A GLASGOW historian shone a light on the sinking of a prestigious trans-Atlantic liner by a German submarine during the First World War, and the reaction to the tragedy, at a talk in Largs.

Kevin Kerrigan of Glasgow Museums gave an illustrated and very interesting talk on the impact of the sinking of the Lusitania by the German U-boat U20 on May 7, 1915, with the loss of 1,201 lives, to members of Largs Probus Club.

Built at John Brown & Co’s shipyard at Clydebank, along with its sister ship Mauritania, and launched on June 7, 1906, the Lusitania won the Blue Riband for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic in 1908.

Of the 1,266 passengers and 696 crew on board when the Cunard Line ship was targeted by the U-20 while , only 761 people survived. Among the casualties were 128 American citizens.

The public reaction to the tragedy was mixed. Some saw it as a blatant act of evil and transgression against the conventions of war.

Others were aware that the Germans had put an advert under the notice advertising the sailing, alerting all passengers of Atlantic vessels to the potential for submarine attacks on British ships, Germany considering the Lusitania to be British.

Kevin spoke about the propaganda arising from the event, with posters of the sinking encouraging people to enlist.

One poster showed a women in white under water with a baby in her arms, which reminded him of his meeting with Audrey Warren Pearl, who had been three months old and was travelling with her parents, three siblings, and two children’s nurses Alice Lines and Greta Lorenson.

When Lusitania was torpedoed and sinking, Alice took charge of Audrey and her brother Stuart, and entered the water with Audrey clung to her chest and holding Stuart’s hand. As they sank, a hand grabbed her long hair and hauled them all into a lifeboat.

Audrey’s parents were also saved, but two sisters, and Greta, were lost. Audrey’s passing on January 11, 2011, at the age of 95 marked the passing of the last surviving Lusitania survivor.

In August 1915, German artist Karl Goetz cast a commemorative medal depicting the sinking of the Lusitania. On one side the Lusitania was shown sinking by its stern (it sunk bow first) with artillery pieces and airplanes on the deck, while the reverse showed a skeleton selling tickets to passengers.

The date on the medal showed the sinking as May 5, which the British used as propaganda, saying that it showed the sinking of May 7 was pre-meditated by the Germans. Goetz had actually taken the date from an erroneous newspaper report.

The sinking of the Lusitania contributed to the United States entering the war two years later and it signalled the end of the "gentlemanly" war practices of the 19thcentury.

Ray Young thanked Kevin for his extremely informative and illustrated talk, from which he gained a lot of information about the Lusitania medal - and particularly the British replica he owned, which was made as propaganda to demonstrate the brutality of the sinking of the cruise liner.

Largs Probus Club will next meet in the Willowbank Hotel on Wednesday, February 14 at 10am, when Ann Cowgill will speak on 'Old Largs'.