Death By Submarine
William F. Hanna
Late in the afternoon of Friday, May 7, 1915, as the city’s many factories released their workers for the day, the Taunton Daily Gazette hit the streets with a shocking headline:
Lusitania is Torpedoed. Many Americans on Board
The accompanying story went on to say that several hours earlier the Lusitania, the luxurious British passenger liner operated by the Cunard Line, one of the fastest ships in the world, had fallen victim to a German submarine off the southern coast of Ireland. In a report that would soon be updated, the newspaper stated that although the ship had been lost, early accounts indicated that there had been no loss of life. In the coming hours, however, it would be disclosed that, in fact, there had been enormous loss of life, and over time the sinking of the Lusitania would take its place as one of the worst maritime disasters in history.
Whether this news brought a sense of foreboding to the family of Patrick Glenn is unknown. Patrick and his children — five daughters and two sons — were familiar figures around Taunton. Patrick had emigrated from Ireland with his wife Ann and their children in about 1892, as part of the second great wave of Irish immigration. Patrick’s daughter, Katherine, about 15-years old when she arrived in the States, had stayed on in New York City and found work as a maid. In 1910, while still living in Manhattan, Katherine married Edward Dingley, an English textile worker. The Glenns and the Dingleys apparently got along quite well because Katherine’s younger sister, Margaret, married Edward’s brother, Albert. Not long after, the Dingleys joined the Glenns in Taunton, and though Ann Glenn had died in 1912, and Edward and Katherine occasionally sought work in Fall River mills, Katherine and her siblings remained devoted to their father, and it was Taunton that they thought of as their home.
Perhaps the news of the Lusitania’s sinking sent a ripple of worry through the Glenn family because Katherine was sailing to England, and her ship would also travel through the war zone. She had booked passage on the Cameronia, a slower, smaller vessel operated by the British Anchor Line. Katherine was scheduled to sail from New York on the same morning the Lusitania departed for Liverpool and, while the Germans had made no threats against the Cameronia, it was still wartime and nobody’s safety could be guaranteed. Katherine was sailing to England to meet her husband, and then the two planned to go to Scotland, where Edward was working on a six-month contract in a textile mill.
Within hours of the first reports it became clear that the sinking of the Lusitania was a tragedy of awful magnitude. The death toll would reach 1,201, more than half of all those aboard. The giant ship had disappeared in only eighteen minutes, but it had taken rescue vessels nearly two hours to reach the scene. Left to fend for themselves in the frigid ocean, many of those who had managed to safely leave the ship either drowned or died of exposure before help arrived.
The Lusitania went down eleven miles off the Old Head of Kinsale, named for the quaint little fishing village nearby. As rescue vessels made the trip out to the scene of the tragedy, they encountered a swath of debris reaching toward the horizon, with a few lifeboats scattered across the sea, and here and there a survivor or two desperately clinging to floating wreckage. As a chilly darkness fell, the temperature dropped quickly, and authorities knew that survivors still in the water could not last through the night. A few who were rescued in the very last minutes told of their great good fortune, both in having survived the sinking and then of spending hours in the frigid Celtic Sea.
On the evening of May seventh, as hundreds of shocked survivors huddled in public buildings, hotels and private homes, they surely reflected upon the sad fate of so many of their shipmates; those who, as recently as lunchtime, were eagerly anticipating the end of the voyage. All through the night and over the next several days, the dozens of vessels pressed into service would retrieve their bodies.
Although most of the Lusitania’s victims — more than 900 — would never be found, the ocean gave up enough of the dead to overwhelm Queenstown (today called by its Gaelic name, Cobh). Three large buildings, including the town hall, became temporary morgues, and in the hours after the tragedy distraught survivors walked among the rows of dead looking for friends or family members. Over the next two days the town was packed with grief-stricken relatives, newly arrived by train or bus, intent on learning the fate of their loved ones. They viewed the bodies, now placed in pine wooden coffins and numbered in the order in which they were recovered, with both resignation and anguish. As cruel fate would have it, in casket №70 was the body of Katherine Glenn Dingley.
Almost a week earlier, as the Cameronia made ready to leave New York, Katherine and her fellow passengers were notified that the British Admiralty had just requisitioned their ship for use as a troop transport. The good news, however, was that she and forty other first and second-class passengers would be transferred immediately to the Lusitania, which at that moment was ready to sail from the Cunard pier several blocks away. Buses and taxis were dispatched to hasten the transfer.
