MEMORY LANE: Buxton survivor’s account of Lusitania sinking

The liner Lusitania sunk by a U-boat off the coast of Southern Ireland in 1915.
The liner Lusitania sunk by a U-boat off the coast of Southern Ireland in 1915.

A young Buxton woman was among the lucky survivors of a maritime disaster that changed the course of the First World War.

The torpedoing of the Lusitania in May 1915 was a disaster to rival the loss of the Titanic and outraged public opinion around the world.

Buxton Advertiser archive, May 1915, Lusitania sinking, the account of Buxtonian May Maycock who survived for four hours clinging to wooden planks

Buxton Advertiser archive, May 1915, Lusitania sinking, the account of Buxtonian May Maycock who survived for four hours clinging to wooden planks

Of the 1,962 passengers and crew on board 1,191 lost their lives as the ship sank so quickly that only six out of 48 lifeboats could be launched.

The Cunard liner, which when built had been the largest ship in the world, was only a few hours from completing her journey from New York to Liverpool when she crossed the path of German submarine U-20. A single torpedo hit, resulting in an explosion which caused her to sink in just 18 minutes.

Her bow struck the seabed while her stern was still above the waves. The loss of life might have been even more terrible had it not been for the fact that she was only 11 miles off the Irish coast and numerous rescue vessels were able to quickly reach the scene.

May Maycock was returning to Buxton after three years living in America. She had been a cashier at Boots in Spring Gardens and one of her brothers had played for Buxton FC. They had lived on Darwin Avenue and emigrated following the death of her mother.

Buxton Advertiser archive, May 1915, Lusitania sinking, the account of Buxtonian May Maycock who survived for four hours clinging to wooden planks

Buxton Advertiser archive, May 1915, Lusitania sinking, the account of Buxtonian May Maycock who survived for four hours clinging to wooden planks

May was obviously a remarkably tough young woman and only hours after her ordeal, and while still waiting for replacement clothes, she gave a vivid account to the Buxton 
Herald.

“I just clung onto the top deck for as long as possible with no lifebelt, and I was right beside one of the funnels when it blew up, with the result that I was black from the smoke.”

After being sucked deep below the waves by the ship’s final plunge, Miss Maycock managed to get her head above water by clinging to a man with a lifebelt.

“After that I got hold of a piece of wood and this kept me afloat for four hours. I

The turbine-driven quadruple-screw cunard liner "Lusitania".

The turbine-driven quadruple-screw cunard liner "Lusitania".

“I couldn’t move but held on and balanced myself – really it was wonderful. I kept calm all through and gave myself in the care of someone greater.”

Miss Maycock was picked up by a rescue ship called the Indian Empire and taken to Queenstown in Ireland.

She added: “The crew made us some good hot tea and we all drank out of one tin can. Despite the rough seas we enjoyed a cracker and a lump of corned beef.

“They will never think when they see me at home that I was in the terrible disaster. I just feel that nothing out of the ordinary had happened.”

Buxton Advertiser archive, May 1915, Lusitania survivors after being landed in Ireland

Buxton Advertiser archive, May 1915, Lusitania survivors after being landed in Ireland

The sinking of a famous liner and the deaths of so many civilians, including women and children, caused an international outcry. One hundred and twenty eight Americans died, including prominent citizens such as millionaire Andrew Vanderbilt.

“Remember the Lusitania!” became a famous poster and rallying cry, and the sinking is regarded as playing an important part in bringing the United States into the war on the allied side.