. We were served breakfast and dinner each day and had to be on our best behavior whilst in the dining area. I enjoyed dressing up in my best dresses in the evenings to go to dinner. We were often the only children there and had a lot of attention paid to us by older ladies who loved to chat. We played hide and seek among the sand dunes, sliding down the steeper hills on an old wooden tray we had found. We always managed to find some new friends on the beach where we spent our days, collecting crabs and tiny shells. Digging holes large enough to lie down in or making sand castles with a big moat, trying to out do the force of the waves coming in. They would always eventually wash our castle away, with one of us standing on the top until we had to admit defeat and leap to the dry land a few feet away.
I had hoped to take my own boys there, we had a trip planned seventeen years ago but ended up relocating to the United States for a new life in Connecticut. I hope one day to go back there and revisit some of our favorite childhood places. I was fascinated by the story of Grace Darling a lighthouse keepers daughter who was a true heroine, saving the lives of several people who were shipwrecked one night in a terrible storm. She had a tragic end as she died so young.
I remember the museum telling her story and how much in awe I was of her as a young child. You can read about her HERE. I enjoyed wondering the gift shops, which then there were few cheap plastic gifts, many were instead made by local artists, which is now making a comeback in popularity. I was inspired by the beautifully painted rocks and stones, sadly my attempts were not so attractive. Perhaps you will be inspired to take a visit to this beautiful area of England.
Do you have memories of family or friends that escaped disaster?
Have you revisited childhood vacation spots? If so how was the experience?
Is there somewhere from your childhood that you would like to revisit? If so where? What is stopping you from making the trip?
Leslie Pallister, my Grandmother's fiancee.