Thanks, in part, to the time it took to retrieve and board the forty-one newcomers, the Lusitania, with Katherine Dingley aboard, departed New York ninety minutes late on May 1, 1915. Perhaps Katherine was aware of the several warnings issued by the German government, which charged that the ship was carrying both munitions and Scottish troops to the war on the Western Front. Under those conditions, warned the Germans, the Lusitania was fair game for the U-boats patrolling the sea lanes around the British Isles.
Whether the threat of submarines made Katherine fear for her safety, as it did some of her fellow passengers, we will never know. In every other way, however, she must have viewed the transfer to the Lusitania as a godsend. Larger, faster and more luxurious than the Cameronia, the great Cunard liner boasted the finest cuisine and the most elegant appointments afloat.
Katherine Dingley was assigned a cabin in the second-class section of the ship. These accommodations were known to be superior to more expensive first-class staterooms on other transatlantic vessels. As a woman traveling alone, she would have shared a two, three or four-berth cabin with other women, and perhaps a child or two. Her cabin would have been equipped with running water, electric lights and a primitive form of air conditioning. These were features that many homes did not have at that time — at least not all together. Since private bathrooms on ships were all but unheard of in those days, she would have shared these facilities with occupants of a number of nearby cabins. Her meals would have been taken in the second-class dining room, where the menu was varied and of good quality, and she would have had access to the promenade deck and a number of beautiful sitting rooms and lounges.
Shortly before 2 P.M. on that last Friday of its life, the Germans made good on their threat, and a single torpedo fired by a submarine struck the Lusitania on her starboard side, almost directly below the ship’s bridge. This was followed seconds later by a massive internal explosion, and within minutes the ship was on the bottom. Meanwhile, the life or death struggle of the passengers was well underway, and for many, including Katherine Dingley, the sea prevailed.
On May 10, 1915, three days after the sinking, a funeral service was held in Queenstown for some of the dead whose bodies had been recovered. Following this, coffins holding more than 140 victims were buried in three large common graves in the Old Church Cemetery. Others were buried in nearby Kinsale, and still others were prepared for shipment to their home cities. As this was taking place, a telegram arrived in Taunton and was delivered to the Purchase Street home of Katherine Dingley’s sister Margaret. It was from Edward Dingley, and it read: “Found Katie’s body. Buried Queenstown today, tenth. Letter following. Heart-broken.”
An Irish newspaper later reported that Katherine had been buried in Ireland because her husband could not afford to have her body shipped home. While this may have been accurate, it is also true that Edward managed to spare his wife from interment in one of the mass graves. Today she lies in grave 591 in the Old Church Cemetery, and unlike most of her former shipmates, a headstone tells her story. Although the inscription lists her husband’s name as “Howard” rather than Edward, the rest is correct:
Drowned on the Lusitania
7 May 1915
Katherine S. Glenn
of Taunton, Mass, USA
Beloved wife of Howard Dingley
Aged 38 years.
The Lusitania tragedy was soon lost in the enormity of World War I, and when the conflict finally ended, the articles of peace served only to make another, more catastrophic war all but inevitable. Nevertheless, as part of the Berlin Treaty, signed in 1921, Germany agreed to accept lawsuits related to the loss of the Lusitania, and Edward Dingley filed a claim. A panel known as the Mixed Claims Commission heard his case, and in February 1924, almost nine years after Katherine’s death, it ruled that for the loss of his wife Edward was entitled to $7,500, and for the loss of her property he could collect another $1,700.
Over the ensuing years the German decision to sink the British liner was hotly debated, despite the fact that each side shared plenty of blame for the consequences. Out of the public eye, those whose loved ones existed now only in memory were left to endure. Edward Dingley, whose marriage to Katherine produced no children, never remarried. He died in Pinellas, Florida in 1960. For the rest of his life, Patrick Glenn, Katherine’s father, retained a lively interest in Irish politics, but never returned to his native land. He died in Taunton in August 1920, and members of the Glenn family remained in the city until at least the mid-1950s. Whether any of them ever visited Katherine’s grave in Cobh is unknown.