One hundred years ago passenger lines were at their peak, carrying thousands between America and Britain. This last week marked the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Lusitania on route to Liverpool. 1,200 lost their lives.

RMS Lusitania

RMS Lusitania

A German U-boat sank the Lusitania just as it entered war zone waters. In firing on a non-military ship without warning, the Germans had breached the international laws known as the Cruiser Rules. The Germans had reasons for treating Lusitania as a naval vessel, including the fact that the British had also been breaching the Cruiser Rules since the ship was carrying war munitions. The idea that there was such a thing as a Cruiser Rule seems so arcane now.

This May bank holiday weekend Cunard Line will be celebrating its 175th anniversary with a rendezvous of its three Queen passenger liners, Queens Mary, Elizabeth and Victoria in Liverpool harbor.

3 queens

Queen Mary, Elizabeth and Victoria cruise ships

Fifty years ago Cunard Lines bought out White Star Line and soon after terminated service from Liverpool to Philadelphia. An end of an era.


When I was 7 the last of the White Star Line traveled the sea routes from Liverpool to Philadelphia. I have no memory of it, but my Norwegian grandfather, who worked the Philadelphia shipyards likely saw those liners pass as he took his lunch and maybe a pipe on the Delaware docks.
Sometimes I wish I could step from the Merseyside docks onto the deck of one of those old White Star liners and not touch ground again for a week or so, until we’ve entered the mouth of the Delaware.
Now I live down the coast from Liverpool and watch the cargo ships pass in and out of her port on the Mersey, but no passenger liners from Liverpool to Philadelphia.
Sometimes behind closed eyes, in the gray murkiness I see the contours of a White Star liner passing this North Wales head of land that is my home. I dream it defying the west wind’s waves, its yellow string of cabin light pearls winking out as it disappears on the long down hill run to Philadelphia.
But if I were in Philadelphia the dream would play out in reverse. So it’s for neither shore that I’m yearning but the mid-Atlantic middle and for a kind of ship that is no more.