Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, November 20, 2023

The Lusitania Medal

RMS Lusitania, 1915

There was a dull explosion and a quantity of debris and water was flung into the air beside the bridge. The waterspout knocked me down beside the Marconi office. The explosion seemed to lift the ship hard over to port and was followed soon after by a second rumbling explosion entirely different to the first.

 Lusitania Passenger James Brooks

On 7 May 1915 the Cunard passenger liner Lusitania was sunk by German submarine U-20 in British waters. Eleven hundred ninety eight people drowned, including 124 U.S. citizens and many women and children. Public outrage spun around the world. Robert Lansing, then U.S. secretary of state, wrote of the reactions, “The news of the sinking of the Lusitania on May 7, 1915, sent a wave of horror throughout the country, particularly the East. The public denunciation of German barbarism was bitter. Many newspapers were outspoken in demanding an immediate severance of diplomatic relations with Germany, and no small number clamored for war.”

In August 1915, German artist Karl Goetz cast a medal depicting the sinking of the Lusitania. He intended it to be a metallic political cartoon, but it turned into a  British propaganda tool. On one side, the medal depicts a skeleton selling tickets to long lines of unwary passengers, captioned (translated): Business Above All. A newspaper headline warns: U-Boat Danger. On the other side, the Lusitania is shown sinking by its stern (in reality, it sunk bow first) with artillery pieces and airplanes on the deck. The translated captions relate: No Contraband Goods–The Liner Lusitania Sunk by a German Submarine—5 May 1915.

To the British, the 5 May date on the medal verified the Germans premeditated the sinking, considered a cowardly act. In actuality, artist Goetz simply got the date wrong from using an erroneous newspaper report. About 430 medals with the 5 May date were minted in Goetz’s home. He soon corrected the date to 7 May and minted between 41 to 45 medals of the new version, but the British quickly utilized the first version as propaganda. British Naval Intelligence ordered about 250,000 copies struck with the May 5 date and sold them through the Lusitania Souvenir Medal Committee to the public at one shilling each. The British-produced medal was presented in an attractive box with an explanatory certificate. Proceeds of the sales were to benefit the St. Dunstan’s Blinded Soldiers and Sailors Hostel. 

The specimen shown here is of the corrected, 7 May version and can be viewed at the National WWI Museum located in Kansas City, MO.

Source: "WWI Dispatches from the Front" National WWI Museum, Winter 2012

No comments:

Post a Comment