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Devils of the Deep: RMS Lusitania and Submarine Warfare

The loss of the RMS Lusitania one hundred years ago this week is one of the many World War I tragedies to resonate with war historians and the wider public. Uncertainties regarding the ship’s cargo and the role of its sinking in influencing America to enter the conflict have divided opinion.

Irishmen avenge The Lusitania
Shelfmark: OLS Papyrus Case 55a no.9

The impact of the disaster and the familiar image of the stricken ship were not lost on the Department of Recruiting in Ireland who quickly used it to appeal to Irishmen to join the ranks of the army and avenge this wrongdoing.

Less well publicised however is the history of the passenger ship before the conflict. When launched in June 1906 RMS Lusitania was the largest and fastest ship in the world. By 1915 it had crossed the Atlantic over 200 times carrying ca.240,000 passengers. The current display in the Berkeley foyer features a reprint from Engineering which is in itself a fascinating account of the ship’s construction in Clydebank from 1904 onwards.


Wesley Frost, Devils of the Deep. Shelfmark: PAM Mw.1.12 no.18

The display also includes two works by former US Consul, Wesley Frost. His role in Ireland during the war included the compilation of reports for the US authorities on submarine warfare in Irish waters. The prevalence of these attacks was noted by Frost –  ‘As Consul at Queenstown for the three years ending last June, I reported to our Government on the destruction by submarines of eighty-one different ships carrying American citizens’. Traveling the length of the Irish south coast, Frost devoted much time to recording the legal testimonies of survivors of such U-boat attacks. He was later recalled, unfairly, in 1917 from his post in Ireland following an alleged complaint by Admiral Sims of his reporting of British destroyers at Queenstown. Tragically, Frost was to lose his only brother Cleveland in 1918 to submarine warfare as the USS Ticonderoga was torpedoed with the loss of 213 lives.

The RMS Lusitania was hit on 7 May 1915, off the coast of Kinsale, by a single torpedo from submarine U-20, killing 1,197 of the 1,960 passengers and crew. Frost helped coordinate relief operations for the survivors as they arrived traumatised on the quayside of Cobh. This experience was to have a profound lifelong effect on him. SM U-20 was responsible for the fate of 36 other ships during the conflict before being grounded in late 1916.

Throwing a bit of light on the subject

Light 2The celebrations in Trinity Week, which is a week of celebration of Trinity in Trinity, are normally sponsored and themed by one of the faculties. This year it’s the Faculty of Engineering, Mathematics and Science which is hosting the programme of events, beginning on 11 April, and the theme is ‘Light’.

The Library, which is so central to so much of the work afoot in College, will remind people of this important fact by staging a number of events on the theme of light during Trinity Week.

Harry Clarke, for example, used light as part of his palette, and his role in Irish cultural history will be acknowledged by the installation of a reproduction, from the Library’s Harry Clarke Studios archives, in one of the windows of The Trinity Long Room Hub. The image chosen is a glorious drawing of three roses set in a starburst.

The Library also presents itself as an ‘illuminary’ – that which illuminates – since that is what the Library does to the research mission of the College. To bring home this point, images from the Library’s historic collections in the Manuscripts & Archives Research Library and the Department of Early Printed Books and Special Collections will be projected onto the wall above the Nassau Street entrance to College and also above the entrance to the Berkeley Library.Light 1

Allying this theme with the centenary of the First World War has inspired another Library installation; ‘The lamps have gone out all over Europe. We will not see them lit again in our lifetime’ – a well-known and resonant phrase, dating from the eve of First World War, which was understood from the beginning as a threat to enlightened civilization. It is proposed to project, onto the East face of the 1937 Reading Room, the names and portraits of the Trinity engineers and medics who fell. The images from the Medical School are part of the Library’s archival collections, while those of the Engineers still grace the walls of the Museum Building.
All of the images being projected are accessible through Digital Collections

Early Printed Books and M&ARL have taken a bit of liberty with the word ‘light’ in the titles of an exhibition and of this present blog post: ‘…and there was light’ is the title of a small exhibition, curated by EPB in the Berkeley foyer, which explores the theme through texts on religion, science and literature.

The website for the Library’s projects within Trinity Week is accessible here

Jane Maxwell

Mary Christmas

MS10983_2_LO Princess Mary TinWith the approach of Christmas in 1914 the seventeen-year-old Princess Mary, daughter of King George V, organised a public appeal to send presents to the troops fighting in the Great War.

‘HRH the Princess Mary’s Christmas Fund’ was launched on 14 October and soon captured the public imagination raising £162,591 12s 5d to ensure that every person ‘wearing the King’s uniform on Christmas Day 1914’ received a Christmas present; this amounted to 2,620,091 servicemen and women.

MS10983_1_LO Princess Mary Tin 1

The gifts took the form of embossed tins containing small treats aimed at boosting morale. All boxes contained a photograph of the princess and a Christmas card, but then a variety of contents were selected to cater for different recipients; most boxes contained 1 oz of tobacco and 20 cigarettes, but alternative boxes for non-smokers were also produced containing writing paper and a bullet pencil. An effort was also made to tailor the contents to the dietary restrictions of various religious groups fighting under the British flag. The Gurkhas were to receive the same gift as the British troops; for Sikhs the box was filled with sweets and spices; for all other Indian troops the box had a packet of cigarettes, sweets and spices. Authorised camp followers, grouped under the title ‘Bhistis’, were to receive a box of spices. All the aforesaid gifts were deemed unsuitable for nurses serving at the Front who were instead offered the box and a packet of chocolate.

The large number of people who were to receive the gift rendered it impossible to manufacture, supply and distribute the gifts by Christmas Day 1914. So whilst most troops serving in France and in the Navy received their gifts by Christmas Day, other members of the British forces received theirs later accompanied by a Happy New Year card.

The logistics of producing over 2 million brass tins were also very complex. Brass was a valued metal for the war effort, and sources were scarce. Large quantities were bought from America, but the bulk of an order to be used in the manufacture of the tins sank with the RMS Lusitania when she was torpedoed off the coast of Ireland on 7 May 1915.

Having used or consumed the contents, servicemen and women often used the tins to carry other small items, which ensured the survival of a relatively large number of these unique containers. One such tin came into the Library’s possession and is currently on display in the Long Room as part of the exhibition ‘manage to exist and try and be cheerful’ mounted to commemorate the anniversary of WWI.

Estelle Gittins

Still Soldiering On

1914-1918It is only right and proper that the centenary of the cataclysm that was the First World War should be acknowledged again and again for the next four years. Trinity College Library has been, and will continue to be, involved with College-wide projects to honour the memory of the people and the times. The WWI Roadshow, which was hosted by the College on 12 July last was one such event. RTE was one of the driving forces behind this and the result, a week-long Nationwide special on the War in general, culminates tonight with a programme shot in large part on campus during the Roadshow. One segment was filmed in the Long Room Hub featuring an exhibition of reproductions of the war-time recruitment posters, from Early Printed Books and Special Collections. There were over 200 of these originally produced, specifically tailored to the Irish audience, and the Library’s collection is the most complete one to have survived. It was presented to the Library by Rupert Magill shortly after the end of the war.

The College Communications Office produced a film on the day also which can be viewed here; this gives a lot of attention to the exhibition in the Long Room of M&ARL material relating to the war.

The Library is also represented on the Decade of Commemoration committee and is the contact point for its website wherein WWI-related activities, and other commemoration projects, which are being planned across the College, may be advertised.

Jane Maxwell