Mr. William Uno Meriheina

William Uno Meriheina, 26, was a Russian citizen and race car driver who lived in New York, New York, United States.  He was a representative of the General Motors Export Company at 11 Broadway, New York City.  He was traveling aboard Lusitania’s last voyage on his way to South Africa and was roommates with Dr. Daniel Virgil Moore. Meriheina survived the Lusitania sinking of 7 May 1915 and was rescued by the rescue vessel Indian Empire. Meriheina left notes written on Lusitania postcards while he drifted atop an overturned collapsible, which are the only known on-the-spot reporting of the disaster.

The voyage

During the Lusitania's last voyage, Meriheina wrote a diary entry to his wife Essie, detailing each day of the trip. On Saturday, 1 May, the ship departed New York, passing the Ambrose Lightship, the British man of war, Bristol; then the British converted cruiser Caronia. Lusitania stops presumably to exchange mail and messages, but no passengers can send messages from Lusitania. Meriheina received a wireless from the General Motors Company. Later in the afternoon, Lusitania passed the American Liner New York, also bound for Liverpool. They then passed a French battle cruiser of the super-dreadnought type, which turned and followed Lusitania for a bit before it was left behind, as Lusitania was making about twenty-five miles an hour. Meriheina's account also talks about the great lunch and dinner he had and the delay of the ship's departure from New York because of the Cameronia transfer. On Sunday, 2 May, Meriheina woke up and enjoyed a salt water bath. He had his breakfast and recounted the Sunday services held on board. The day was foggy day and the ocean quite rough. At noon, the log recorded 453 miles, or half way to Newfoundland Grand Banks. Day passed with concerts in the drawing room. Meriheina notes how lots of people on board were seasick, but "I feel splendid." He notes that the rough seas caused passengers to turn in early. At midnight, Lusitania passed a British cruiser, and Meriheina noticed an exchange of light signals between the ships. From this, he got the impression that Lusitania was being carefully convoyed all the way across. After this incident, Meriheina saw no other convoy ships for a good length of time. Lusitania continued to pass a number of ships bound both ways, but her great speed doesn’t allow her to stay in sight of any one ship for long. On Monday, 3 May, Meriheina noted that he was feeling great and had great meals. He also noted the fog and how Lusitania passed several ships. On board was a concert, games, races and drive whist, and various other entertainments. The ship was rolling quite a bit, but Meriheina did not get seasick. He also notes that his roommate is an M.D., surgeon, and they have become good friends. Has Meriheina notes, "[Dr. Moore] is going to offer his services to the Allies as surgeon. He is Dr. D.V. Moore. He is well educated and proves a good, companionable, room mate." Meriheina also reports that several of the passengers are notable singers and players who keep everyone entertained. Meriheina was continuing to study his work and believe that his trip will do him good. On Tuesday, 4 May, Meriheina jots down about the resumption of games on deck, with sunshine finally appearing.

