Local BBC Sites

Page last updated at 11:56 GMT, Thursday, 6 May 2010 12:56 UK
Bedfordshire Lusitania survivor keeps story alive
The Lusitania was heading from New York to Liverpool when it was struck.

A woman from Bedfordshire is the last known survivor from the Lusitania, an ocean liner which was sunk by a German U boat in 1915.

Audrey Lawson-Johnston from Melchbourne was lucky to survive the ordeal which killed thousands of people including her sisters.

The 95th anniversary of the sinking of the huge passenger vessel is on Friday 7 May 2010.

BBC correspondent Nick Southall recalls the day he met Audrey.

Lucky ones

Audrey was one of the lucky ones.

Audrey Lawson-Johnson
Audrey is the last known survivor

Out of the 1,959 people on board over half were killed when a German U boat fired a torpedo at the Lusitania causing it to sink in just 18 minutes.

Audrey's mother was on deck at the time and saw the torpedo travelling through the water before it struck, the next thing she knew, she had been thrown back towards the cabins.

Meeting Audrey at her home in Bedfordshire was a real pleasure.

Still to this day she recollects what happened on that fateful day on May 7 1915.

Of course she doesn't remember the incident herself, she was only three months old, but it certainly was a remarkable escape for her and her family.

Jump Off

As the Lusitania started to take on water, Audrey's nanny, Alice Lines, wrapped her up in a blanket and made her way to deck where they were able to jump off the deck into a lifeboat, Audrey's brother Stuart was also with them.

Sadly her two sisters Amy and Susan didn't escape, they had disappeared in the crowd of passengers trying to get off the ship and later drowned.

The boat sank off the Southern coast of Ireland near the Old Head of Kinsale in calm waters.

The German U boat, U20, made it's escape whilst survivors attempted to climb into life boats and many holding onto pieces of debris floating on the sea.

Many of the survivors were washed up into the harbour at Kinsale.

Audrey was reluctant at times to talk about her family, I asked her whether she thought about what it would have been like growing up with her two sisters, but she replied "What's the point in thinking that way? What good does it do," she said.

Never found

She continued to talk about the aftermath of the sinking.

Her mother, who had badly injured her wrist and got into a life boat, had to search the streets for her two missing daughters Susan and Amy. Alas, they were never found.

The sinking in fact, still causes much speculation today.

Nearly two thousand people died

The Germans insisted the Lusitania was a legitimate war target because it was carrying ammunitions bound for the First World War battle fields as well as civilians, a charge the British Navy firmly denied.

However, many historians appear to agree that the tragedy prompted America's involvement in the Great War.

Audrey is a remarkable woman in many ways.

It was a privilege to meet somebody who's an important part of our history and Audrey's story helps to keep the story of the Lusitania alive, remembering the many civilians and crew who never made it.

Titanic passengers 'less selfish'
02 Mar 10 |  Hampshire
Women and children first?
02 Mar 10 |  Today
Objects tell history of the world
15 Jan 10 |  History
Lusitania war memorial restored
30 Oct 09 |  Merseyside
Heritage trust could lose bequest
14 Jul 09 |  Jersey
Disaster survivor pays for lifeboat
02 Mar 04 |  Mid Wales
Owner sought for war medallion
12 Apr 03 |  West Yorkshire


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific