The legendary Cunard Queen Elizabeth 2 on the Hudson River in New York City, October 16, 2008, as she departs for the final time.

05 June, 2010

R.M.S. Laconia

This Cunard ship is directly responsible for my existence and the continuation of our branch of the MacLeod family ancestry in the United States.  On July 31, 1927, my Grandfather, William Angus MacLeod, arrived in Boston on the Laconia.  The ship sailed out of Liverpool, with a stop in Glasgow, where my Grandfather boarded for his journey to America, never to see Scotland again.  With the fishing fleet of his hometown of Peterhead essentially destroyed in WWI, there was no work to be had.  Many of his family had already fled to the United States with the hope of jobs and prosperity.  His occupation is listed as "sawmill worker" on the immigration papers, but more specifically, he was a cooper and made the wooden barrels for the fishing fleet.  Other Peterhead family members were stone masons in the granite quarries of Peterhead and many fled to Barre, Vermont to continue their trade in the local granite quarries.  My Grandfather left with all his worldly posessions, including his tools, in a steamer trunk, which I still have in my possession.

Interestingly, my Grandfather changed his name here from McLeod to MacLeod.  In Scotland, the two spellings are interchangable and dropping the "a" is an abreviation of "Mac", which means "son of."  I recall him mentioning the reasoning behind the subtle change was that he did not want to be confused as a "Mic" or irishman.  At the time, there was widespread discrimination in this country of the Irish. 

The Laconia was built for the Anchor-Donaldson Line by Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson shipbuilders located in Wallsend-on-Tyne, UK along with sisterships Scythia and Samaria.  Cunard Line later aquired the Anchor Line in whole and ran the line as a subsidiary.  Sadly, when we visited the Tyne on our QE2 Farewell to the British Isles Voyage, there is absolutely nothing left of the shipbuilding trade save for the drydocks.

The 20,000 ton Laconia was the second ship to bear the name as the first Laconia was sunk in WWI by German torpedos.  As originally constructed, the 623 foot long, 73 foot wide Laconia accommodated 2180 passengers in 340 cabin class, 340 tourist class, and 1,500 third class cabins.  Rest assured, my Grandfather traveled in third class.  With twin screws and steam turbines, her service speed was a respectable 16 knots, but the crossing would be long compared to a swift 30 knot QE2 crossing in far more luxury.

In 1923, the first of its kind Cunard World Cruise was undertaken by the Laconia, with 22 ports of call during the 130 day long cruise, a tradition upheld by QE2 and the current Cunard Fleet. Located outside the Yacht Club on QE2, there is a large silver cup, the Laconia Cup, commemorating this event.  This was a reminder to me of my family's Cunard connection everytime I passed by it.

 R.M.S. Laconia continued her service with Cunard until September 4, 1939, when the British Admiralty requisitioned the ship for war time duty, converting the ship into an armed merchant ship.  Unfortunately, the second Laconia met the same fate as her predecessor and was sunk by a German torpedo.  On September 12, 1941, at 8:10PM, 130 miles northeast of Ascension Island, the Laconia was struck on the starboard side by a torpedo fired by U-Boat U-156.  At 9:11PM, the ship sunk with many Italian prisoners of war onboard, which proved to be an embarrassing situation for the Germans since they were allied with Italy at the time.  At this time, the U-Boat captain surfaced and rescued as many survivors as they could in an incident that would become known as the Laconia Incident.

Realizing civilians and prisoners were onboard, the U-Boat captain requested additional help from U-Boat Command and several additional U-Boats were dispatched, all flying Red Cross flags signaling a rescue operation was underway.  Allied B-24's in the area, allegedly unaware of the rescue operation underway and they started attacking the surfaced U-Boats with survivors on deck. The German submarines were ordered to dive and the survivors on deck were abandoned.  After this incident, the German Command ordered all U-Boat commanders not to rescue any survivors after torpedo attacks.

The Laconia is one of many Cunard ships responsible for safely transporting my relatives from the UK either to visit or to immigrate to the United States.  While my Grandfather did not get the opportunity to experience the Statue of Liberty on his arrival, many of my relatives did on other ships of the Cunard Line Cameronia, Carmania, Saxonia, Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth and White Star Line Cymric and Olympic (Titanic's sistership.)

No comments:

Post a Comment