The Lusitania disaster

During the Lusitania disaster, Meriheina saved 15 women and children.  He was in the water for 3 hours and then on a raft for 2 hours before he was saved.  Meriheina had the reputation of being a powerful swimmer, being able to swim 10 miles without difficulty. The following is his account that he wrote from the Queen's Hotel in Queenstown on 8 May 1915, after his rescue:
We were eating lunch at the time when suddenly, with absolutely no warning, we felt a heavy explosion up forward, near the first cabin section; a grinding and ripping. The boat immediately lurched toward the side that you were looking at as we were tied to the New York dock. She settled so much that dishes fell off tables and it was difficult to walk the aisle between tables. There was little panic - individuals moaned and cried, and just a suggestion of a rush for exits. About five seconds after the first crash a second one came along, with the same sinking sensation on the one side. The men did a great deal for the women and children, but remember, the boat sank to the bottom in less than twenty minutes. The lifeboats that were lowered were either overturned or smashed against the side of the boat, dumping the human loads into the ocean. I don’t pretend to describe the total scene; it was too horrible, but I did everything I could to help the women off. I placed a lifebelt on myself and placed several elderly women in life rafts that might tear loose from the decks when the boat sank, which they finally did. The people who reached the decks were the only ones saved, as the ship sank in a flash when she finally started nose downward. On sinking, her boilers blew up and deck roofs blew off. I had faith in the boat not sinking and therefore remained on the back bridge ‘til I was washed off. The internal pressure created in the hull by the inrush of water was sufficient to blow out port hole plates, and the air shot out of these like steam. I saw many bodies floating away deep in the water. Just before the final plunge the back of the hull lifted away up out of the water, revealing to me the propellers and bottom of the hull. At this time I was probably 175 feet above the surface of the water. All the time up to the last second several other fellows and myself were loosing the rafts, so that they would float and not be carried down with the hull. Our labor was for naught, as only a couple of the rafts tore loose, and in doing so smashed themselves to pieces, anyway. The sight of the people falling overboard and sinking, with apparently no effort to swim, was maddening. Well, when the final plunge came I believe that I was the last, or one of the very last, to get off. And I tried to jump, but got fouled with the angle of the deck and the rail posts and was washed off, only to be slammed back downward with the hull. I lost consciousness and then I came to with the bright sun shining in my eyes. It was cold, and I felt stunned, but I struck out for an overturned lifeboat that was about a city block away. There were people all around, both live and drowned. On reaching the boat I hung on to the side by the rope for a minute or so, when a man, grabbing my neck, placed his arm over my shoulders and pulled me off. I turned and hit him. He weighed over two hundred pounds, and I could not shake him off, so I sank purposefully and he let go at once. I again reached the boat and the man also had a finger grip on the rope. Several others were hanging on. One after another, we managed to climb up on the slippery sides and lie on the keel. I finally reached out and helped this particular man up on the boat, and several others. We finally had about twenty men and women on the overturned lifeboat and she threatened to sink, when another overturned boat came near and some of the men made for it. We kept these two overturned boats together, loaded with humans half dead and some dead. Then a broken raft was forced near us, and we placed all of the women and children thereon. Right near us was an upright lifeboat, but entirely submerged so that only the oar locks were visible at times. This boat contained about a half dozen women and twenty men. We finally got the women off of her on the raft, and the men remained, several drowning within. We had a lot of trouble with our crew of these two overturned lifeboats and one upright lifeboat and one raft - the crew I mean were the people thereon.   Some wanted to paddle to shore, which looked twenty miles off, and others wanted to save their strength. We sang “Tipperary” a couple of times (sacrilege) and then, due to the women’s crying and begging us to stop, we sang “Lead Kindly Light.” All this time we could see other lifeboats at a distance, either upturned or straight, but all loaded to the water’s edge. Only about ten boats were afloat, and more than half were overturned and the rest were broken or half submerged. I did not see one good lifeboat afloat. I counted the boats and estimated their inmates as nearly 500. We had nearly one thousand nine hundred altogether. By the way, sing “Tipperary” and think you are adrift on the ocean with death everywhere in evidence. Then after more than three and one half hours, the fleet from Queenstown came into view. They picked most of the other boats first as we were farthest away, and then came to us. All this time we were constantly adding to our crew, and sinking deeper and deeper. In the three and one half hours agony I found time to take out my fountain pen, which I still had, and dug out a couple of wet postcards from the drawing room of the boat. I wrote my impression very mildly on two of them. The rest of my time was taken up either pumping arms up and down or squeezing some poor “half-gone’s” wet clothing. We finally had more than seventy on our improvised combination raft consisting of raft, overturned and submerged boats Then they picked us up. The Indian Empire was our rescue boat. We were landed in Queenstown at half past nine, about seven and one half hours after taking to water.
Meriheina’s two postcards read:

Ship sunk. Seventy of us on a raft. Believe lost will amount to half of passengers. May we all be happy in our destiny.


Steamship coming; also sail boats. Hope most of us will be saved. May they be glorified with a crown of life and death. Hope the lives of the lost ones will pay the score.

Links of interest

William Meriheina at Lest We Forget - Encyclopedia Titanica

Contributors Cliff Barry, UK Jim Kalafus, USA Peter Kelly, Ireland Mike Poirier, USA Judith Tavares References: Jim Kalafus, Michael Poirier, Cliff Barry and Peter Kelly (2013) "Lest We Forget : The Lusitania." Gare Maritime (ref: #10962, accessed 27th April 2015 03:24:39 PM) URL : New York Times, Thursday, 13 May 1915, page 3.

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