Continuing my trawl through the newspapers of 1914 I spot a story which makes me think of our maritime nation during a time of war. The article, which comes from the Newcastle Journal of the 28th January 1914, is headed "The Mauretania Explosion", but the cause of the explosion was an accident rather than enemy action.
THE MAURETANIA EXPLOSION
STATEMENT BY THE CUNARD COMPANY
DAMAGE TO VESSEL NOT SERIOUS
The following statement was issued yesterday by the Cunard Company in reference to the explosion on board the Mauretania, reported in yesterday's Daily Journal -
"It is with deep regret that the Cunard Company confirm the news contained in this morning's papers to the effect that the bursting of a gas cylinder, which was being used in connection with the overhaul and repair of the turbines of the Mauretania, has resulted in the death of four men and injuries to six others.
The Cunard Company wish to publicly express their deep sympathy with the relatives of the men who have unfortunately lost their lives or suffered injury, while performing their duties.
The damage to the Mauretania is confined to the blading in the starboard high-pressure turbine, and is not serious.
Possible causes of explosion in these cylinders are:
(1) An inherent and undiscovered flaw in the cylinder at the time of manufacture.
(2) A severe blow at some time developing a fracture.
(3) In the course of time the cylinder developing fracture by reason of crystallisation.
The Mauretania (which was built at Wallsend) arrived in port fives week ago. The steamer has been undergoing her annual overhaul, and was due to sail for New York a fortnight hence".
I realise that, compared to the enormous loss of life that was just around the corner during the Great War, the loss of four workers' lives is low on the Richter Scale of Slaughter, but the sense of despair felt by the families of those four men must have been just as great. And whilst we rightly remember the sacrifice of generations of young people during war, we should also pause occasionally to recall the pointless sacrifice of generation after generation of people to industrial injuries and diseases. Perhaps then, we might not be so ready to pour scorn on the "health and safety culture" which protects people today.
The Mauretania - unlike its' workers - was repaired and returned to service in the early months of 1914. During the war it saw service as an armed merchant cruiser and later as a hospital ship. After the war the ship returned to the transatlantic route and for a time it held the record for the fastest crossing. But by the early 1930s it was getting slow and expensive to run and in 1934 it was scrapped. On its way to the scrap yards it called in at Newcastle for the day where a massive crown, led by the Lord Mayor, gathered to say farewell.